Papal tours too often become occasions for anti-Catholic and other anti-religious forces to find a friendly microphone. Before the visit to Britain even began there were indications that a hostile reception might await Pope Benedict. There was even half-serious talk of arresting him for “complicity” in the sex abuse scandal. Given the history of Catholicism in Britain, its ongoing minority status, and the growing hostility to religion that sometimes seems to characterize the country, it would hardly be surprising if local protest went beyond a couple of letters to the editor or the waving of a placard or two. This is, after all, a land where anti-Catholic edicts were enforced well into the nineteenth century,
and Catholics continue to be barred by statute from becoming monarch.
Despite that, predictions of massive protest turned out to be exaggerated. The much-publicized ad in The Guardian, signed by about 55 celebrities to protest the visit, failed to garner a signature from anyone not already well-known for aggressive atheism (or as the Daily Mail more aptly put it, “Spitting Venom, the Left-Wing Chorus”). While they claimed their main complaint was with the honour of a state visit, not the pontiff’s basic freedom to travel and speak, critics noted that they were strangely silent during the state visits of Saudi King Abdullah in 2007 or China’s President Hu Jintao in 2005, both of whom lead countries with very poor records on human rights.
For the most part, these protestors bring out arguments that have been aired and often refuted many times before. In a CBC interview Sept 16, Peter Tatchell, documentary producer, gay rights activist and a leader of the Protest the Pope coalition, used the word “shocking” numerous times to describe Church teachings on traditional marriage, the use of condoms in AIDS prevention, contraception, abortion, stem cell and fertility treatments and the ordination of women. “These are misogynistic, shocking statements,” he assured us, and pointed out later that the majority of Catholics don’t agree with these teachings. Certainly some of the things he touched on are discussed freely by Catholics – it’s a big tent after all. But they are only shocking to anyone who never reads a newspaper or watches a news program. England’s historical track record on anti-Catholicism is shocking to anyone who doesn’t know history; Catholic teaching on those issues and others has always been clearly proclaimed.
To her credit, interviewer Carole MacNeil pointed out that these are matters of interpretation and tradition that the Church hierarchy, in sincerity, does not believe it can change, but Mr. Tatchell assured her that the Church’s interpretation is not what Jesus’ would have been. Unfortunately, those of us who subscribe to a lot of news services know that he is on record for saying that sex between adults and children between the ages of nine and 13 is not always abuse, but can be “a conscious choice that gave them (minors) great joy.”
Nevertheless, he had no hesitation whatsoever in saying that Pope Benedict should have been denied a state visit due to his “major personal role” in the cover-up of child sex abuse. As proof, he cited a 2001 letter to bishops that has just as often been cited as proof that the Pope has taken the problem much more seriously than his predecessors, and wanted processing of complaints removed from local influence and generally made faster. The topic has been ably discussed by others, but it is irritating that our national broadcaster gives us the sanctimonious finger-wagging of someone who led an “OutRage!” campaign to reduce the age of consent to 14. Like most self-appointed progressives, he did assure us that he praises the Pope for his stance against consumerism, war and global poverty, “because he is right on those issues.”
Most Catholics and others of good will understand that the anti-religious have been making the same arguments for a very long time, and that there are issues on which believers and non-believers will never agree. Non-believers seem to have the floor more often in mainstream media, but part of the reason is simply those tired old squeaky wheels getting the grease.
In England and elsewhere, sincere Christians know how much credence to give to the protesters; as of this writing, the Pope has been received cordially and with warmth. At some events turnout, though large, has been smaller than expected, but the Church itself has acknowledged that ticket cost and some poor organization were probably to blame. The Pope himself is speaking of the importance of evangelization and serving the common good, and it’s a positive message that many want to hear.
– by Joanne McGarry, League executive director, © The Catholic Register, Sept. 25, 2010
– Measuring Pope Benedict’s success in England, by Father Raymond de Souza, National Post, Sept. 23
– The key to the Pope’s success in Great Britain, CatholicCulture.org, Sept. 21, 2010