As the living memory of the Pope’s visit fades we need now to continue our lives as Catholics in the perspective of those four days. The Pope’s visit wasn’t just for fun: it established a new perspective on some crucial issues, one of the most important being that it regained our place in the “public square”. In his Westminster Hall address, the Pope made it clear that he felt that Catholics had been and were being excluded from it.
“Religion,” he said, “is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.” And by that, he made it clear that he meant the United Kingdom.
His achievement was that he put the politicians on the defensive in such a way that they could only insist that his was not merely a reasonable point of view, but that they themselves already shared it, honest they did. In his farewell speech, David Cameron insisted that “people of faith – including our 30,000 faith-based charities – are great architects of [the new culture of social responsibility we want to build in Britain].”
Well now, Mr Cameron, (may I call you Dave?) I would like to know how serious you are in what you say. Talk is cheap. I would like to know, Dave, what exactly you are going to do in response to the following passage in the Pope’s Westminster speech: “I am convinced”, he said, “that, within this country… there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such co-operation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church.
Well, we all know exactly what the Pope meant by that: why were we forced to close down our adoption agencies as a result of legislation which was supposed to be about toleration? And Dave, if your warm words to the Pope about “faith-based charities” are not so much hot air, what will you now do to restore the freedom of Catholic charities to act in accordance with Catholic principles?
Me, I will not be holding my breath: as the Herald reported before the election, “some Christians are sceptical … especially after he voted with the [Labour] Government on the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which denied Catholic adoption agencies the right to refuse to assess same-sex couples as potential adopters”.
It would be simple, Dave, to show that you actually mean what you say about faith-based charities. You don’t have to repeal the Sexual Orientation Regulations: simply allow us an opt-out. If you won’t, don’t claim ever again that you “look forward to ever closer co-operation between the UK and the Holy See”: just let those empty words fall quickly into oblivion. As for us, we will be very careful before we believe a word you say, ever again: for you will then unambiguously have shown that in one respect at least, you are indeed the “heir to Blair”.