Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Westminster Cathedral


Westminster Abbey

from www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

Westminster Hall

From www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

Benedict: battler for Britain

Michael Cook, editor of MercatorNet, on five lessons of the visit:

1. Remember history.
2. Reason and faith are compatible.
3. Young people need challenging ideals.
4. Religion has a place in the public square.
5. The foundation for tolerance is respect, not relativism.

Pope UK speeches

all on the Vatican site here.

Ross Douthat on the Pope and the crowds

A thoughtful Catholic New York Times columnist explains why the doomsayers were proved so wrong:
No doubt most of Britain’s five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy’s record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal’s enablers still hold high office in the church.

But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain’s Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican’s critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren’t there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.

Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism’s neck. If it weren’t for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.

And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But as Newsweek noted earlier this year, there’s no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy’s fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)

And yes, the church’s exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don’t go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism’s rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That’s what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they’ve dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy’s purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.

Catholics do not — should not, must not — look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism’s greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See — including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism’s inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.

On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain’s politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that’s consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.

This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.

David Willey on the papal triumph

The BBC's Rome correspondent, who travelled back to Rome with the Pope, reflects:
In Rome, we are used to seeing the Pope kissing and blessing babies held up to him as he tours around the crowds during general audiences.

But in the eyes of British people he was certainly humanised by the media during his visit, even being photographed patting a police sniffer dog as he lined up for a souvenir photograph with a small group of the 2,000 policemen and women who have been in charge of his security.

A pope who had previously been regarded as someone rather cold, professorial, aloof and authoritarian; had suddenly been perceived as a rather kindly and gentle grandfather figure.

The Pope's triumph was really his speech to leaders of civil society at Westminster. One political mover and shaker told me afterwards his performance had been "sheer magic".

Within the space of two hours Pope Benedict penetrated the heart of the Anglican Establishment. In Lambeth Palace, Westminster Hall and the Abbey, he delivered a rather flattering tribute to what he found attractive about British culture and traditions.

I watched it all from a sort of BBC transparent bubble - a TV studio which had been hoisted on a crane high onto the roof of the Methodist Central Hall, giving us unprecedented views of the great West Door of the Coronation Abbey and the London landscape.

I reflected that travelling around Britain inside the papal bubble does give one a unique bird's eye view of contemporary British society.

How much the Pope actually observed for himself as he travelled from Edinburgh to Glasgow and on to London and Birmingham I do not know, but this journey did also cause me to "sit up and think" about how stereotyped the view of the Vatican from afar can become.

Vatican hails visit a 'success'

Paddy Agnew (photo), Rome correspondent of the Irish Times, reports on the Vatican's ecstatic reflections on the UK trip now that Benedict XVI is back in Rome.

EVEN AS Pope Benedict took a well-earned rest yesterday after the exertion of his four-day visit to Britain, there was no disguising the Holy See’s satisfaction about the trip.

Many observers argued that it had gone much better than might have been anticipated. As one Vatican insider put it:“At first, you were just relieved to see that nothing untoward had happened but then as the visit went on, it became clear that there was reason to be really joyful about how it was unfolding.”

Speaking in Birmingham on Sunday just before the pope returned to Rome, senior papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi referred to the “spiritual success” of the pope’s visit: “We’re all convinced that this has been a huge success, not so much from the viewpoint of the numbers which there were, mind you, but from the very real and strong sense that people were listening and that the pope’s message had been received with joy and respect by the faithful . . . This was a marvellous trip during which hundreds of thousands of people saw, heard and met the pope.”

Fr Lombardi argued that, especially in his Westminster Hall speech last Friday, the pope had conveyed a “positive message” about the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world. On top of that, the trip had represented a powerful boost for ecumenism, pointing out that the Westminster Abbey service, presided over by the pope and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, “went to the very heart of the significance of the ecumenical dialogue, namely how (Catholics and Anglicans) can together bear witness to Christ in today’s world”.

Fr Lombardi’s positive words were echoed by a number of experienced Vatican commentators. Sandro Magister, Vatican writer for weekly L’Espresso , was just one of many to comment on the unexpected positive reaction to the trip from the much-feared British media, saying: “I notice that the English media have reacted both with great surprise and very positively. Those same news organisations which for months had prepared for this trip with a whole range of very strong polemics were realistically forced to acknowledge that their predictions had been entirely overturned by that which Benedict was able to do and say during these few days”.

