Pope Benedict early years

The Pope: A very British welcome

There are some days I wish I lived somewhere other than the UK. The weather’s a bit rubbish, for starters. Today is a day of mixed emotions: on the one hand, I’m rather put out to see that we’re giving Pope Benedict XVI the honour of a state visit, deciding not to allow a prosecution of him and throwing a fair amount of money at the man. On the other hand, I’m pleased to see the reaction to his visit from the public and even a lot of our media. Broadly speaking, it’s hostile or indifferent. This is excellent, and I’ll come on to why this is in a moment.

Firstly, I’d like to condemn some bloggers and others who have published this photograph of the Pope:

This Pope has been accused of a lot of things. As a young man, he was a member of the Hitler Youth, but this was a mandatory requirement for boys of his age in Germany at that time. The Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in its dealings with Nazi Germany. Benedict, to my mind, doesn’t. In any case, the photo is a cropped image of a blessing he was giving. Let’s talk about the facts here. The truth about the Pope is damning enough.

I’m pleased that the Pope is getting a hostile or indifferent reception here in the UK because this reaction isn’t based on some kind of firebrand Ian Paisley objection to his Catholicism. In theory, the Pope still perceives the Church of England as a heretical breakaway shard of the Mother Church, and a few decades ago his visit to the UK would have been tricky thanks to mutual distrust on both sides.

We’re in the 21st Century now. The UK is one of the most secular countries in the world. Nobody really cares about the Pope’s religious differences to the UK, so nobody opposes him on these grounds. Instead, there is oppostion to the Pope on the grounds of his backward views on contraception, fertility treatment, homosexuality, gender equality, and his hard work to cover up the abuse scandals that have rocked the church. That we care about these issues and not his religious differences to our “state” church speaks volumes about how as a society support values that the Church (of all flavours) has tried to stifle over the years. After all, we objected to the Chinese State visit in 2005. Objection to the Pope in 2010 is nothing to do with our religion.

Cardinal Walter Kasper yesterday claimed the UK was a Third World Country, and criticised the UK’s secularism and alleged persecution of Christians (usually code for refusing to give special favours to Christians). It’s thanks to the UK’s secularism that people are indifferent to the Pope’s visit. It’s thanks to our secularism that nobody is queuing up to burn him at the stake. It’s thanks to our secular tradition that the Pope is able to visit the UK at all.

How’s that for irony?

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