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Debate: Will the papal visit change Britain?

Archbishop Nichols and Lord Patten both say it will have a profound, lasting effect on British society

By on Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Pope Benedict XVI will be welcomed by the Queen at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on Thursday, September 16

Pope Benedict XVI will be welcomed by the Queen at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on Thursday, September 16

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said in a recent BBC interview that the Pope’s visit will “really change the way we understand ourselves”. The moment the Queen welcomes the Pope, he said, will be “full of resonance” for the history of Britain: it will be the first time that a pope has ever been welcomed here by a British monarch.

Lord Patten, too, pointed to the historic significance of Pope Benedict’s trip. He said it will ensure that Catholics never again feel like “second-class” citizens.

Yet most Catholics are unlikely to actually see the Pope, other than on television. And, so far, all the visit seems to have done is incite hostility towards the Holy Father and the Catholic Church.

So, will the papal visit change Britain? Or will it make no lasting difference?

  • Drover

    Externally, nothing will change. But many hearts will be touched by the luminous teaching of the Holy Father. Church and society will be quietly renewed from within.

  • JamesWilliams

    There is a hardcore of New Atheists, a tiny minority of embittered Marxist agitators, who will try to make the trip a disaster, but I predict it will go well in the end. Most British people are not really anti-Catholic, just ignorant of Catholicism.

  • Rohan

    When freedom of information laws allow secularists to uncover the true financial cost of this completely unnecessary visit (including the millions of pounds that police are meant to find within their existing budgets), at a time when all government departments are having their budgets slashed, the British people will become resentful of this spectacle. Papal visits to other countries have cost as much as £100m and it is possible this visit will be the same, when taking into account policing costs. Police departments are already losing funding but will be given no extra support from the government during this time when they need to provide such a high level of security.

    The United Kingdom has no need for strong ties to the Vatican. The Vatican was only made a sovereign nation last century, by Mussolini of all people. The idea that the decision of this fascist dictator to do a deal with the Vatican should be respected by our government is laughable. This is not really a state visit – the Vatican shouldn’t even be acknowledged as a sovereign nation. This visit is for the purpose of evangelisation, pure and simple. It is an insult to the intelligence of all non-Catholics in this country to suggest otherwise.

    Thankfully, the Catholic Church has dwindling numbers all over the western world. There is no obvious economic benefit to having improved relations with this “state”. The only people this visit will potentially benefit are Catholics, and they make up a small fraction of our population.

  • michael_oneill99

    I like what Archbishop Nichols said in another interview, that seeing the Holy Father on TV will help convey his gentleness to people. I looked up the quote, and he said: “Here is a man who is most impressive when you sit down and talk to him face to face. One of the great advantages of television is that it brings the face close to us and I think that will help. People will see the utter integrity of this man who is at peace..”

    I think it will change Britain. People will warm to Pope Benedict even if they are not Catholic or even Christian.

  • burritobob

    Rohan has made an elementary mistake, one we will no doubt hear frequently over the coming months. He confuses the Vatican City State, a territory created in 1929, with the Holy See, one of the world's oldest sovereign entities. The Vatican was NOT made a sovereign state by Mussolini. It had existed as such for centuries before. No matter how many times the Mussolini myth is repeated it won't become true.

  • Jack Regan

    I can see a lot of people thinking that the earth will move and then being surprised when on Monday September 20th everyone turns up for work as normal again for another week…

    I think it has the potential to change the Church in this country certainly. If, that is, we can stop bickering and figure out how!!

  • Rohan

    Long established criteria under international law for “statehood” include: having a permanent population, having a defined territory, having a stable government, having capacity to enter diplomatic relations with other states.

    The “Holy See”, as distinct from the Vatican City State, didn't fullfil these criteria without the existence of the Vatican City State and, arguably, still doesn't. You can talk semantics all you want but the idea that this is a real state is truly laughable.

    The “Holy See” doesn't have voting rights in the UN – it merely has the right to observe. The continued maintenance of the pretense that they are a real state is completely self-serving. It shields church senior leadership from prosecution and saves the church money.

  • Michael Kenny

    For me the issue is not being a second class citizen – the working class Catholic ghetto has vanished (at least in Liverpool where I live) – the issue for me, is whether Catholics agree with the Pope's conservatism. We may need to make the move beyond ethnic identity towards doctrine – and tell people to make a decision, either choose to accept doctrine or leave. (I left)

  • Colin

    I think before and when he arrives the press will go into a flurry of activity pointing out the huge costs and lavish expenses on this trip, that the vast majority of the British people do not want. As a result of him coming in a recession, I think it will do nothing but increase anti-Catholicism in this country, whether rightly or wrongly.

    Arriving amid huge moral scandals in the church might also be a bad idea. If the Pope decides to lecture the British people on what is moral and just, then not only will they not take kindly to that, they will obviously point out the hypocracy of an institution which currently has a very shaky moral foundation.