Dominic Lawson: the Independent 'apology'

Worth reproducing in full Dominic Lawson's article on the way The Independent got the Pope so badly wrong. Yesterday's editorial was commented on by Monitor here
One of Private Eye's most enduring satirical devices is the imaginary letter of apology by the press as a whole, when their commonly-held opinion about an individual is confounded by events. This would certainly apply to the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The headline on this newspaper's leading article yesterday – "Benedict spoke to Britain" – was not one that could have been imagined a week earlier.

Or, as Private Eye might put it: "The Pope. An Apology. We wish to apologise for describing His Holiness as the jackboot-wearing tyrannical leader of a corrupt institution committed to the rape of children and the extermination of the entire African continent. We now accept that he is a sweet old man, never happier than when kissing babies, and that this country has much to learn from his humanity and concern for the weakest in society."

Satire apart, I suspect the Pope's gentle manner and even his very evident physical frailty really did play a part in a reversal of rhetoric by what one might describe as the anti-clerical press. When someone is conjured up as a monster (or "a leering old villain in a frock" as Richard Dawkins put it) and emerges as a modest scholarly figure visibly ill at ease with the political bombast of a state visit, the opinion-formers sense that their readers will want a more gentle tone.

The fact is that the Pope is not, for all that those who demonstrated against him might believe, a political figure. As one might expect from someone deriving his world view from a religious leader who declared that the temporal and spiritual worlds should be entirely separate ("Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's"), Benedict has no interest in inserting the Catholic Church into the political process.

This, of course, is not what the Rev Ian Paisley, one of those who damned the Pope's visit, believes; and many of those apparently free-thinking liberals who demonstrated against the very idea of the Pope being invited here seemed to share that Protestant fundamentalist's view that the Vatican represents a lethal threat to the nation and to the British way of life. Thus Geoffrey Robertson QC warned his fellow anti-Papal visit demonstrators on Saturday that Benedict XVI did not accept "British values".

This idea that anyone who supports the Pope is conspiring in something inherently un-British is an unpleasant echo of the sort of poisonous sectarianism with which Dr Paisley was so intimately associated. It is not so long ago that the British establishment would not countenance the idea of a Catholic representing the Queen – and therefore the state – overseas: my father-in-law was vetoed as the Governor-General of New Zealand explicitly because he was a Catholic convert. To this day there is a law specifically denying the possibility for a Catholic to become the head of state, or even for the head of state to marry a Catholic.

Both those ancient but unrevoked laws and Geoffrey Robertson's more modern-sounding evocations of "British values" seemed based on the notion that the Vatican is fixatedly engaged in plotting the overthrow of the British political settlement, presumably in the hope that we become a theocracy, ruled from a hundred acres of ancient Rome; our Parliament and all the elected representatives therein, on this account, would have been hypnotised into slavish subservience to its Latin encyclicals.

It is true that there is a peculiar religious quota in the Palace of Westminster: the 26 "Lords Spiritual", comprising the leading Bishops of the Church of England. This is the only element that could remotely be described as theocratic within the British political system: campaigners for the legalisation of euthanasia have claimed that this religious block vote has scuppered their chances of getting such legislation on to the statute book, but so far as I can tell, they would not have won those votes even had all the Church of England Bishops abstained – and in any case, the opposition to euthanasia in the democratically elected Commons is even greater than it is in the Upper House.

More tellingly – at least as a refutation of the claim that the Pope envisages some sort of theocracy – when last year Gordon Brown offered a peerage to the retiring Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the Vatican was very much opposed to the notion, and O'Connor was prevailed upon to reject the honour of sitting in the legislature. Rome's view, in essence, was that canon law specifically abjured the idea that clergy should take any office which might involve the exercise of political power.

I suspect it is precisely the unpolitical nature of Pope Benedict that gives him a certain popular appeal, even to those who are not members of the Catholic Church, and who would certainly not feel bound to follow its unyielding doctrinal pronouncements. They can see that, unlike the world's temporal rulers, ultimately he has only the power of persuasion – and, some would add, of myth. He cannot imprison anyone for breaking his church's laws; nor does he have an army to impose his will on other states (the truth behind Stalin's dismissive remark to those who said he could not take on religion: "How many divisions has the Pope?").

