Published on 29 Mar 2010

What reception will the Pope receive in Britain?

Three times I have stood in St Peter’s Square and heard a red clad cardinal declare “Habemus Papam” – “we have a pope” – thus concluding the secret conclave that elects the successor to whichever dead one has just past.

The redoubtable Maureen Dowd of the New York Times called in the columns yesterday “Grey Lady” – for a time when we might hear the words Habemus Mama. And so, perhaps it is.

For beneath the scandal that currently threatens to throttle the authority of the present incumbent – no female he – is a harsh reality that has largely not been discussed.

That if women and men enjoyed equality of opportunity in the Catholic church, the abuse, the discovery, the cover-up, and the failure to prosecute would never have happened.

Indeed some think it not too fanciful to suggest that the victims of the abuse have been victims not only of the appalling crimes themselves but of a very male abuse of power.

It all brings us so exquisitely to the Equality Bill still in parliament – from which the religious organisations have had to be exempted in pivotal regards.

It brings us to the dilemma facing any secular state. How permissive can the state be of practices which run against the secular legal code?

Isn’t the pursuit of faith as fundamental a human right as that of equality? Should for example the Catholic church, and the Muslim faith be allowed to restrict key positions of prayerful power to men only? I have no idea how that one is resolved.

But what I do know is that where men and men are gathered together under one roof and there is lax interest, let alone control, over those who intersect with the innocent young, there is danger. The secular power has a duty to protect the innocent young.

According to several Vatican sources that I spoke to in Rome at the time of his consecration – the present pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, very much wanted the papacy. It is something which set him apart from the two other incumbents whose Habemus moment I witnessed.

John Paul I had not the slightest expectation, hope, nor desire to become Pope – he wasn’t even a cardinal, being at the time the Archbishop of Venice – the papacy rarely ever went to a man without the ‘red hat’.

Ahead of his election, John Paul II was the junior of the two Polish cardinals and almost the most junior cardinal of all. There hadn’t been a non-Italian elected in centuries. He was said to have had a girlfriend before he entered the seminary. He enjoyed skiing and football, and likewise had no expectation or immediate ambition of becoming pope.

Those of us who had worked in Rome as correspondents knew Cardinal Ratzinger as a renowned Vatican operative – who did much of the political heavy lifting whilst John Paul II was on his charismatic travels. He had political form, the fallout from which we are only just beginning to experience.

It all sets one wondering how the Pope’s visit to Britain, currently a comfortable six months away, will be viewed.

Amongst some Catholic sources here, whom I have spoken to, and some temporal ones too, there is already a real fear that matters will get much worse on the child abuse front; and that come September there will be a good number of Catholics and non-Catholics alike who will seriously regret ever inviting him.

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35 reader comments

  1. adz says:

    With all due to respect to catholics but the pope should be investigated first. Paedophilia is such an inhumane way of acting towards another small human. If my son is ever touched by another adult, I know for a fact that I would find it hard not to loose the plot.
    There is only one small problem though and that is that the Vatican is too powerful and will continue to do as it pleases, including comfortably letting the british tax payer pay for the papal visit.
    adzmundo The Venus Project & CND

  2. Sean F says:

    John Paul I had not the slightest expectation, hope, nor desire to become Pope – he wasn’t even a cardinal, being at the time the Archbishop of Venice

    Rubbish, he’d been a cardinal since 1973.

    1. the-Richard-of-Nottingham says:

      …you see jonny boy that’s where you’re losing it. In the detail. Not good for one of the heavy weight TV news journo’s.

      What reception will the pope receive in Britain ?

      Silence. Zero crowds, and zero coverage I hope.

  3. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    One of the main problems within the Catholic church, as far as I can see being an Anglican outsider, is that the cardinals are all old.

    The three layers of cardinals , deacons, priests and bishops ages ranges from 60 to 95. The Cardinal bishops , the highest rank from 74-90 yrs of age.

    I have nothing against age, except the progress is slow and the ideas are from the 19th Century. The abuse is surfacing from ages of gross sexual repression and it hasn’t moved on quickly enough ,to realise self flagellation and confessing sins is not sufficient forgiveness for sufferers of abuse.

    Women in the church may counterbalance the association of male sexuality with taking power with creative caring power.Sexuality must come out of the realms of closet cruelty and an openess enjoyed where physical love is not perceived to be deviant and is regarded as a more of natural aspect of life.
    For biblical sexuality “The Song of Solomon” should be read.

    From what I have seen from Catholic schools and churches though, there will be a good turn out to see the pope and he will be revered as ever.

    Doesn’t it seem strange though when the Mother of Christ is worshipped.?