    Further, if the Pope uses any his time here to criticise our way of life and our laws (such as equality laws, gay partnerships, etc) then he will most certainly be criticised in the press and across the nation.

    Even right now you need only open any newspaper and turn to the letters page, they are almost universally negative about his trip to this country. I often read the letters pages of about half a dozen newspapers every day (they are left in the canteen of my work) and I must say about 9/10 of all letters and opinions in them have been rather negative. I see the visit as causing bad propoganda for the church in this country and it will only get worse the closer to the visit we get.

  • Guest

    Britain may change, it is always changing, but the Bits will never change. They have left the Anglican Church many decades ago but are still deeply anti-Catholic.

  • Rohan

    I think many people will not be fooled by a nice smile and the appearance of a seemingly harmless old man. This is a man who advocates going around Africa, a continent ravaged by HIV/AIDS and full of impoverished and poorly educated people, telling them that wearing condoms is morally wrong. This is moral bankruptcy and there is no excuse for it. He has even advocated spreading the blatant lie that condom use increases risk of HIV/AIDS. He doesn't care if people are infected with a life-threatening illness, as long as they don't use condoms. He also seems totally uninterested in lifting African countries out of poverty. Everyone knows that the way you lift societies out of poverty is by allowing women to have control of their reproduction, through contraception. This has been successfully shown to eliminate or greatly reduce poverty time and time again.

    Furthermore, there is substantial evidence to implicate Ratzinger in several instances of covering up child rape in order to protect the church's reputation. Again, this man believes the power and reputation of the church are more important than helping victims heal. If he had a conscience at all, he would step down, after defrocking every member of the clergy who ever participated in a cover-up. Instead, someone like Sean Brady who has admitted covering up child rape is still Primate of Ireland. What is going on here?

    Michael Kenny is quite right to say that people may need to move beyond identity toward doctrine. This isn't about staying loyal to the pope because he's the pope. As Catholics who I would assume believe yourselves to be good people, ask yourself whether you can really stand by this man who has so much blood and suffering on his hands?

    I am just one of many who will be taking to the streets in protest during his visit in the hopes of drawing more public attention to this wicked man's past.

  • burritobob

    Rohan – The Catholic Church does an enormous amount for HIV/Aids victims. Globally, about a quarter of the care administered to victims is provided by the Church.

    The Pope did not say that using a condom increased the risk of Aids. He said that attempting to tackle the Aids crisis by distributing condoms had not actually helped, and in some cases made the situation worse. He was supported in his argument days later by one of the leading academics in the field. Dr Edward Green, a medical anthropologist at Harvard, said widespread availability of condoms led to higher rather than lower rates of Aids infection.

    He said: “This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction technology such as condoms, one often loses the benefit by compensating or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

    Pope Benedict XVI is the one person at the Vatican who has done the most to toughen the Church's procedures on dealing with priestly child abuse.

    The evidence that he has covered up sexual abuse is incredibly flimsy and doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Here is a Catholic Herald article about it:….

    I find it heartbreaking that these kinds of misconceptions lead people wanting to protest against the pope.

  • Jjc1163

    Schools today teach our children that the Anglican Church of England was Catholic, it was Henry VIII that became the leader of the church after a row with the Pope. The traditional C of E has always remained true to its Catholic roots, but it is the ultra modern C of E that now ordain women, and allow same sex marriages. This has caused a massive rift in the C of E, with many traditionalists returning to the Catholic Church. I think this visit will open the floodgates for more disaffected members of the C of E to become Catholic.

  • Rohan

    Firstly, the idea that a newspaper that explicitly states its Catholic affiliation in its name can be expected to report objectively on any controversy related to the Catholic church can't be taken seriously. I won't be reading the article because I try to look to objective reporting for my news. I have, however, read hundreds of articles about this topic from a variety of news sources in at least 15 countries. I wouldn't look to Catholic newspapers to get a factual picture of the extent of the abuse crisis, just as I wouldn't look to BP to get my information about the true impacts of the oil spill. I would look to media organisations that are in no way affiliated with BP because they have less reason to show bias. Shame on any Catholic who solely looks to Catholic news sites for their information about this scandal.

    Countless studies in many countries have proven that condoms reduce the infection rate of HIV substantially. People's propensity to take more risks when using risk-reducing technology is something that can be addressed through proper sex education – you know, involving scientifically proven facts about sex, rather than religious dogma. Provided the people are being given factual information about how to use them and the real risks involved, condoms are effective.

    And I have heard ad nauseum this sickening argument that the pope has done more than any previous pope to combat child abuse. Let me make one thing clear: that is not the point. Doing more than nothing doesn't mean you are doing enough. If you are doing something to combat it but there are people still in the church who you know were involved in covering up abuse and you don't defrock them or force their resignation/retirement, you are not doing enough. How effectively child rape is dealt with should not be looked at in relative terms, and the assertion that an improvement on the complete lack of action taken historically must mean he is doing the right thing is an argument from the moral cesspit. I mean, it would have been pretty hard for him to do less than previous popes!

