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Papal visit: give Pope a chance

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 16 September 2010

As Pope Benedict criticises Britain's "aggressive secularism" at the beginning of his visit to the UK, Catholic Madeleine Teahan writes for Channel 4 News that people should give him a chance, or face betraying the famous British sense of fair play and tolerance.

Moer than 4 million Catholics welcome Pope Benedict's visit (Reuters).

Madeleine Teahan is a representative of Catholic Voices, a group set up to articulate the Catholic church's position on contentious issues. She is a 23-year-old parliamentary researcher in the House of Lords.

When Pope John Paul visited Britain in 1982 the UK and the rest of Europe looked dramatically different, and so perhaps did the face of the Roman Catholic church.

Having entered this world in 1986, I find it difficult to imagine no internet, no mobile phones and a volatile line of demarcation across our continent, separating the USSR and the USA.

Further contrasts extend to the nature of the 1982 papal visit and its context. Pope John Paul II was invited by the Catholic church, whereas Pope Benedict has been invited by the Queen which constitutes a state visit, funded by the taxpayer.

More from Channel 4 News on the papal visit
Pope warns of 'aggressive secularism'
- Snowblog: why Benedict is no John Paul
- Who Knows Who: Benedict in Britain
- The weird and wonderful souvenirs of the Pope's visit
- Catholic abuse in England and Wales revealed

Pope John Paul II is often described as popular and charismatic, whilst Benedict is perceived as rigidly conservative, lacking the popularity and persona of his predecessor.

Benedict also arrives in the wake of a shocking scandal shaking the Catholic church and his message to the UK will perhaps prove even more counter-cultural as Britain has adopted an increasingly 'laissez-faire' social agenda since 1982. In short, the climate for this papal visit is significantly less auspicious than the previous, so why do Catholics welcome it and why might the remainder of British society?

Why welcome this visit?
A common complaint about the papal visit is the bill to the taxpayer. In the current economic climate it is even more understandable that we should expect value for money. Yet little mention is made of the economic benefit with the world's eyes on the UK in these four days, with Edinburgh and Birmingham expected to make around £16.5 million from the visit.

On a deeper level, when compared with John Paul II, Pope Benedict's election is too often portrayed as the arrival of the arch-conservative, dragging the church backwards kicking and screaming. But Benedict's vision and hope for the social and moral fabric of society is no different to his predecessor's and when explained and explored is just as beautiful.

His encyclical last year was a profound challenge to the laissez-faire market, and a call for a radical re-organisation of society on more human lines. Furthermore, a recent poll commissioned by Theos was highly encouraging for Catholics, as it revealed significant support for the Catholic church's social teaching, with key tenets on the environment, economy and sexuality resonating significantly with respondents. In many respects, Pope Benedict's vision is not as counter-cultural as some might assume.

What does it mean?  
There are numerous answers to the questions "what does it mean to be British?" and "what do Brits believe in and stand for?".  

Although total consensus is sometimes difficult to find, tolerance is surely an indigenous characteristic of the typical Brit and this is quite rightly a source of national pride.

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.

If you still draw the same conclusions, then I and many other Catholics will champion your right to respectfully express it, but the Pope has a right to at least be heard. To deny him this is just not British.

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