Have you heard? The Pope is coming to the UK! Oh happy day. I can’t wait.
Or can I…?
I was originally going to avoid passing comment on the Pope’s impending arrival in the neighbourhood, but recent articles defending him and his church have prompted me to put my thoughts down.
Bur first, a disclaimer. I was raised a Catholic and educated in a Catholic school. Mind you, by the time I was a student there, most of the priests were purely ornamental, having passed responsibility for day-to-day education to ‘lay’ teachers. I have long since removed myself from the Catholic Church, not as a result of a sudden awakening , or any single event I experienced. It was a slow, gradual realisation that I fundamentally disagreed with much of what was said and done by the church and could no longer consider myself a member.
I’m not, on the other hand, vehemently anti-religion. I believe that everyone has the right to respect, though their beliefs certainly do not. I don’t want someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs to impact my freedom of thought or action. What they do themselves is none of my business.
So, about this visit. Here’s why I feel it’s inappropriate to fete the pope and his entourage. He presides over an organisation that has shielded child-rapists from the civil powers in a range of jurisdictions over a period of decades (that we are aware of). Even when made aware of these crimes, he has failed to act decisively and has instead raised a smokescreen of vague language, seeking to somehow implicate homosexuality in the paedophile scandals. Even now, senior clergy are attempting to silence the victims of these crimes. Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals are doing their very best to sweep this child abuse under the carpet.
This article, in today’s Evening Standard (a newspaper of such quality that it’s given away for free) set my teeth on edge. It equates criticism of the Pope with attacks on members of the church as a whole. I don’t blame all Catholics for the child abuse scandals. But I blame every Catholic who silently obeyed orders from the clergy to ignore complaints from children, to shield paedophile priests or to avoid involving the authorities.
This is not about criticising the religion itself. It’s about pointing out the weaknesses in the global organisation that represent the religion. I reserve the right to critique any belief in a god or gods. I don’t see why I should accept such beliefs as valid. And, despite what the fragrant Rosamund Urwin has to say in this evening’s Standard, I’m quite happy to turn my secular perspective on any belief system.
I’ll say it again: this is not about being anti-Catholic or anti-Christian. It’s about being able to stand up and say I don’t agree that the Pope should be free to visit the UK and not have to see or hear the many thousands of people here who want to protest against his views, his administration and the impact his religious doctrine has had on children all over the world.
It would appear that Urwin doesn’t want any form of protest:
Catholicism’s critics have only one focus now: the Pontiff’s state visit to our country in just over two week’s time. This should be a cause for celebration. Instead, if the anti-Catholic campaigners have their way, the trip will be marred by vuvuzelas, protesters and blocked streets.
That’s what is known as a free and open democracy. The very opposite of how the Catholic Church is run. The people of the UK do not live in a theocracy and are – at the time of writing – quite free to protest about things with which they disagree. (I would also ask: why should his arrival be “cause for celebration”?)
To those who plan to protest the Pope’s visit, I say: go for it. Let him know you disagree with what he has done and what he continues to do.
However, I can’t help but wonder if a much more powerful sign would be to refuse to acknowledge his present at all. Instead of standing on the streets shouting, you could perhaps do something more positive to undermine his influence. Give your time or money to one of the many charities that looks after the people whom he shuns. You may like to consider The Albert Kennedy Trust.
I’ll leave it up to you.