    Furthermore, the Catholic church's band-aid solution of treating those already infected is doing nothing to reduce the HIV/AIDS problem in Africa and is far outweighed by the harm the church causes by spreading lies about condoms. Condoms are effective when they are used – they don't protect you when you choose not to wear them. This is basic common sense and, if the church put its time and resources into providing legitimate sexual education where it has such influence in Africa, it could make a real difference to this problem.

    The fact remains that, in a confidential letter sent to all Catholic bishops in 2001, available to read online, Ratzinger instructs that all claims of child abuse by priests be dealt with subject to pontifical secret. It specifically forbids information being passed outside the church for 10 years after the 18th birthday of the victim, backed up by the threat of excommunication for anyone who breaks the pontifical secret. This means that, by the time clergy are allowed to go to secular authorities with the information (in the unlikely event that they do), the statute of limitations has passed and the priest is protected from prosecution. This is reprehensible and serves no purpose other than to protect the reputation of the church. Interestingly, there was the threat of excommunication for clergy who go to the police to report child abuse within the church, yet no abusive priests have ever been excommunicated from the church for their insidious crimes.

  • Ike2010

    Rohan, the good thing about the Catholic media is that they actually understand the internal workings of the Catholic Church (most of the media don't). Do you refuse to read the New Scientist because it is pro-science and therefore lacks objectivity? Do you refuse to read the Economist because it is pro-free trade and therefore not objective? You are essentially admitting that you refuse to consider any other opinion than your own – the definition of a closed mind.

  • Rohan

    No, I'm afraid I'm not admitting anything of the sort. I'm genuinely embarrassed for you if you think you are making a valid comparison. I suggest you re-read my post. I have read plenty of articles that argue against my position but I wouldn't bother to read ones that are being published by an organisation that explicitly states its bias from the outset.

    The field of science advocates constant re-evaluation of evidence and the updating of conclusions based on new evidence discovered, not blind and dogmatic obedience to previously held beliefs. The whole point of science is that it changes as we learn more about the universe, something the Catholic Church only does occasionally and reluctantly, like when it finally admitted the Earth revolves around the Sun or that evolution is scientific fact. Scientists are allowed to disagree and argue in favour of or against a hypothesis and these scientific discussions are publicly available for people to observe. There is no head scientist trying to silence voices of descent all the way down a complicated hierarchy, insisting that no one is allowed to speak out against certain beliefs held by the scientific community.

    Definition taken from the internet:
    Bias is a term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective.. In other words, bias is generally seen as a 'one-sided' perspective. …

    The idea that the New Scientist would have a “bias” toward science is an assertion I don't even understand. How can you be biased toward a field that requires impartial, methodological, evidence-based research? Essentially this would be bias toward objectivity or bias against non-evidence based assertions. This is a bias with which I am completely comfortable. You could even say I'm partial to impartiality ;) After all, without demonstrable evidence, what other tangible way is there to draw conclusions about the world?

    I may read the New Scientist to gain knowledge about scientific discoveries where there is no obvious bias toward a specific conclusion. The title New Scientist only indicates the content of the publication, not it's political or religious biases.

    I would not, on the other hand, rely on the New Scientist to give me objective information about a scandal involving people linked to the publication or where the publication would have a vested interest in protecting the parties involved. This is called applying a healthy level of scepticism (something I'm sure the writers at the New Scientist would advocate!).

    An organisation that starts with the assumption that a) Jesus Christ was the son of God, b) The Bible is the word of the Lord, c) the Pope is the infallable Vicar of Christ on Earth, is not going to be objective when reporting about the pope's complicity in child abuse cover-ups. How could it be? I would argue that objective news reporting about anything related to the pope is impossible if you hold such beliefs.

  • Colin

    Remember, the Pope arrives in Scotland first – a nation which does not have a conjoined church and state. The national Church of Scotland (a presbyterian one) and the state are separate. For example, when the Queen comes to Scotland she is just a member of the church and on equal standing with any other person who is a member of the Church of Scotland.

    My point is, the Church of Scotland is vastly different from the Catholic church (mainly in that it adheres more closely to the gospel than the Roman Catholic Church does) and Catholics make up such a small percentage of the Scottish population that the Pope's arrival North of the border may not be seen in quite as positive a light.

    The Church of England has of course been described as 'Catholic-lite', whereas in Scotland there has been much sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants and hopefully this will not flare up again. If there is any sign that it will or does then I would hope that the Pope would leave Scotland sooner than planned in order to keep any such feelings to a minimum.

  • Colin

    James, you forget, since they are ignorant now, they might become anti-Catholic when they learn more about it on the visit…

    I'm sure the media will be running plenty of anti-Catholic stories – and so they should, since we are a nation that loves freedom and especially freedom of speech, we should not expect that the nation should be silenced because of the visit of a foreign head of state. Normally such times highlight criticisms of that head (such as when Jacob Zuma visited and a lot was said about his many wives).