This, of course, is all to the good. The worst excesses of child-abuse within the world-wide Catholic Church, and the most corrupt attempts at covering it up, occurred within regions where the Church had most control over the politicians, such as the Republic of Ireland, and, in the US, the state of Massachusetts. It was precisely because the priesthood in those states were so sure of special political protection, that the child-abusers in their number felt able to act with such impunity.

During the Mass at Westminster Cathedral Benedict apologised for "the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children ... within the church and by her ministers." He went on to describe these acts as "unspeakable crimes" – the use of the word "crimes" rather than "sins" an acknowledgement that this must be dealt with by the secular power of the criminal justice system.

Humility is perhaps the most difficult of all the virtues; the smuggest among the Pope's secular critics could learn from his example.

Guardian wrap-up from Cofton Park

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh joins Stephen Bates (photo) for a Guardian podcast wrap-up from Cofton Park. Listen here from 17:50.

Fiona O'Reilly on BBC London News

CV Fiona O'Reilly on the Pope's Day 2 -- with historian Michael Walsh.

Jamison v. Tatchell

This Sky News debate on the first day of Pope Benedict's visit shows that CV patron Fr Christopher Jamison doesn't need to hear Peter Tatchell to know what he's saying.

Catholic Voices in BBC documentary on Pope

Mark Dowd, presenter of the sympathetic "Trials of a Pope" screened on BBC2 on the eve of the papal visit, included four minutes on Catholic Voices, when he came to film at one of the briefing sessions. Interviews with two "young Catholic feminist" members of CV, Madeleine Teahan and Bonnie Lander.

Bonnie appears tonight on Channel 4's thought.tv at 7.55pm.

Leading Anglican ecstatic after Abbey service

Canon Jim Rosenthal, who -- roughly speaking -- does the communication for the Anglican Communion worldwide recalls:

As I left the Abbey and made my way down Whitehall, a young girl, walking along with her mother and 3 other children, said, "Father, did you see the Pope", I said, "Yes". She asked "Can you give us a blessing", I said, "of course" and learned their rather exotic African names and that they were from St Ignatius Church in Hackney. They carried the Union Jack with an image of the Pope and their smiles and level of excitement were infectious. They made me feel so good. As I said goodbye I asked them to light a candle for me and waved. I then stopped and asked the young boy if he would like to have my rather elegant order of service. "This is the official programme," I said. The boy, with a great smile said, "Thank you, Father", and promised they would keep it safe as a remembrance of this day. They touched it as if it were gold.

All I can say is that Christianity has a bright future if this young mother and her 4 children from Hackney have their say. For them and the Papal visit I simply say, Thanks be to God.

Benedict bounce for Birmingham business

It's not just the £12.5m revenue the Pope brought in his trail, says the city's Chamber of Commerce, but the goodwill he generated.

Humanists react to Westminster Hall speech

Andrew Copson at the BHA site:

'The idea that a reasonable politics cannot take place without "the corrective supplied by religion" is to argue for a privileging of religious views over equally strongly-held non-religious ethical beliefs that is not acceptable in a free society.

'The idea that religious people should always expect their conscience to trump the rights of others or that religious organisations should be free to follow their religion whatever the effects on other people, is equally unacceptable when the effect of such freedoms is to so seriously undermine the rights of others.

'The Pope's statements concerning the alleged "increasing marginalisation of religion" were a parody of the real situation in the UK, where politicians increasingly move to expand state-funded religious schools, contract public services out to religious organisations, and act in other ways that privilege religious beliefs and organisations in such a disproportionate and discriminatory manner.'

Lord Patten: the lessons

The PM's personal representative for the visit, writing in the Mirror:
There is a secular culture and consumerism sometimes seems king but, for many people, faith is what helps them through the day.

One sign of the Pope's relevance is the numbers who turned out to greet him, not just at the events but from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and in London, the roads were lined with people who wanted to cheer him.
I hope the visit will make us think deeper about the sort of society we live in and want to live in. I hope it will make us think more about our social responsibilities. I hope it will make us realise we need a serious dialogue between religious and secular groups.
I hope it will give people of all faiths more self confidence to stand up for themselves and to make the point that faith matters to society.