  4. Tom Wright says:

    The government should worry more about the practical results of policy and become less bothered about ‘sending a message’. Attempting to enforce gender equality in religious ‘careers’ in practise is not going to work. Heavy-handed state intervention in the form a statute for women priests, imams or rabbis is going to be viewed as religious persecution, and history shows, that persecution often produces religious revival. Many Muslims already identify themselves as Muslim first and British second – regardless of their actual geographical enthnic origin. Should we add the Catholics and the Jews to this dangerous mix? We’ve seen what religious persecution did in Ireland. The result will be a new generation of political matyrs to religious freedom, many of whom will be women. At present, religion in the western world is largely dying out because it is viewed as irrelevant. The best thing atheists can do to promote atheism is to ignore religion alltogether. Paedophilia is a separate issue, and I’m all for a biblical punishment.

  5. Chris Rowe says:

    Hopefully respectful, but the harriagans of the thoughtless will no doubt seek trouble.

  6. Mel says:

    I dislike all religious organisations. I justify that dislike with the following: to me they are dangerous enclosed, elitist sects – the powrful within them praying on the vulnerable within them. They destroy lives of the most needy & innocent, without guilt, for their own greedy ends – sexual, political, financial. This pope has not had the right PR but lets not be fooled – he has covered up the same as all popes before him. They are not about humanity. They are not about faith in the goodness of people. And none of them ever have or ever will teach their books to their fullness. They twist & turn them picking out the bits that are advantageous & pretending other bits don’t exist. The Equality Bill on the issue of gender was a farce leaving it up to the religious leaders – the ones with the power to abuse and supress It is about time government laid the law down to the Catholic church & others. You cannot have human rights without equality, equality without human rights. Read your books again because you obviously read wrong Mary Magdalene and others who were made students, teachers, priestesses, prophets.
    But then there is the point – I can pick out the bits I like too!!!

  7. Jim Flavin says:

    Mr.Ratzinger should be fully in vestigated . The damage limitation exercise that is going on now – may well be to keep him out of being fully peronally implicated . Aside from the sex abuse scandal Ratzinger is at the head of an organization that suppported Fascism – and his Human Rights record and of that Organization [ The RC church ] is abysmal . He is against women being priests – agist Contraception , against Abortion – and against paying out any money to those damaged/ ruined by the clergy – while he sits on his Billions . He said Pray and fast – Does he take us for fools . Let him pay up . Last nite it showed him dolled up to the last in highly expensive ” gear ”- and the cardinals the same – in clothes that cost a fortune – sitting on vast fortunes in shares and works of Art – and this guy is ” the Hero of The Poor ”. The only thing he does for the poor – is keep them poor – . The recption I would like to give that so and so and his dreadful organiztion is rotten eggs and Tomatoes – and they would be getting off light -.However If possible at all his visit should be stopped .

  8. Gerry says:

    “It brings us to the dilemma facing any secular state. How permissive can the state be of practices which run against the secular legal code?

    Isn’t the pursuit of faith as fundamental a human right as that of equality? Should for example the Catholic church, and the Muslim faith be allowed to restrict key positions of prayerful power to men only? I have no idea how that one is resolved.”

    The dilemma can be resolved very easily…by speaking out bravely and clearly that god and gods do not exist, and that it’s about time the human race took responsibility for its own actions, moved into adulthood, and stopped believing in fantasies, however convenient and comforting they might be. People who lived 1000 years ago had excuses for believing in the existence of gods, because they had no way of explaining the existence or movement of the sun, planets and stars. In the 21st century, we can explain these things. No-one should be able to excuse themselves from following our secular code on religious grounds. All faiths are based on fantasies, and deserve to be ridiculed. Our society should be brave enough to do this.

    1. Mel says:

      I agree that religion is a ridiculous set of fantasies however that is my belief and your belief and we do not have the right to ridicule others for their beliefs. That is a very dangerous thing to do. for some people religious faith is one of their few comforts in life – it is what gives them hope. If we, the unreligious admit it, we all have our own little religions – mine is art. We do not have the right to take this away from them – it is their right to worship if they believe but what we should make sure of is that the organisations they are doing this within are safe domains and respectful to all members of society no matter what sex, creed, colour. And if they refuse to do it it is up to government to be brave enough to step in – only then can we go one step further towards a more equal, humane and understanding society.

    2. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      How do you know that your perception is a misplaced one and that a god or creative power of some sort exists? Why is it not possible for example that an aggregation of energy has the power to create from the dust that exists .Astronomically that is so and we are made of those same molecules. We being made of the same stuff may even have an impact on events.

