Saturday, 18 September 2010

Pope Saturday: what the papers say

The Times front page shows Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury in a warm embrace at Westminster Abbey, but headlines the "terror plot" to harm the Pope. The subtitle, "Terror alert as Benedict makes strongest attack on secular society" is surely not right: it is "aggressive secularism" -- the attempt to drive faith from the public square -- which the Pope has attacked, not secular society.

The editorial notes that "the Pope's visit has received a breadth of public support that promises to supersede current controversies" but goes on to criticise some of his sharp language against atheism and secularism. Inside, the paper dedicates four pages to the visit, including a commentary by the paper's religious correspondent, Ruth Gledhill. "So far it has been a remarkable success," she says. "In many respects it could not have gone better."

The Telegraph carries the same picture of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury under the headline: "We will not be silenced, Pope tells secular Britain". The front-page story concentrates on the Westminster Hall speech, which is sketched inside by Andrew Gimson, followed by an edited version of the text itself. Martin Beckford reports on the Pope's meeting at Lambeth Palace with Dr Rowan Williams, and relations with Anglicans; Heidi Blake reports on the service at Westminster Abbey, where the church leaders prayed together before the tomb of St Edward the Confessor. There is also a page on the school assembly at Twickenham.

The Telegraph gives over its whole editorial column to the visit under the headline 'The Pope puts religion back in the spotlight'. "The British public," it says, "is listening with curiosity and genuine respect to Pope Benedict XVI", before going to to agree with the Pope's diagnosis that there are signs of a failure to appreciate the legitimate role of religion in the public square.

"Militant secularists have taken our tradition of tolerance and whittled it down to something quite different: toleration for a narrow spectrum of liberal-approved beliefs", the paper observes. "Anyone who falls outside that spectrum runs the risk of being demonised."

The editorial concludes that while it is too early to say if the visit has been a success, "one thing we can say is that in Westminster Hall religion was well and truly yanked back into [the public] square."

The Guardian's front page carries a photo of Pope Benedict at Westminster Hall as he comes over to greet former prime ministers and the deputy PM, Nick Clegg. But the news concentrates on the "terror plot".

Inside, the Westminster Hall speech is reported, concentrating on the sidelining of religion which puts Christmas at risk. Andrew Brown thinks the address puts paid to the idea of Britain as a Protestant nation. Toynbee thinks the Pope is reviving the spectacle of 'Winterval' to attack secularists. There are reports inside on Twickenham, and calls by abuse victims for "private talks". A box headed 'papal bull' pokes fun. The editorial, headed "A turbulent priest', thinks the Pope should be more "humble" and takes a humanist view of his comments at Westminster Hall -- a sign of the threat to secularist ideology which the speech posed.

The Catholic historian Eamon Duffy in 'Face to Faith', thinks the Newman beatification "affirms Newman's lifelong struggle to combine intellectual integrity with the surrender of heart and mind to a God he experienced as both truth and love" and adds: "For a Church whose claims to integrity, love and truth are currently taking a battering, that's a candle in the dark".