Friday, 10 September 2010

Why we should set aside the past and welcome the Pope

Thoughtful, incisive, compelling article from Charles Moore in the Telegraph. Three gems in particular.


Without quite realising it, secular anti-Papists such as the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell are using much the same "No Pope here" slogans as have adorned bigoted bonfires for centuries. Atheist thinkers like Richard Dawkins reject the idea that religion should have any rights beyond the private sphere: if he had his way, a Christian education would become a crime. The human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, says he wants Pope Benedict tried for failing to do enough to root out child abuse in the Church. Such people do not speak the language of rational criticism – a pity, because there is much to criticise – but of anger, rejection, intolerance.

These non-believing Protestants think that they are expressing modern liberal sentiments, but they remind me of the small crowd of Irish Republicans who demonstrated this week against the suggestion that the Queen should visit Dublin next year after a royal absence of a century. Yes, the history matters. Yes, the differences are real. But one should be suspicious of those who try to repel all gestures of reconciliation and keep themselves warm by stoking the fires of old hatreds.
I do not know exactly why first Tony Blair, and then Gordon Brown, encouraged the Pope to come here, or why David Cameron, sorting out the ragged fin de regime handling of the visit by the last government, is supporting it so whole-heartedly. I do not know the precise motivations of the Queen in being so warm about this visit and in breaking convention so that, for the first time in her reign, the Duke of Edinburgh himself, rather than a lower representative, will greet the state visitor at the airport. But it might have something to do with a sane recognition that this country should be able to welcome the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. We are a proud island, but we are also part of a wider European civilisation. It is worth having a public conversation about the state of that civilisation with someone who has devoted his life to advancing it.
Although I am a Catholic by conversion, it was never the papal aspect of things that attracted me. I feel quite Protestant about Pope-mania. But, even before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger struck me as a man who was thinking deeply about the cultural problem of modern times. He welcomed the growth of freedom, but he noticed a danger that tended to go with it – a rejection of the very idea of truth. He counselled against the "deadly boredom" of relativism and egotism. His ideal was a man – and he noted such men particularly in England, singling out both More and Newman – "who listens to his conscience and for whom the truth that he has recognised… is above approval and acceptance." Benedict thinks constantly about what we now call "the big society" and how it can achieve the common good. "Without truth," he says in one of his encyclicals, "charity degenerates into sentimentality." His idea of truth is not hidden: he wants to reason with modern society about it.

Tatchell's many campaigns, not always on parallel lines

Peter Tatchell, veteran rights campaigner and 'Protest the Pope' frontman, has at least six campaigns on the go at any one time. It's hard -- especially in the age of the internet -- to keep them all separate.

Recently, for example, he has been calling on the Vatican to open all the files it has on priests who have had sexual relations with minors -- known commonly as "abuse". Thus Tatchell (photo) the other day, after meeting +Peter Smith: "The Pope's condemnation of child abuse will not be taken seriously until he opens the Vatican's sex abuse files and hands them to the relevant police forces worldwide." 

But Tatchell is also a campaigner for a lower age of consent, which he believes should be 14. Underage sex, he is on record as saying, "is mostly consenting, safe, and fun”. But he doesn't mean sex between teenagers; he means between adults and children.

In 1997 he wrote the following letter to the Guardian:

ROS Coward (Why Dares to Speak says nothing useful, June 23) thinks it is “shocking” that Gay Men’s Press has published a book, Dares To Speak, which challenges the assumption that all sex involving children and adults is abusive. I think it is courageous. The distinguished psychologists and anthropologists cited in this book deserve to be heard. Offering a rational, informed perspective on sexual relations between younger and older people, they document examples of societies where consenting inter-generational sex is considered normal, beneficial and enjoyable by old and young alike.

Prof Gilbert Herdt points to the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea, where all young boys have sex with older warriors as part of their initiation into manhood. Far from being harmed, Prof Herdt says the boys grow up to be happy, well-adjusted husbands and fathers.

The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.

While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.

Peter Tatchell.

'How I changed my mind about the Pope'

A fascinating article in the Catholic Herald by Mark Dowd, offering a preview of what he discovers while making 'The Trials of a Pope', to be broadcast Wednesday 15th at 7pm on BBC2. On clerical sex abuse Dowd says:
"...In our BBC film we do our best to take account of how fair it really is to single our Pope Benedict for special criticism. The man I approached to help me evaluate all this was John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a man described as having a “maddening objectivity” by the online Catholic magazine Godspy. In a Catholic world of tribal rivalries, Allen is trusted by most to get it right and to be fair. That is why his Vatican contacts are the envy of most members of the fourth estate.

Allen’s take is principally that the bottle is overwhelmingly more full than empty. The Pope has met the victims of abuse on several occasions, made numerous apologies and embraced a zero-tolerance policy for clergy found guilty of abuse. The statute of limitations has recently been extended to 20 years to allow abuse cases to be pursued with greater ease, placing the Catholic Church ahead of many civil authorities in this respect. Moreover, it was the Pope, shortly after his accession, who moved to isolate Fr Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, after years of mounting evidence of abuse and corruption, evidence which culminated in a Vatican investigation into his movement. None of this happened under Pope John Paul II and many have suggested that the then Cardinal Ratzinger would have taken action earlier, but supporters of Maciel acted to block any initiatives. But it is clear this is not a man in denial."