Max Clifford: visit was a PR success

The PR guru tells the BBC:

I think he got better coverage in the British media than I expected. In the build-up to the visit there was far more criticism than praise and then after he arrived far more praise than criticism. The pluses far outweighed the minuses.
From a PR perspective there is a huge amount that needs to be done, but the visit was a success - far more a success than I thought it might have been.

Archbishop Kelly: negativity 'swept away'

The Archbishop of Liverpool tells the Liverpool Echo:

“All the cynicism and the negativity has been swept aside by ordinary people – mass gatherings which represented a cross-section of our society, rather than just one group.”

Anne Applebaum: visit success showed benefits of religious freedom

Writing in the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum notes how vicious were the attacks on the Church -- but how the media gave plenty of airtime to the Church's defenders in response, so ensuring a success.

All in all, it was a huge success. But had the pope been treated politely from the start, I suspect he would have come and gone without a trace. The vast majority of Britons are not Catholic and would have tuned out deferential accounts of his sermons. The press would have relegated the whole thing to the religion section. Perhaps the faithful would still have gone to Mass, though maybe not so many: In the end, some 500,000 people probably saw him during his visit, which is quite a lot in a country largely composed of pagans and Protestants.
And thus did Benedict's visit to Britain turn into an advertisement for religious freedom -- the freedom to abhor religion and the freedom to practice it. Much to everyone's surprise, including the Vatican's, raucous discussion of Catholicism turned out to be good for Catholicism and interesting for atheists, too. The true aging theocrats -- in Saudi Arabia, in Iran -- should take note.

The 'Benedict bounce'

According to the Telegraph:

...[V]olunteers who have been manning the phones at the Catholic Enquiry Office received as many as 100 calls on Monday morning alone, just hours after Benedict returned to Italy.

Among those phoning was a Sikh woman, who said she had been moved by the first-ever state papal visit and wanted to find out how she could convert.

The church expects more calls to come in over the coming weeks, as happened in 1982 after John Paul II’s visit to the country.

“We have had some enquiries but it’s going to take some time,” a spokesman said.

Anna Arco: CV as example of 'empowered laity'

Writing at the Catholic Herald site, its features editor, Anna Arco, reflects on the Pope's call to the laity to take their place in the public square -- citing Catholic Voices as an example.

Dominic Burbidge: 'Rome hits home'

CV Dominic Burbidge writes at the Church Mouse blog:

Amidst the dizzying tumult of people and whirling show of flags, the Pope struck home with three points. First, faith and reason depend on each other like brothers. Throw away one and you lose the other; no one can be a brother on their own. In this country we are used to defining faith as blind acceptance. But this is an understanding lodged in a stereotype of the enlightenment somehow challenging the fundamentals of religion. The Pope sees faith in terms of the bringing together of different disciplines of reason into a unified whole—scientific certainty is not the only type of certainty. Faith follows the reasoned findings of the pure sciences, philosophy, history, sociology and theology and finds their points of unity. This is the faith that is inspiring, not just for religious but for the public at large.

Secondly, the Pope has joined forces with Newman on the fundamental importance of the respect for conscience. In Westminster Hall, where St Thomas More was sentenced for treason, Pope Benedict affirmed how “the great English scholar and statesman ... is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ‘good servant’ he was, because he chose to serve God first.”

This was not the Pope highlighting grievance with Henry VIII but a rallying call to Brits throughout the country. Conscience in public life is being shut out. From issues of embryonic stem cell research to euthanasia to homosexual adoption, legislators are convinced: there is no right to stand up against the license of individuals to do as they see fit. Pope Benedict joins voices with Newman and complains: “there are those who argue—paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination—that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.” The ability to act in conscience is essential for democracy, essential for the tolerance to other views of which our country is rightly proud.

And this deeper understanding of respect culminates in a third point Benedict and Newman have stressed: friendship. The theme of the papal visit: “heart speaks to heart” calls on Brits to value their personal relationship with each other and their personal relationship with God. In the bedroom chapel of Newman in Birmingham, pictures of his friends lined the wall so that he could turn and pray for them during Mass—his very own facebook. And so amidst the urban jungle of modern life, these two quiet gentlemen, Benedict and Newman, ask this third thing of us: that we may open our hearts to friends and God.