Thursday, 16 September 2010

Another Guardian letter

-- this time not from atheist celebrities, but (here) from "ordinary" Catholics -- including CV Neil D'Aguiar (photo).

We welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the UK as both head of state of the Holy See and as leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics and to the Catholic community of this country. We believe that his presence here comes at an urgent and pressing time, highlighting the trends in our country that serve only to denigrate human rights and human dignity. We support him wholeheartedly because in guarding the Deposit of Faith he:
Opposes the destruction of human life in the womb and values human life from conception to natural death

Opposes the trend towards refashioning the institution of marriage, thereby denigrating its inherent stability, rooted in the natural order, as being between one man and one woman.

Opposes the trend in the UK towards testing on human embryos, experimenting upon them and stripping the unborn of dignity, under a deceitful justification that this form of experimentation will yield medical benefits for mankind.

Has worked tirelessly to change the culture of the Catholic church to take very seriously allegations or incidences of child abuse, setting up child protection procedures and policies which now make the Catholic church the safest place for a child to be.

Promotes a vision of humanity which advocates a culture of life, stability, marriage, lifelong fidelity and love in which children are welcomed, rather than destroyed, in which human beings are open to new life, opposing vigorously a culture that treats the possibility of new life with contempt.

Upholds the innate, God-given dignity of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation or social background and upholds the rights and dignity of society's most vulnerable, the poor, the starving, the outcasts, prisoners, the mentally ill and distressed, the disabled, elderly, sick and all those who are so often disregarded by the rest of society.

Robertson has picked the wrong target

Says Scott Stephens, religion and ethics editor of the Australian broadcaster ABC: 
My complaint against Geoffrey Robertson is that he has indicted the wrong man. He seems to have allowed himself to be swept along by the fashionable tide of anti-Catholic jingoism. Had he not, perhaps he would have recognised that, for all of his failings and inadequacies, no-one in the Catholic Church has done so much to secure justice and healing for victims of sexual abuse, to punish the guilty and the bishops who were complicit in their crimes, and to lead the Church into sincere penitence and renewal, than has Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope as pluralist

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh in The Independent commenting on the Pope's Edinburgh speech:

In a diverse society the Catholic narrative, of course, is one among many, and cannot demand special privileges. Nor does it seek to. But it does seek expression, not just in newspaper columns or on airwaves, but in schools, charities, and homes for the elderly; and it asks for the right for these organisations to witness to the beliefs which drive and inspire those who run them and work for them, even when these appear to contradict contemporary mores. 
 An authentically pluralist society allows for this diversity – and the state encourages and protects it, balancing the various rights involved. To take a recent example, Catholic adoption agencies should have the right not to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents if they believe (because of what they understand to be God's vision for humanity) that the man-woman binary model is in the best interests of children.

The pope visit controversies

CV Chris Morgan tackles them on BBC World Service 'Europe Today'.

A CV explains why he joined

CV Jim Carr in the Irish Catholic:

So why did I join up? Like many lay Catholics, I have often felt intense exasperation at the negative portrayal of the Church in mainstream media. Some of this is down to genuine misunderstanding by journalists. Some of it - less than some conspiracy theorists would have you believe - is due to wilful misconstrual of the Church's position. But, mainly, the bad publicity is simply down to the Church not doing a very good job of explaining its position. Sometimes, spokesmen (and, regrettably, it is mainly men) use arcane and abstruse language. Sometimes, the tone can seem harsh and hostile. Sometimes, there is, perhaps a reticence and timidity about articulating what, after all, is a really powerful and wonderful message. Catholic Voices, I felt, offered an exciting opportunity to address this situation.

Two things in particular attracted me to the project. The first was its vision of the Church. The Church is not conceived as the clergy or the hierarchy, but as the whole people of God. Of this, the laity form a vital and integral part. But the corollary of this vision is that the laity can't take the easy, lazy route of hurling in the ditch, lamenting the Church's plight, and bashing the bishops. They too, need to take responsibility for getting the message out.

The second attractive aspect of the project was its positive view of the media. Too often, Church communications founder on the misportrayal of journalists as villains and scoundrels. The media are not the enemy. They are not 'out to get us'. Most journalists take seriously their vocation to report honestly and fairly, to facilitate debate, and enable the national conversation.