    3. Marverde says:

      I disagree with Mel on this: “and we do not have the right to ridicule others for their beliefs”. Yes, we do. It is precisely because us, the unreligious, tend to extend that special (and unwarranted) consideration to those groups that we are in the mess we are, with religions making awful inroads into the fabric of our society and changing our laws to suit their DIY ones. No, Mel. Speak out. Before they don’t let you do it. Challenge and ridicule any ideas.

    4. Mel says:

      Ridicule is not the same as challenging. If we don’t challenge and speak nothing can change but ridicule is a totally different concept – it is a cruel and intolerant concept that has no place in any humane being.

    5. Marverde says:

      You challenge serious ideas you don’t share, you ridicule ideas that are preposterous.

  9. phil dicks says:

    He’ll get the same reception any Pope gets: craven, amoral adoration. You have to be peculiarly thick to leave the CofE’s pro-gay/women-bishop scenario for the Catholic Church – it would make more sense to choose Voodoo.
    Anyone who’s been to the Sistine Chapel has seen Catholicism for what it is – a cold salute to dead money.
    Catholics may be nice people by and large, but their Church is by and large not very lovable.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      catholics sure aint nice people by and large — they are fine if you agree with them – but disagree with their IMO Ice Age beliefs – and they are anything but pleasant – a nasty lot – with some honourable exceptions , who are unfortunately a tiny minority .

    2. Mel says:

      I agree about the Church not being lovable but for me I will see the
      Sistine chapel as no other than what it is – one of the greatest works of art of our times. And even this is not what it is made to seem – for instance the tree of the forbidden fruit was depicted as a fig tree not an apple tree – anyone with Jewish connections will know the relevance of this. There are many things within the painting of the Sistine chapel that the Vatican will never admit to.

  10. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    If we take away the trappings of all religions and look at the central theme of those religions I am aware of , there are some things in common such as love for the sake of love ,tolerance, fairness, the importance of every individual and a worship of those values.

    How this is achieved and what tag-on perceptions of what is included in those essentials is where man makes a mockery of religion.

    I have made ethics and reason my sustaining religion , but that is hard and in many ways I am a hippocrite to my own values especially when I can see the effort I make slandered and slaughtered by those who do not understand the love of humankind that drives myself and my kind.

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      Of course when I was just talking about perceptual difference and either misinterpretation or interpretation of phenomena , I made another error.—so obtuse– I should have said ” how do you know that your perception is NOT a misplaced one .”

      I am now going to bed to dream realising that I am part of the same stuff as ALL and the domino effect which has just suprised the chancellors as far as global crashes exists will still go on ad infinitum. Love to ALL..

  11. Namche says:

    Lets not pretend we live in a secular society whilst religious worship is compulsory in our schools and seats of law-wielding priveledge are given to chuchmen in the House of Lords. Even parliament feels it necessary to be seen to be abiding by religious doctrine, all the party leaders appear to be good little church goers, presumably they think people appreciate this. Whilst people should have their religious freedom, there should not be any special exceptions or circumstances afforded to religious groups over the rest of us and we should stop pandering to these evil, bigoted and dangerous institutions.

    1. Mel says:

      Absolutely agree. Part of what was behind the government’s get out clause was that they are all wrapped into these religious organisations and work with them behind closed doors to keep the status quo – that suits them just fine.

    2. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      By generalisation and making sweeping statements about all religious organisations are you not in danger of being a bigot yourself or is Your word law in itself?

    3. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      So you dont want double pay at Easter then?

    4. Namche says:

      Margaret, I tried to resist the urge to ignore your simplistic reply, but since there are many people like yourself I will respond as briefly as I can. I am not a bigot, unless a belief in knowledge and education based on understanding, observation, experiment and fact counts as bigotry these days. Religions are based on assertions of complete fantasy and are prepared to indoctrinate the most vulnerable of minds (particularly children) to achieve their own ends which seem to be the inexorable growth of said religious institution. I’m with Richard Dawkins on this one in that indoctrination of a child in to a religious belief system is a form of child abuse. What right do we have to shackle a persons mental development from such an early age as they will know no difference. There are many things in this universe(s) we don’t know; religion seeks to answer them by making up stories – I choose to answer them by saying we don’t know, let’s go and find out. And I can’t stand the way religion thinks it has a monopoly on good moral behaviour, it is their strongest argument for belief and belonging, but it is a lie. There is plenty of good moral generous behaviour in the real world.

  12. Meg Howarth says:

    See also Jonathan Rugman’s previous day’s blog: ‘Rugman in Rome’.