Catholic Voices v Protest the Pope (contd)

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh quoted in the Guardian:
"There has been criticism from a small proportion of the population who oppose the visit in principle and they have been very ferocious in their attacks, but one wonders who these people speak for," he said.

"The attacks seem to be coming from militant secularists and radical humanists disturbed by faith who want to chase religion entirely from the public square and deny it any voice at all.

"Their irrational hostility and fanaticism undermines their claim to pluralism and demonstrates that actually it is the pope who is the true humanist."
And by Life Site News:
“I think the thing is turning now. Certainly in the next few days there’s going to be a turn-around and you will see more positive press. These hostile groups have made their arguments.”

While Ivereigh said “we’ve really been quite surprised” by the virulence of the attacks on the Church and the pope, he also said he takes the view that the papal visit presents a “tremendous opportunity politically.”“The government is wholly behind the visit and it is coming at an amazingly propitious time.

“I think there is in a strange way a hunger in British society to escape from moral relativism.” The economic crisis, he said has created a “new openness” that will create an opportunity for the people to connect with Pope Benedict and his message. “The hostility is because of this openness. It’s a response to it, in a way.”

He pointed to recent surveys taken by the Theos think tank and The Tablet that showed that the “strong opposition” to the visit so insisted on by the anti-pope protesters, is actually shared by no more than 5 percent of the British population. Ivereigh said that in fact, according to the polls, most British people are “indifferent” to the visit. “I think that the pope is something of an abstract figure to the British.”Nonetheless, although people don’t have strong feelings, the same poll showed that one in five is expected to follow the visit “closely.”

Ivereigh said that the polls have also shown that the British strongly admire the Catholic Church for its strong moral and social teaching. “It’s a typically British response, of course. They don’t have strong feelings themselves, but admire people with strong convictions.”

Papal visit police operation 'a lot smaller than Notting Hill Carnival'

Speaking at a briefing by the Association of Chief Police Officers (APCO) in London, Meredydd Hughes said that while officers would look after the "safety and dignity" of the pope, they would also protect those wishing to see him and any protesters against his visit too.

"There is no intelligence to suggest any specific group will attack the pope," he said, adding that the last few attacks on the pontiff were by Catholics.
The Met's "public order supremo", Commander Bob Broadhurst (photo), added that he expected "no more than 2,000 protesters to join the demonstration", and guesses between 10 and 20 protesters would turn up at the Pope's pastoral events elsewhere. While the police were not anticipating any disorderly protests, "we may at times be protecting the protesters from the faithful if one or two people get hot under the collar".

He pointed out that other events — including a full football programme — were continuing during the visit and the police operation would be "nowhere near the scale of the Notting Hill carnival".
Let's look at that again. The police operation for the four-day papal visit is nowhere near the scale of the Notting Hill Carnival.

Nor is the cost. The total cost of the policing for the papal visit is somewhere between £1m and 1.5m. The cost of policing the Notting Hill Carnival is £6.6m.

The G20? £7.5m. Tamil ceasefire protests? £12.8m. (You get the idea.)

Newman: the other miracle

A BBC2 documentary on Cardinal Newman to be screened the night before he is beatified will reveal that there is a second miracle currently being investigated. The programme, presented by a modern-day English convert, Ann Widdecombe, will include an interview with Andrea Ambrosi, Legal Counsel for the Birmingham Oratory, who in the programme is filmed on his way to Mexico City to investigate "a crucial second miracle that could lead to the eventual canonisation of Newman."

'Newman: saint or sinner?' will broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday 18 September at 6.45pm. It will doubtless be excellent, but why the execrable title? Surely saints are also sinners?

What flows 'tween Thames and Tiber

Says Francis Campbell, the UK's brilliant ambassador to the Holy See:

“In the last six years there have been five visits by British prime ministers to the Vatican because there is hard foreign policy work to be done in areas of conflict resolution, disarmament and international development.”
Earlier he was interviewed by CNS:
The first appointment on Pope Benedict's calendar Sept. 16 is a meeting with the queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, followed by a reception with 450 people, he said.

"The queen will introduce the pope to about 120 people representing different walks of life," he said.

Campbell said he expects the event will attract a lot of attention in Great Britain, but he also thinks the pope could make a big impact when he speaks Sept. 17 in London's historic Westminster Hall, a building completed in 1099 and once used for coronation festivities and as a venue for courts of law. In fact, St. Thomas More was condemned to death at Westminster Hall in 1535.

Leaders of British civil society, including artists, politicians, scholars and business officials, will attend the pope's speech in Westminster Hall.

