Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Money for Old Pope?

The media will once again be centre stage in the forthcoming days as a lot of interested commentators, myself included, are set to preside over the UK's first papal visit for nearly thirty years.

When I first mentioned the forthcoming visit to one of my more politically-informed friends, he immediately asked, 'Why's he coming then?' It was a question that took me somewhat by surprise. Does he need a reason? After all, he's the Pope. Head of the Roman Catholic Church, and in theory at least he is afforded all the rights of a head of state. However, his visit would not have created more controversy if it had been Robert Mugabe or Colonel Gaddafi strolling down the red carpet.

It may surprise a few people who know me well, but I am supportive of the Pope's visit to the UK, even though it is likely to cost taxpayers £10 million. As well as being a comforting reminder to British Catholics that they are a welcome part of the church's future, the very presence of foreign heads of state (albeit in loosely defined terms) is a reminder to other countries that the UK still has a role to play on the world stage.

For the church too, this may turn out to be a more positive visit than many would expect. In much the same way that those without faith only find themselves tested in the presence of those that have it, the church too needs to confront twenty-first century attitudes and seek to adjust its principles to reflect modern realities. For example, it is only by meeting children ravaged by AIDS in Africa or lives blighted due to overpopulation in certain parts of Asia that the church will ever be forced to reconsider its stance on sexual health or contraceptives. The world is ever-changing, and if a religion is to survive, it must develop through the changing attitudes of its followers.

The news that one of Pope Benedict's closest aides would not be accompanying him after the story broke that he had described England as a 'third world country' and suggested that we were subject to 'an aggressive new atheism' is profoundly disappointing but not particularly surprising. England is simultaneously a welcome home to people of all religions and yet it remains proudly secularist - we remain profoundly suspicious of anyone who proclaims to act on behalf of a religious dictat. Having said that, we are all guilty of presupposition. If we were playing Family Fortunes and the question was asked of us, 'What things do you associate with the Catholic Church?', it would be inevitable to hear 'child sex scandals' as one of the top five answers.

Does the Catholic Church deserve better? Perhaps. There must be senior members of the church who have spent their whole lives working quietly and honestly for their congregations, genuinely unaware of the acts of their fellow priests yet inevitably tarred with the same despicable brush. In their position, some must wearily wonder where the next inevitable paedophile accusation is coming from. Even in organisational terms, it must be difficult to face the future when your whole past is forever centred on the worst acts that you ever committed.

This is the main reason why the Catholic Church must see this visit as an opportunity. They are set to reap the financial rewards of at least 65,000 ticket sales for a single event where Pope Benedict is set to speak. If the purpose of their visit is genuinely about more than the money to be raised, it is time for Pope Benedict to publicly excommunicate all of the priests who have been implicated in sex scandals and make a long-overdue apology to the millions who have suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of the church's representatives.


  1. He won't though and we should ALL turn our backs on him and ostracise the paedophilic panderer until he does. Please do not forget ,he was the man in charge of investigations in this debacle and did nothing then, as indeed he will do nothing now!

  2. Hello Indy

    Sadly, I agree very much with what you say. The Church has really backed itself into a corner with this matter. By not investigating from the outset, they now can't apologise because the legal ramifications of doing so would bring the church completely to its knees. All the general words about the sad victims of abuse are surely worthless if you are one of the victims.