Andrew Brown on what the Pope meant

in the Guardian here
We're not used to Germans coming here to talk about the war, so many people have jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion about Pope Benedict's attack on atheist extremism. He didn't mean us. He didn't even mean Richard Dawkins. He was talking about the Nazis, who, he said "wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."

The atheist tyrannies of the 20th century did kill millions of people, many of them for their Christian beliefs. For Benedict, that is one of the main lessons of modern history. 
For him, a nation that turns away from God entirely has nothing to keep it from treating people as disposable means, rather than ends in themselves. The liberal appeal to reason, to choice, and to human rights doesn't go far enough. He believes in all three, but he thinks they must be derived from something else. That something else was once generally understood to be Christianity. If that is no longer true, Benedict believes we are all shrunken and impoverished: "Let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny'."

So he believes that what gave Britain the strength to resist nazism was its long Christian heritage, in which the powerful and effective were animated by their faith. The two saints he name checked in his opening address were a king of England, Edward the Confessor, and a queen of Scotland, Saint Margaret. But the three 19th-century Christians, one diplomatically a Scot, were all Protestants: William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, and David Livingstone. All would have been shocked to see a pope of Rome received in state by the Queen.

But it is not their successors who are jumping up and down and shouting now. It is the representatives of what he calls "the more aggressive forms of secularism" which "no longer value or even tolerate … the traditional values and cultural expressions [of Christianity]". It is difficult to judge to what extent this is a large-scale movement. The astonishing variety and force of invective thrown at the pope and his church in much of the media over the last week must certainly, some of it, come from people who would like to drive religious faith out of public life. At the same time, it's hard not to suppose that in some of this the Roman Catholic church is standing as a proxy for Islam, which is certainly a great deal more unpopular.

According to the British Social Attitudes survey, 45% of us believe that religious diversity is harming Britain and more than half of irreligious Britons believe that "Britain is deeply divided on religious lines". So the pope's worries about multiculturalism – and for that matter Cardinal Kasper's – are by no means confined to a kooky minority.

Where secularists see religion as a divisive force, and their own beliefs as the self-evident and true base on which a healthy society can be built, Benedict sees that secularism itself can be challenged. Human rights are not self-evident. What rights we have depend on what kind of people that we think we are, and that is exactly the kind of question which social change and multiculturalism sharpen. It's not a question to which there is any agreed answer in Britain today.

Catholic Voices on France24 TV

(But it's in English.) CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh is interviewed in the report --- and filmed being interviewed by Sky News -- which is followed by comment on CV by Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan (photo).

Give the Pope a chance

CV Madeleine Teahan writes at the Channel 4 News website:

Tolerance does not equate to shouting "I agree" it means a willingness to say "I'm listening." Advocating a fanatical cacophony of "I disagree!" in order to drown out a new or different voice is profoundly intolerant, especially for the 4.3 million British Catholics who would like to hear.
The tired retort - "you should not have to tolerate intolerant views and the Pope is a homophobe and a misogynist!" -is often hurled back at those who advocate the Pope having a state provided platform.

If you prescribe to the latter view of the Pope I can only ask - as a young woman who detests homophobia, is appalled by misogyny and greatly admires the Pope - that you listen to what the he has to say.

An extraordinary day

Catholics in the UK have long wanted a national debate about the role of faith in public life. Within hours of his landing in Scotland, the Pope has generated it. Secularists, atheists and humanists are outraged by the directness of his assault. The messenger may be humble and gentle. But his message cuts to the core.

The Pope continued the argument he began in Edinburgh at a joyous outdoor Mass attended by 70,000 in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, reprising a phrase which has come to dne his pontificate.
The evangelisation of culture is all the more important in our times, he said in his homily, "when a 'dictatorship of relativism' threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man's nature, his destiny and the ultimate good."

He continued: "There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty," he said. "Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister."
He went on to call on lay people "not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith's wisdom and vision in the public forum." Society today, he said, "needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the the welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility."

There were some moving moments in the Mass: stopping to kiss babies held up by security guards, and giving Communion to profoundly disabled people -- another way of giving the same message.

The mood among Catholics here is buoyant. It's the end of Day One, but we already have what Catholics have long wanted.

One can feel the ground shifting. Tomorrow will be fascinating.

On Nazism and atheism

British humanists have reacted furiously to Pope Benedict lumping together atheism and Nazism in his speech at Edinburgh.

"As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society," Pope Benedict said in his speech at Holyrood House at the start of the first ever state visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom.