Campbell said the fact that the pope was invited to speak in the same place where Thomas More was condemned -- for not siding with King Henry VIII in his debate with the Roman Catholic Church at a time of extreme church-state tensions -- "symbolizes a rapprochement" between British society and the papacy.

"It also says something about where we are as a country, the extent of religious pluralism and of tolerance and acceptance of people of other faiths and other denominations," said Campbell, the first Catholic to serve at British ambassador to the Vatican since the Reformation.

Campbell said that while many people in Italy, including at the Vatican, describe Great Britain as "very secular," 70 percent of the population identifies itself as Christian and the churches are very active in public debates.

Britain, he said, "is not a society that is apathetic about religion," and that can be seen in the media coverage in the run-up to the pope's visit.

"Some people would say, 'Well, do you prefer indifference or antagonism?' and I think I would prefer antagonism because it means you're relevant," he said.

In late August, Campbell's role in the planning process transformed into service as a consultant on the speeches government officials will make to the pope, on finalizing the guest list for government-hosted events and on organizing a working dinner for Vatican officials, British government representatives and leaders of other Christian churches and religious groups.

People who do not understand why Great Britain continues to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican haven't taken the time to see how many issues of concern to Great Britain are also issues of concern to the Vatican, including international development and showing solidarity with the poor, particularly by providing education and health care, he said.

The working dinner, which the pope will not attend, will cover "themes that are of importance in the state-to-state relationship between the U.K. and the Holy See. Those include climate change, disarmament, ethics in the economy, levels of international development spending, interfaith dialogue (and) ecumenism," he said.

Really, what IS this about?

Monitor has been slow to respond to Julie Burchill's Wednesday column (and accompanying picture) in the Independent -- because we just couldn't bring ourselves to. A more vile, twisted, sick, grotesque and hateful piece is hard to imagine. Why publish such a thing? What is this really all about? Back to Brendan O'Neill, obviously. There are dark subconscious forces at play here -- not dissimilar from those stirred up in America against Muslims. Poor Burchill, to be in the grip of such a thing.

The dangers of negative predictions

Anne McElvoy in the Evening Standard quotes a senior Foreign Office source -- not a Catholic -- as saying: “You'd be very foolish as a Government to fall in with the negative voices on a papal visit. Look at Australia — he went there at the height of the backlash about his handling of child abuse and among predictions that it would be a disaster. By the time he left, more people had turned out to see him than had seen the Sydney Olympics."

The piece has some other nuggets. But it begins very oddly indeed. The papal visit, she says, "has been mired in controversy in the Catholic flock about institutional child abuse by clergy". It's not clear what "institutional child abuse" looks like -- the cases concern human beings, rather than institutions -- but even stranger is the idea that the matter has been a cause of "controversy" among Catholics. Shame, dismay, yes -- but controversy? It is not, on the whole, the Catholics who have claimed that the Pope has suffered from "reluctance to deal with it". He seems to have been very willing to deal with it.

Newsnight spreads confusion about the 'gay Mass'

Peter Marshall took another hard look at the Church on Newsnight (here from 19.10 to 32.03), this time looking at doctrinal orthodoxy. Exhibit A of the Defence's case against Pope Benedict as a "hardliner" was the "gay Mass" -- actually, a Mass for gay people -- in Soho, central London, which is approved by Westminster Diocese (and defended here by +Vincent).

Mark Dowd, who also discussed the Mass in 'The Pope's British divisions', his excellent radio programme yesterday, has written about the Mass for the BBC News magazine here, noting that it has Vatican approval (or rather, they know about it); but  Newsnight preferred to say that the Vatican's attitude to the Mass was "unknown".

In fact, they are thoroughly aware. The process of setting up the official diocesan Mass for gay people following years of "unofficial" Masses celebrated by Catholic priests for gay people in an Anglican church was carefully squared with Cardinal Levada of the CDF who, having been Archbishop of San Francisco, knew all about the need for special pastoral provision for gay and lesbian Catholics.

The Newsnight report ignored all this, assuming that "being gay" was somehow against Catholic teaching, or that people who attended the Mass were sexually active -- although this was not actually said. All Marshall could only say was that the congregation in Soho was "openly, boldly homosexual" (although many of the congregants looked distinctly unhappy at being filmed). It took +Vincent to point out that the moment of receiving Communion was not "a moment of judgement", and that those who assumed the worst of others "ought to learn to hold their tongue". (Among those not hearing that was a scary woman protester outside the church, who said "there wasn't a man among them" -- meaning, as it happens, the bishops).

The writer Peter Stanford (photo) sought to explain the "difficulty" by contrasting the Church's "moral clarity" with its "endlessly compassionate" pastoral approach.  But that only added to the confusion caused by the assumption that "being gay" was a problem for the Church, reinforced by Marshall's pay-off line: Pope Benedict "may have to decide you can be gay and a good Catholic, whatever Vatican doctrine [sic] says".

But Pope Benedict will have already decided that -- in line with Catholic doctrine. It is not a gay orientation which is sinful, but homosexual acts. Of course you can be "gay and a good Catholic".