Today is a special day in my family. It would have been my father’s 85th birthday. Today is also the day in which we “welcome” another octogenarian to the United Kingdom. Both men preached the gospels – one I admired immensely (and still do) the other I abhor, and I offer no prize for guessing which one is which.
There has been enormous controversy concerning the pope’s visit, and quite rightly so. Let me get one thing straight. I have no objection to the pope coming to this country as head of the catholic church and spiritual leader of his flock. I do have strong objections to him coming here on a full blown state visit, partly at my expense.
First things first – the Vatican City State is not really a nation state in any proper sense. It was created as an act of political expediency by the Lateran Treaty in 1929 to solve an impasse between the pope and the Italian government that had rattled on for nearly seventy years. The Vatican covers an area of around 110 acres (roughly sixty football pitches) and has a population of just over 800 – not even the equivalent of a small English parish. The idea that the bishop of Rome has been invited as the head of this micro-state is, of course, nonsense and a lie. He is coming here as the head of a religious sect and we are thereby providing him with a platform and recognition not afforded to other religious leaders.
Now let’s deal with the question of numbers. The catholic church claims to have more than a billion adherents worldwide. It is crucial to remember how they calculate this figure. It is based on a raw figure of the number of people baptised and/or confirmed into the church and that have not yet renounced it. It is not a measure of the numbers currently attending church and practising the faith. I married into a catholic family. The catholic church counts them as four followers, although only one ever goes to mass. Translate this across the country and you have the position that the catholic church claims over four and a half million members in the United Kingdom, but admits that only about a million of them attend mass. For a true catholic missing the mass is a mortal sin. Clearly, the church is being disingenuous as to its true size and almost certainly trying to punch above its real weight.
You have to travel back nearly five hundred years in history to get to the last time that we were under thrall of the catholic church. The Act of Succession of 1534 effectively ended the control that the popes had previously held over the governance of England. But to view the recent antics of some of the pope’s friends you would think little had changed. Cardinal Kasper’s outburst on the eve of the visit betrays the real arrogance of the princes of the church. (If this were indeed a third world country I would expect the catholic missionaries to be pouring in by the hundred.) The pope’s intervention into the debate on the Equality Act argues that he still sees himself as having some sort of special status. Make no mistake bout it, the pope sees himself as a political force.
(Given that the invitation to come to Britain was made in 2009 by a Prime Minister who, at the time, was marginally less popular than the Black Death, it looks like Gordo was playing politics as well.)
All that aside, I have other objections to having this man in my country.
First and most obvious are his views on homosexuality. In 1986, when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. In this he said “although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
It is difficult to find words to describe how offensive I find this. Read the bible – the capacity to do evil stems from choice. Sexual orientation does not, never did and never will. Religion, on the other hand, is most definitely a question of choice.
I recently watched a debate in the Intelligence Squared series in which a catholic archbishop was challenged to say where Christ had condemned homosexuality. He repeatedly ducked the question. Not that that should surprise anyone. It isn’t there.
The biblical objections do not stem from Christ’s teachings. At the same time there are all sorts of things in the bible to which the catholic church now turns a blind eye – stoning your daughter to death, for instance – you’ll find that little gem in Deuteronomy.
Then we have the pope’s stance on the use of condoms. He actively encourages the outright LIE that condoms can increase the spread of HIV. Aid from the catholic church to third world countries is conditional on them saying “no” to the use of condoms – a policy that condemns millions to disease and poverty. Saving lives, it appears, is second to dogma – an attitude that would be condemned by their own saviour who helped people regardless of who they were or what they’d done.
Finally we have the issue of child abuse, or as Stephen Fry bravely maintains – child rape. The catholic church’s record, and that of this pope in particular, on this is appalling. In one case it took cardinal Ratzinger’s office over seven years to get round to expelling a priest where there was clear evidence of abuse. Channel 4 News recently trawled through Court records to compile a record of sexual offences by catholic priests in England in recent years. 37 priests, 330 offences resulting in sentences totalling 157 years in jail. AND THOSE ARE JUST THE ONES WE KNOW ABOUT.
Welcome this man if you will, Ma’am, but NOT in my name.
Rant over – let’s finish with a song: