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British fair-mindedness was the Pope’s secret weapon

In the end, the atheist coalition discredited itself

By on Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Peter Tatchell at the Protest the Pope march. The atheists' campaign was just too vicious to win people over (Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

Peter Tatchell at the Protest the Pope march. The atheists' campaign was just too vicious to win people over (Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

What now for Protest the Pope and for what it will continue to represent in our culture even after its presumably imminent dissolution? Before this deeply unpleasant organisation retires from the field, licking its wounds, it is as well to reflect on what it really did achieve. First, in the media battle that raged before the Pope’s arrival, the Protest the Pope coalition got a huge amount of coverage, so much, indeed, that some of us began to fear that the visit might turn out to be a disaster. They really did seem successfully to be whipping up an anti-Catholic hysteria which looked a lot more durable than in the end it turned out to be.

The sheer venom of the attack, at times, had me rattled. Remember Claire Rayner? “I have no language”, she spat, “with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.”

This, as I wrote at the time, “is all horrible for anyone who regards Pope Benedict with the admiration and love most Catholics feel for him; and I find myself almost wishing that the decision had been taken to beatify Cardinal Newman in St Peter’s Square and not a muddy field, and for the Pope to be spared this dreadful business of a state visit”.

Well, I got it wrong. Any doubts I had about the state visit were all swept away by that wonderfully impressive address to the leaders of civil society in Westminster Hall. A purely pastoral visit would have inspired the faithful, no doubt: but the result of a state visit has been seriously to re-engage the Church with our society, to regain our place in the public square: now the Pope has gone, that is something we need to keep alive. Download the text of the address – you can read all the addresses at – and (in the words of a famous Anglican prayer), “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” it.

In the event, that headlong confrontation of values, between the Pope’s transparent humility and goodness, and the vicious hatred and arrogance of Protest the Pope, could only end in one way: with the utter failure of the atheist campaign to gain the hearts and minds of the British people – a people who, in the end, will always choose decency over gross incivility. In the end, British fair-mindedness was the Holy Father’s secret weapon. Protest the Pope was just not cricket.

Before the visit, I was interviewed for the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS): are you aware, I was asked, “of any papal visit which has been preceded by a campaign of such fury and loathing?” Well, no. But the fact is that Protest the Pope and its allies peaked too soon, and they went too far – much, much too far. They discredited themselves and underestimated their enemy. In the event, it was just no contest. 

  • echidna

    I see it differently. The pope lost credibility when he lied to the Queen, to all of us, when he said the Nazis were godless. The Nazis were fervently Christian, and supported by the Catholic church, who instructed Catholics to vote for Adolf Hitler in 1933.

    The pope lied. He continues to shield pedophiles. If you wish to claim a PR victory, that's your choice, but do not imagine that the pope is a force for good.

  • Matty B

    Yes. You aren't biased at all, are you? Of course “protest the pope” will disband now; it was an alliance of different groups that united in abhorrence of this evil man inflicting his bile on our peoples. What distinguished this alliance was the number of catholic people who felt they had to protest against their evil leader and join that alliance.

    Unlike the abhorrent and evil attacks on our freedoms and society made by the pope, it was British fair mindedness that challenged sycophancy such as yours through this temporary alliance. Unfortunately I had to work, but I am glad such bigotry and moral evil that the pope embodies was challenged in Britain, and the protestors marched in my name, and many, many more like me unable to make our voices heard.

  • marlow4

    Biased? 10,000 showed up to protest the pope, over 500,000 to support him, including the Queen and the heads of all major political parties. That's not bias, it is objective and measurable: your views are those of a tiny (albeit very worked up) minority.

  • marlow4

    Are you an angry Nazi who feels betrayed? Why else would anyone condemn the pope, in 2010, for speaking ill of Naziism, of all things?

    If in your world the pope can only be either a Nazi or a liar (and in which Christians and Nazis are synonymous), then there isn't much you can expect him to do, is there? On the other hand, if in your world Catholicism and Naziism are the same thing, I don't really think you live in the same world the rest of us do.

  • Mary P

    Please could supporters of Protest the Pope explain how they can stand behind Peter Tatchell, a man who without apology has advocated Man/Boy love? Is this not pedophilia?

  • lokionline

    Keep hoping that way marlow4. There are many of us who are equally pleased with the light that has been shone on the Roman Catholic Church.

    There is nothing more effective than the sterilizing effect of intense illumination.


  • echidna

    I condemn the pope for lying. That is not the way to be the moral light of the world – lying about evil does not make the lie ok.

    That file I attached is a poster from 1933 which exhorts Catholics to vote for Adolf Hitler, because in this way the faith will be upheld, among other reasons. It is evidence that the Church saw the Nazis as Christian, not godless, and evidence that the pope lied, because he is more aware of Nazi history than most people are.

    Obviously Nazis were Christians – that doesn't make the two words synonymous. But you know that.

    By the way, your conjectures about my world view are just so much BS. But I think you know that too.

  • alison fi

    “inflicting his bile on our peoples”. What a stupid thing to say. Take note: OUR peoples. In other words people here are not permitted to engage in any debate outside of the accepted norms of secular society and society belongs to them. Inflicting how? Why are you so afraid of debate? What a load of drivel about Catholicism and Nazism, using a pathetic piece of propaganda in which that regime was famed, and the Popes point of view on the actions of godless societies circulated by the Secular Society below by the way. They get more and more unhinged. To think I actually once countenanced paying them any serious heed.

  • marlow4

    The Reichskonkordat governed the Church's relationship in Germany from 1933 to 1937. Like all concordats it is a treaty governing the relationship between the church and the state, and does not constitute the church's approval of that states actions. In 1937 the encyclical “Mit brennender Sorge” was issued condemning Nazism and read in every Catholic church in Germany. This infuriated the Nazis and led to a sustained campaign against Catholicism. The then-pope lamented that other Western governments for not joining in the condemnation (google “conspiracy of silence”).

    Thus, your interpretation of history is extremely selective, and shows no understanding of the context of the time. Pope Benedict lived first-hand through these events, has a very deep knowledge of history, and in short, actually knows what he's talking about. You do not.

    Maximilian Kolbe pray for you.

  • louella

    Nazism like fascism is an atheist ideology. If it has a spiritual side – it is a paganistic one ie a religion that emanates in the imagination. Sadly many Christians and atheists supported Nazism – probably out of fear of another atheistic ideology in the East – communism, and probably because Fascism massaged their racial pride. Christianity was kept out of the public sphere – and the Church could only hope to survive.

    All atheist secular political ideologies have proven to be short lived, brutal failures.

  • MJCarroll

    The great thing about the comments below is that we are all publicly and vigorously defending our faith again, without apology.

    William Oddie is absolutely accurate in his analysis. I would like to add that the protest the pope group seriously underestimated the relationship and love shown between Catholics and the Pope. People in British society have little regard for leaders of any description so they thought that it would be the same with the Pope. The reality for 1 billion Catholics, the world over, is that the Holy Father is Gods representative on Earth. He is not just our leader, and we respond with a flowing wave of love towards him.

    Beyond this there were thousands of people sitting at home watching the TV who for the first time in 20 years saw that being a Catholic, or worshipping, or being religious wasn't actually weird, or a threat but, may even be normal (and dare I say, even fun). This monumental witness of faith was unfolding in front of the Nation and the protest the pope group could not defend themselves against this spiritual tidal wave.

    I warned all my non-Catholic friends before the visit that the press was wrong about Benedict XVI. I told them he was going to come across as a gently spoken, white haired old man who you may even to wish was your Grandfather. The rest is history!

  • Therese Z

    I can't believe what you've attached – a printed piece of paper calling for Catholics to vote. Is this an encyclical released by the Pope? A letter released by the Bishops? A homily by a pastor?

    Completely useless as “proof.” Two minutes in the chaos of Wikipedia, of all places, provides proof, footnotes directing you to contemporary sources, etc., and it's clear that the Church and the Nazi Party stood on opposite sides – here's one weensy little section in the middle.

    The attitude of the Nazi party to the Church ranged from tolerance to near total renunciation.[41] Many Nazis were anti-clerical in both private and public life.[42] The Nazi party had decidedly pagan elements.[43] One position is that the Church and fascism could never have a lasting connection because both are a “holistic Weltanschauung” claiming the whole of the person.[41]

    Although both Hitler and Mussolini were anticlerical, they both understood that it would be rash to begin their Kulturkampfs prematurely, such a clash, possibly inevitable in the future, were put off for a while they dealt with other enemies.[44]

    Maybe you can get a grip on reality before you comment. Ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit to lead you in all truth.

  • James

    Hitler was also gay, get over it.

  • Jason Liuzza

    Good to know us Americans don't have the market cornered on bigotry and stupidity.

  • Anthony

    This is an accurate evaluation of the pope`s visit and a reminder that Catholicism has always faced ennemies (not of the low class level of a Rayner may be) that eventually faded away while catholicism continued to rule, preach and prosper.

  • Ratbag

    What a load of bull deposits!

  • Ratbag

    The Holy Father got the Protest The Pope rabble right between the eyes…and everywhere else… oh, soooooooo gently! As one of the banners stated at Cofton Park “Leave Our Pope Alone! We Love You, Papa!”

    Thank you for coming, dearest, dear Holy Father! Those four days weren't long enough!

  • Bwaj

    Drivel. Peter Tatchell wrote a chapter in 'The Betrayal of Youth' – this book's editor was a high ranking member of the PIE and several other paedophiles wrote chapters in it. He also praised in a 1997 letter to 'The Guardian' the book 'Dares to Speak' (published by Gay Man's Press) about man/boy love that is homosexual paedophilia. Richard Dawkins implied it was more abusive to raise a child in the Catholic Faith than to be abused by a paedophile ('The God Delusion': Chapter 9) and Geoffrey Robertson defended in court those who published the school issue (issue 28) of 'Oz' magazine which sought to pervert children and young people by talking and showing porn, sadism, homosexuality and lesbianism. This was in 1971. Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church opposes child abuse, porn, homosexual sexual acts, same-sex marriage which God does not allow. Homosexuality, birth control and abortion were condemned for 2000 years by the Church – the Scriptures, Holy Tradition, the Church Fathers and Saints in their writings, the Councils of the Church. Birth control was condemned until 1930 by all Churches – only after the Anglican Communion went astray at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 did other mainstream Protestant Churches go astray. Even so abortion was still condemned at the time. The Catholic Church and Orthodox Church and Anglo-Catholics still condemn Birth control, abortion and homosexuality. Protestant Churches condemned Birth control in 'The Bible and Birth Control' by Charles D. Provan. Birth control and abortion were condemned during the Second Vatican Council (1965) not just in 'Humanae Vitae' and 'Evangelium Vitae'. Women have never been priests in the Church – Scripture and the teachings of the Church forbid it. Can a man represent the Blessed Mother? No! Nor can a woman be a priest because a priest represents Christ Who became incarnate as a man. Some heretical groups had 'priestesses' – why? It was because they claimed Jesus had appeared as a woman not a man. How many churches with priestesses sometimes have a cross on which is the image of a crucified woman ('Christa')?

  • Bwaj


  • Bwaj

    Rubbish. The only true freedom is that brought by serving God – athiesm negates freedom so the strong who do not believe think they do whatever they wish to the weak who can not defend themselves because they will not have to give an account for it: BUT this is where athiests are wrong and they will have to give an account to the just Judge.

  • Bwaj

    As I understand it Marlow – only 2000 / 3000 showed up to protest the Holy Father – whereas 100,000 (minimum) have attended the Papal visits. That is without including those like myself who being unable to attend bodily were united in spirit and prayer watching the Holy Father on TV, the internet or radio. And what about the global audience who watched or listened to the Holy Father on EWTN TV, radio, or on the internet as well as on the Papal

  • Bwaj

    I hope he is invited to the UK to canonize Blessed John Newman here.

  • Bwaj

    Is that so? Well perhaps the Holy Father's visit will lead more people to want to find out the truth about the Catholic Church for themselves – instead of the pro-Communist drivel spouted by some newspapers. Without her Lenin's little descendents would still be ruling the Soviet Empire. Communism crumbled after Pope John Paul II consecrated Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 25 March 1984 (The feast of the Annunciation or 'Lady Day').

  • Kenny

    I think this is a very good article and hits the nail on the head.

    These people ( a very small group) were given the oxygen of publicity by a very sympathetic media. But The British public are not so easily fooled, well on this occasion anyhow.

  • Kevin Greenan

    Why is the media so obsessed about Peter Tatchell?

    He is not an elected person, he runs 2 organizations (Outrage and the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Foundation) that to my knowledge are not registered charities, publish no details of membership or funding. This man is a self promoting individual that must be congratulated for fooling the media that he has a following – well his lousy turn out at the anti-Pope events prove he hasn't.

    He launched a long and vicious campaign against the Pope's visit, which included an hour long programme on Channel 4, but the numbers attending his protests were pathetic. The Catholic Bishops Conference on the other hand conducted a weak, confusing campaign that was at times was negative and what happened? The Catholic laity of all ages turned out in their droves!

    Now can we all rejoice at the warm welcome given to Pope Benedict and when someone mentions Peter Tatchell again, just say ” Peter who?”

    VIVA ILL PAPA !!!!

  • Richard

    What year was the referendum on the Concordat? Ans. 1933
    What year was the smuggled in encyclical 'Mit brennender Sorge' read from the pulpits to the utter rage of the Nazis? Ans. March 1937
    Can you read the promises of the Nazis (in the German script) which were cynically broken with reference to freedom of conscience and religion in the above attached file.?

    The 'evidence' you present is not an affirmation of the theory that Catholics supported Nazism.

    My grandparents (deceased) were Catholics for whom the Nazis were 'Lumpen' and would never vote for them.