In a statement, the British Humanist Association  -- part of the Protest the Pope coalition which has objected to the Pope being received as a head of state -- said:

"The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views or that it somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in God.
"The notion that it is non-religious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal."

What is the connection between Nazis and their atheism? Are the humanists right to describe the Pope's remarks as a libel?

The Pope did not say that atheism caused Nazism. But it is undoubtedly true that Nazism was made possible by its atheism; there were no moral constraints on the exercise of totalitarian power; nothing to prevent it sliding into idolatry. And of course the vision of society which the Nazis sought to impose knew no constraint. There was nothing to contain the exercise of power. Theirs was the ultimate naked public square.

Is "atheist extremism" in the UK anything like Nazism? No -- but only, perhaps, because it has not captured the state. But there are signs of extreme intolerance in groups such as the National Secular Society -- a desire to drive faith from the square. The Pope is warning about the consequences of that attitude, taken to its extremes, and allied to the power of the state.

Pope to 'win over Britain' by persuasion

So says CV coordinator Jack Valero in this Reuters report.
"I think he is going to have a good go at winning over Britain," Jack Valero, coordinator for the pro-Church group Catholic Voices, told Reuters.

"That has been his specialty, he is very keen on winning over secular societies through persuasion."

Reuters on Catholic Voices: 'one of the big innovations of this papal tour'

From Tom Heneghan's FaithWorld blog:

Catholic Voices, the speakers’ bureau that’s been putting up sparring partners for the Church’s critics, must already rank as one of the big innovations of this papal tour.  Popes are no strangers to protests when they visit foreign countries, but the Vatican and the local Church hierarchy usually ignore the critics or give cautious responses. Under Pope Benedict, Vatican public relations has been so badly organised that both he and his aides have often provided even more fuel for criticism. Given the strong and mostly critical interest the media would show in the pope’s visit, these speakers – journalists, lawyers, students and a few clergy – decided the Church needed  a more professional operation if it was to get its message across.

Catholic Voices coordinator Austen Ivereigh a former deputy editor of The Tablet and spokesman for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, gave me his thoughts about the project and how it’s been doing:

“We thought that our model of a ‘media-friendly, studio-ready, ego-free’ speakers would work well for both the Church and the 24-hours news media, but we’ve been amazed at its success. A big part of the success, we think, is that we making ourselves available to talk about absolutely anything –authoritatively, but in straightforward human language. I think the media have been really impressed that ‘ordinary’ Catholics have been standing up and rebutting these critiques – rather than polemicists or professional talking heads (or indeed bishops). We haven’t replaced those, of course, but have offered another kind of “voice” – deliberately non-expert, but very well briefed – alongside the usual commentators and spokespeople.

“It’s the fruit of six months of intensive briefings on hot topics, and media skills training. It’s been enormously satisfying to see a group of 20-odd ‘ordinary’ Catholics – not leaders of Church organisations, but people with jobs, generally in their 20s and 30s – appear in studios and carry off an effective 3-minute live broadcast interview. I think we’ve presented a much more ‘real’ face of the Church than the media are used to.

“The ferocity of the criticism directed at the Pope and the state nature of the visit – a lot of it deeply irrational, and clumsy in its allegations – has kept us in demand; journalists have been looking for responses that are straightforward and human, and which reflect attitudes in the Catholic community.”

Catholic Voices also runs a Media Monitor blog, tracking the debate in the media and talking back to its critics. There are plenty of links there to video clips showing their appearances on British television or articles in print. One interesting post that shows it’s drawn some blood recounts how a leading critic, the prominent lawyer Sir Geoffrey Robertson, pulled out of a Sky TV interview with Ivereigh and refused to debate him on Al Jazeera. Robertson argued in a new book “The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse” that the Vatican did not deserve a state visit because it was not really a state – despite the fact the Holy See is recognised as a sovereign state in international law, as Ivereigh has been telling anyone ready to listen.

Pope speech at Holyrood House

Following the Queen's words of welcome, Pope Benedict recalled how the name of Holyrood House recalls  the Holy Cross and the "deep Christian roots still present" in British national life. He noted how the monarchs of England and Scotland "included Christians from early times", and included "outstanding saints" like Margaret of Scotland and Edward the Confessor, many of whom "exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel". As a result, the Christian message, he said, has been "an integral part of the language, thought and culture of these islands for more than 1000 years", demonstrated in respect for truth and justice, mercy and charity, for Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Pope praised "many examples of this force for good" in Britons such as William Wilberforce and David Livingstone who struggled to end the slave trade, and Florence Nightingale for setting new standards in health care. Cardinal Newman, he said, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were born and nurtured in these islands. He recalled how the British stood against Nazi Germany, received Jews, and paid with their lives in a struggle against atheist extremism, which in the totalitarian experiments of the twentieth century showed how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue in public life led to a reductive vision of the person and  his dignity.

