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Ugly anti-papal protests are harming the so-called secularist cause

Protesting about the Pope coming to your city is appalling bad manners

By on Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A World Youth Day pilgrim walks past protesters in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

A World Youth Day pilgrim walks past protesters in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

I had dinner last night with an enthusiastic returnee from World Youth Day, which has received ample coverage from many media outlets, with a few all too predictable exceptions. I asked whether he had seen any of the anti-Pope protesters, and he said he had not – which is hardly suprising, given that the people at World Youth Day outnumbered the protesters by about a thousand to one.

And what were they protesting about? It seems the cost. But, as this article from the New York Times shows, WYD will actually benefit the Spanish economy. Besides which, since when did protesters actually protest anywhere about government spending? Forgive me if I doubt their sincerity.

It seems we must get used to the idea that wherever the Holy Father goes the usual suspects will round themselves up and stage a protest, indulging their love for synthetic rage. First London, now Madrid…

But just think about it for a minute. These people do not like the Pope and they do not agree with his teachings. Well, I feel no real empathy with Buddhism, and I strongly disagree with Buddhist teaching on reincarnation. So, whenever the Dalai Lama rolls into town, should I organise a protest? Of course not! And why not? Because I believe in freedom of conscience, and I fully respect the absolute right of the Dalai Lama to believe what he chooses and to teach what he believes. End of. And I also believe that people who want to hang out with the Dalai Lama have an absolute right to do so, part of their basic human right to freedom of association.

It is this freedom of association, and the freedom of expression that goes with it, that contemporary secularists simply do not “get”. Dr Evan Harris’s secular manifesto makes no mention of these rights, but seemingly sees religion as something relegated to the private sphere alone, as it was in the Soviet Union: “None of it [the manifesto] engages with what families get up to in their home, or religious leaders within their own families.” And yet, ironically, freedom of association and freedom of expression are secular values.

And herein lies the problem: our modern secularists are not really secular enough; they are simply people who dislike religion and want it out of the way. A true secularist would welcome the Pope to Madrid, acknowledging his right and the right of his fellow Catholics to do as they please in conscience and within the bounds of the law, a right they share with everyone else.

If none of this cuts any ice, perhaps I could introduce another idea. Protesting about the Pope coming to your city (if indeed these protesters were Madrileños) is simply rude, a case of appalling bad manners. It is against all the rules of hospitality. Last year we had the King of Saudi Arabia here in London as a guest of the Queen. I can’t honestly say I warm to King Abdullah, or that I approve of his government and its policies, but if I had met him I would have been polite, greeted him as protocol demands, and wished him well. That is what civility demands. Civility: another great secular value. The expressions of infantile rage that we saw when the Pope came here were in fact very damaging to the so-called secular movement, and revealed the forces of anti-religion for what they were. We need to reclaim the word “secular” for proper use, and we need to stop using it to mask the ugly face of anti-religious prejudice.

  • Anonymous

    The difference is that King Abdullah didn’t burden the British taxpayers with a huge bill, his state visit wasn’t followed by a mass meeting of his followers. If the pope wants to visit HIS followers he should expect to foot the bill or even ask said followers to cough up, what I object to is my taxes being wasted on papal visits, what next, a state funding of Star Trek conventions!

  • http://twitter.com/baldywilson John Wilson

    There are so many different and varied reasons to protest a papal visit that it is hard to know where to begin. Does protesting hurt secularism? Hardly. No-one was protesting catholics or catholic adherence; they are protesting a specific individual that is the head of an institution that cannot make up it’s mind whether it’s a religion, a charity, or a dictatorial state (I note in passing that on the subject of religion at the very least, the pope and King Abdullah would have much to agree on).  Given the adjectives the popes and bishops use to describe atheists and secularists, I’m rather surprised to hear a priest of the same organisation complaining about tone and manners. To coin an old phrase: you started it.