  13. adrian clarke says:

    Well the Pope should resign .The Catholic church should be presribed and the Pope should be banned from these shores

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      You are way off Adrian – I only wish that banning such an organization as the RC church would solve the problem – in fact it would make it worse . Ban virtually anything – and u make it more popular – and waht is the point in the pope resigning – to be replaced by another one – no let Nature – and Reason take its course – and someday that dreadful organiztion will be of little importance to anyone .

  14. Marverde says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Namche. I despair of all the attention, money and time that the country bestows on those groups and their “DIY Laws”. We have a secular, legal system for all, that’s the only one that applies and paedophilia is a crime, an appalling crime. The criminals and whoever covers up their crimes, have to be tried and sent to prison. Whether they belong to a religious group or an archery group, it’s totally irrelevant and not the country’s concern.

  15. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    Looking again at some of the comments and peoplethat are so full of hatred that they want to fight fire with fire.This is self perpetuating and escaltes into insurmountable violence ..e.g. Moscow.

    I say love to All and they vote it down. Why is everyone so full of hate?

    Sexual crimes against youngsters is intolerable and should be stamped out, but don’t put every evil motive in the big bag or else a mix will come out that no one can bear. Project good will to counter evil.

  16. don mac namara says:

    The Pope’s decision to accept an invitation to visit Britain- for he must be invited – is a political one . He may have weighted up the odds of deflecting attention heading his way concerning his personal involvement and certain knowledge of – child sex abuse in Germany . The rationale would be something like this ” lets get 15 mins of post -reformation photo op ; Mention something about Henry 8 .. sacking of the cathedrals .. and that we’re all pals again now. Even after the unmentionable WW2 – We forgive you.
    The 2 heads using the Royal ”We ” would make for a double first soundbite ‘
    One way or another he knows he wont get the rock star atatus afforded JP 2 in Ireland in 1979.
    He has’nt got the charisma – Neither does the Queen and unfortunately , neither do his congregations ,
    Now if Diana were alive it would have been altogether different ..
    He may not travel in the light of developments . His management of the child abuse in Ireland was inexcusable.
    His only dependable loyalists now would be the fervent grey heads – and they ( I’m one ) are not all that photogenic.

  17. Mudplugger says:

    Where mature nations go wrong is by not outlawing religious activity by anyone under the age of 18. We allow all religions, not just the Roman Catholics, to ‘capture’ malleable minds, turning them into the next generation of fairy-taled bigots.

    If any adult wishes to join any club, sect or society, then that should be supported in a free democracy – they can then choose to adhere to whatever internal rules that ‘club’ applies: after all, they made a free adult decision to join.

    The act of enrolling any child into any religion is an act of child abuse in itself – the fact that one church, largely resulting from its money-saving celibacy rule, encourages sexual abuse, if only as a by-product, amply demonstrates why child induction must be outlawed.

    But, as all our politicians still feel the need to display obsolete knee-bending adherence to the allegedly spriritual, there would seem to be little hope for change.

    So kids the world over will continue to be abused, while we all lie back and admire the beautiful ceilings, ignoring the profligate wealth and institutionalised offences. Scandalous.

  18. mel says:

    But what if my own personal opinion thinks some of your ideas are preposterous? Does that give me the right to ridicule you which in itself surely is just a form of tormenting and bullying and trying to shout and humiliate people down so that they become too afraid to speak? I can’t see how that would be democracy.

  19. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    In actual fact Namche I thought it was you making simplistic comments about religions and their isn’t any need to ignore anthing. You continue in your fairy tale world perceptions of religion if you desire ,I will wait for scientific explanations

    Firstly you generalised ,by putting all categories of religions into one basket.

    You state that all religions are based on fantasy , yet you yourself are being arrogant as religions may actually be based on science which allegory has been used to represent.

    Try not to show off and pretend you know all when there is so much science at present which reveals creative energy.

    Religion is not about some little man with a superpower sitting in the clouds , it is far more scientific than that .It is worship of something undiscovered.

    What I do agree with though some people/races do use religion to carry their own inadequacies forward.

    If you have a naive view of all religious perspective yourself, do not project your naivity on to other persons.

  20. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    “What right have we to shackle a childs mental development” ??????

    What right have we to teach them about any story . Roald Dhal, Enid Blighton, A.A. Milne.?

    What right have we to teach, maths , english, literature?

    What right have we to teach children that the ten commandments of love and the social rules which hold bearing in todays society are actually instructive?

  21. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    No ,what you are attempting to do is condescend, but that is transparent and it does not work.

    To be truly democratic all views have to be taken into consideration and satire including attempted condescension is bullying.It seems as though you are beginning to be self analytical which is good as you are realising your mistakes.

    Where things go too far is where the law comes into the matter

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