The Pope also praised Great Britain for helping to usher in a postwar period of prosperity and peace, founding the UN. He also praised the Good Friday Agreement and the peaceful resolution of the Northern Irish conflict. "I encourage everyone involved to work consciously together for a just and lasting peace,"
he said.

Britain, he went on, was a key figure on international stage, politically and economically, he said, as a shaper of ideas, and has a particular responsibility to work for the common good. The media, he said, had a greater responsibility than most because of this influence. "May all Britons continue to live by honesty, respect and fair-mindedness which have won them esteem and admiration of many."

He said Britain was now striving to be a modern, multicultural society. "In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate," he said, adding: "Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms". 

On plane, Pope speaks of sadness over abuse

This is the report from Catholic News Service. See also AP and PA

 En route to Great Britain for a four-day visit, Pope Benedict XVI offered a strongly worded analysis of the priestly sex abuse crisis, saying the church was not vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to the problem.

"These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible," he said.

The 83-year-old pope spoke in response to questions pre-submitted by reporters aboard his chartered Alitalia jet. In other remarks, he said he looked forward to a fair hearing in Britain, saying the country had a long tradition of tolerance along with historical moments of anti-Catholicism.

Asked about sex abuse cases that have come to light in Europe and elsewhere in recent years, the pope said it was inexplicable to him how a priest who has promised at his ordination to act in the person of Christ, as a good shepherd, could "fall into this perversion."

"It is a great sadness. It is a sadness, also, that the authority of the church was not vigilant enough, was not sufficiently fast and decisive in taking the necessary measures," he said.

For all these reasons, he said, the church is experiencing a moment of penitence and humility, making an effort to renew its "absolute sincerity." He thanked the bishops of Great Britain for the measures they have adopted to prevent sex abuse by clergy.

After a study by a British judge, Lord Nolan, in 2001 the bishops adopted a series of measures to protect children, including setting up a national office for child protection and encouraging the appointment of trained child protection officers in each parish and school. The bishops also made a commitment to turn every case of alleged child abuse over to the police.

The pope said the universal church has as its "first priority" the recovery of sex abuse victims. He said three things were necessary. The first was to help victims overcome their traumas, and restore their trust in the message of Christ, he said.

The second aspect, he said, was to mete out justice to guilty priests and help make sure they are excluded from any contact with young people. At the same time, he said, "we know this is a sickness, and free will does not function," so in a sense the church is helping protect the perpetrators from themselves.

The third element, the pope added, was prevention, particularly in the choice of candidates for the priesthood, so that future cases of abuse can be avoided.

Pope Benedict was asked about criticism of his visit from some quarters in British society, including secular and atheistic voices. He said that he would try to make it clear that the church was not preaching a message about its own power, but about the saving message of the Gospel and the need to help the weak.

"I would say that a church that is trying above all to be attractive is already on the wrong road. Because the church is not working for itself, it is not working to increase its numbers. The church is at the service of others," he said.

As for his reception in Britain, the pope said he was confident he would get a fair hearing.

"I am going forward with great courage and with joy," he added.

He said his own message will focus on "the great figure of Christ" and the Gospel message of love, peace and reconciliation. The Catholic Church shares that task with the Anglican Church, and also shares common objectives with the British government, especially when it comes to battling evils like poverty, drug abuse and disease throughout the world, he said.

While his visit is not a political event, he said politics and religion share a common responsibility to work for good in the world. This cooperation is crucial for the future of Europe and the future of humanity, he said.

The pope commented on the figure of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom he will beatify on the last day of his four-day visit. The 19th-century theologian remains an exceptionally relevant figure for the modern world because his faith was not the "formula" faith of the past but a questioning and thinking faith, the pope said.

That makes him especially important for our "skeptical culture of today," he said.

Vatican statehood: some useful sources

A reader has kindly sent us this very useful briefing on the Vatican statehood question.

