My recently published thriller, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, is a tale of intrigue about Jesuits who blackmail the pope with secret documents, and force him to cede power to them to clean up financial and sexual corruption in the Catholic Church.
A couple of readers expressed outrage over questions raised by Helena, a married Italian mother. In a conversation with a Jesuit priest, she questioned the story of the Immaculate Conception, specifically the choice of an underage inexperienced girl. This was only a few paragraphs in my novel, but apparently it shook them up.
The story of a deity impregnating women and producing special offspring isn't a new one. The Greeks had myriad myths in which Zeus mated with mortal women who produced immortal children. In those myths, the women were usually married--but blameless of adultery through some twist in the story.
One of the most famous myths is of Queen Alcmene. Zeus disguises himself as her absent husband, and the product of their union is Hercules, a demigod with superhuman strength. Upon Alcmene's death, Hermes, a god with a winged helmet and winged sandals, carries her body up to a special resting place for heroes, the Elysian Fields.
Impregnating an Underage Girl
In the story of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is around thirteen or fourteen years old. At least that is how it was taught to me in the Catholic schools I attended before I attended university. A winged angel announces Mary's pregnancy to her, and says she will bear a son called Jesus. Joseph marries Mary, and accepts that she is blameless of adultery. At the end of Mary's life, she is assumed (brought up) into heaven.
In the United States, girls of that age cannot legally marry. If a girl that age became pregnant, there would be an investigation into the circumstances. Even if the girl remained a virgin and the insemination were artificial, there would still be an investigation.
An all-seeing and all-knowing God might have done some advance planning for the day when humans would realize that the impregnation of an immature body and a not-fully-developed mind is not a wise idea. Mary could either have been born earlier or impregnated later.
We don't live in the Middle East where marriage of 13 year olds is legal. (In Iran it was legal at the age of nine for a while.) Even if it were customary two thousand years ago, even if it is customary in some countries today, it doesn't make it right, and it doesn't make it a good idea.
Laws in the United States are designed to protect young girls. When these laws are broken, we try to hold someone accountable. If God were hauled into a police station, there'd be some explaining to do.
The Old Man and the Virgin
Catholics usually refer to God the Father, and depict him as an older white-haired man. The church hierarchy from the pope, cardinals, bishops, archbishops, monsignors, and priests are all men. They generally controlled the purse strings that paid male artists to create images of God.
But who says God is male or that God has a gender at all? Is it any wonder that some Catholic women sport T-shirts that say: "When God created man, she was only joking?"
One can deflect questions about Mary's story by claiming it is one of the "mysteries" of faith. But my fictional character Helena isn't alone among Catholic women who say that it's no mystery is that women don't have a greater role in the administration of the Catholic Church. Many still ask why that cannot change in future.
Endnote: Since writing this post, a priest advised me that in the gospels of Luke and Matthew that talk about this subject, Mary's purity stemmed from her being born without original sin, not from her virginity. Her virginity is mentioned not to establish her purity but to establish paternity. Her age is never specifically mentioned. She may have been twelve and a half, when Jewish law would allow her to marry, or she may have been, say, twenty. The gospels do not mention her age at the time of her marriage or at the time of Christ's birth.
See also: "Pope Francis I: Well-Timed Sex and Mafia Scandals," Huffington Post, March 19, 2013 and additional commentary related to this post at my author's website: "God and Mary: Illegal in the USA."
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