Today programme on Pope's agenda

Robert Pigott reports on the Pope's agenda, including interviews with theologian Tina Beattie, the 'Big Society' thinker Philip Blond, and CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh, who says that the closure of the Catholic adoption agenciesin 2008 showed the bishops they now had to argue for the presence of faith in the public square. Listen here.

It was followed by a discussion between Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Mona Siddiqui and A C Grayling. Listen here.

Pope Thursday: What the papers say

Cardinal Kasper's gaffe makes the front pages of the Mail ('What an unholy welcome to Britain'), the Guardian ('Pope flies into row over aide's race remarks') and the Times ('Vatican left to rue 'Third World' jibe').

The Telegraph front page runs with a pledge by Tory party chairman Baroness Warsi to "restore faith to the heart of Britain". She says the Government "understands faith" and wants religious groups to play a greater role in British public life. Addressing Anglican bishops yesterday she said they would have "more power, more responsibility, and more choice", and that faith groups were "at the heart of society" and "key to its future". She criticised the previous Government's record, saying faith was treated as being a matter of "oddities, foreigners and minorities".

The speech is a strategic attempt to position the Government as close to Pope Benedict's expected message on Friday at Westminster Hall tomorrow.

The Independent re-establishes its itself as the voice of secularism by ignoring the visit altogether on its front page, instead advertising a piece by Richard Dawkins. On its comments page, the pope is caricatured in a cartoon as weary and blood-stained.

The Times offers a 16-page souvenir guide to the papal visit -- even before it has started. Articles by Ed Stourton, Lord Patten, Mary Kenny, Eamon Duffy, Sheridan Gilley, James MacMillan, Anna Arco and  William Oddie. 

inside the paper, a cartoon shows the popemobile pulling suitcases marked "anti-gay", "child abuse", and so on.

The Guardian carries an extensive report on calls by abuse victims for "truth, justice and accountability" from the Church. Four Catholics offer their views about the papal visit. A Steve Bell cartoon shows the Pope coming off an aeroplane declaring "Hello Third Vorld" and "It's raining schvarzers und atheists".

The Telegraph leader offers a "heartfelt welcome" for Benedict XVI, who holds up a mirror to Britain, the paper thinks. "What kind of people are we?" It concludes that "for Britons of all beliefs, the Pope's visit is a good thing".

The Mail meanwhile dedicates pages to the "atheist hate campaign" against the Pope, pegged to the letter yesterday to the Guardian signed by 50 celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Philip Pullman, Peter Tatchell, Geoffrey Robertson, Polly Toynbee and Andrew Copson. In its leader, the Mail accuses the atheists of "gross discourtesy to an honoured guest".

Ivereigh v Robertson (contd)

Geoffrey Robertson QC has been refusing to debate CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh -- pulling out of TV interviews when he learns Ivereigh will be his opponent. Last night, they briefly crossed at the BBC's Milbank studios, where Robertson pre-recorded an interview for ABC National Radio Breakfast with Fran Kelly, which Ivereigh then commented on live. (It is written up here.)

After introducing himself, Ivereigh asked him: "Why won't you debate with me?". Robertson made swiftly for the door. "I'll debate you anytime, Austen", he said. "Then why not on Al Jazeera tomorrow?" Ivereigh asked. Robertson left, without replying.

CV comments on papal protesters

The BBC tours the anti-Pope protesters, and quotes CV as follows:

Austen Ivereigh, co-ordinator of Catholic Voices - a group set up to put the Church's view during the visit- said Protest the Pope was a loosely-aligned group with an intellectual position that had no popular support. "What drives the secularists is a fear of faith in the public sphere, but I don't think any of them represent serious public opinion," he told the BBC. "Most people are open to religion, even if they are not religious themselves."

Robert Pigott on Catholic Voices

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent comments on groups claiming to represent the Catholic Church at the corporation's College of Journalism website.

The Catholic Voices team have been operational for several weeks. Broadcasters have treated them not so much as a kind of "professional vox pops", as a body with an well-articulated, mildly conservative opinion on almost all the central issues under discussion during the papal trip. So is that justified? I think it is - as long as journalists take responsibility for understanding enough of the arguments being made to be sure that Catholic Voices are, as they claim to be, speaking for Catholicism.
 And he concludes:
The line taken by Catholic Voices tends to mirror very closely that taken by the official Church. In fact at a BBC lunch a week or so ago, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols tried to take credit for helping to set up the group. He has certainly given it his approval and support, but unless or until the Church takes ownership of the organisation entirely, we cannot afford to drop our guard.