  • Michael McManus

    Before you comment on some thing find out who are protesting and why, There has been protest in dublin for months now, Out side the pro cathederal, Only one of the protesters is not a victim of clerical abuse, They are fighting to get some sort of justice for other survivors who the church refuse to even talk to, I was at the anti pope rally in london and there was survivors of abuse from a number of countries, I have a suggestion for you before you attack any one , Remember you actively support people who covered up the rape and abuse of children and you do it willingly  

  • Bob Hayes

    We already have state-funding of fantasy, when streets are closed and life disrupted for all sorts of so-called ‘celebrities’ and events. Manchester’s ‘Pride’ event at the forthcoming bank holiday weekend will involve public expense and disruption, but if anyone called for that to be a zero-cost to the public purse they would be denounced as ‘homophobic’.

    The Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have a much greater following than any of the foregoing. It is only right that – as Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith argues – some courtesy is shown. 

  • Michael McManus

    Whats appalling bad manners , About  protesting against some one who claims to be some thing but his action tell you differently, If you were as intelligent as your trying to make out, You would not have writen this article , You would be asking why is the church you are a priest of Not tackling the abuse scandal properly  

  • mrpants2

    pete084
    “what I object to is my taxes being wasted on papal visits”

    Pete, if I may call you Pete? The point here is that this cost the Spanish taxpayer nothing. It actually brought quite considerable amounts of money to Spain.  Many of those protesting didn’t seem to have a clue what they were protesting about and the behaviour of many was inexscusable: spitting on pilgrims, throwing punches and in one case screaming abuse at a nun.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    If you object to state funding, which is a perfectly legitimate objection, then take that up with the government of the UK, not with the Church.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    So what were they protesting about, then? I think Prof Dawkins does object to Catholic teaching, actually, and his reference to the Pope as “Herr Ratzinger” is very very rude. Bit like calling the Queen “Mrs Battenberg”. Ditto the endless references to his German origin. (Rude and misleading, as the Pope self-identifies as a Bavarian.) One of the virtues of secularism is that it accepts pluralism of conscientous belief; it does not protest against it.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Your last sentence is completely untrue and most uncivil. I made a point in my post which your comments fully back up.

  • Roger Fingas

    Until the Pope drops harmful policies like opposing birth control, he should be protested every bit as much as King Abdullah.  One wonders how many people might’ve been saved from AIDS if they hadn’t been raised against reason to see condoms as wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I know of nobody who refers to themselves as a ‘secularist’. So I really fail to get the meaning of the title.

  • Anonymous

    Just as we should denounce the Christina protesters that disrupted the last London gay pride.

    … Strange that I don’t remember the Herald doing a piece on that.. hmmm

  • http://twitter.com/olpray4us Edward

    Governments spend millions of dollars to distribute condoms when they are already one of the cheapest and most available commercial products in the world. Protest that why don’t you.

  • GFFM

    There was no disruption and have you heard of free speech?

  • GFFM

    You’re kidding right? If you are not you have a narrow reading list.

  • Oconnordamien

    “Besides which, since when did protesters actually protest anywhere about government spending? Forgive me if I doubt their sincerity.”
    Well here’s evidence.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14302607 -

    Or
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Spanish_protests
    Or
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/05/18/spain.protests/index

    Or seeing at you like the New York Post,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/world/europe/22spain.html

    And of course only secularists protested so there wasn’t an article like this,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/world/europe/16madrid.html

  • Mr JS

    I guess Catholics also pay taxes

  • Mr JS

    As a Catholic I would like my taxes to go towards paying for Papal visits.

  • Nigel M

    Actually Roger, the truth of the matter is that condoms are not an absolute guarantee against the transmission of any STI, HIV included.  The only truly safe way is abstinence.  Your argument, I am afraid, does not follow.  If, as you suggest, people “obey” the Pope by not using condoms then they would also “obey” him by not being promiscuous.  It is, unquestionably, promiscuity which is the leading cause of HIV transmission.

  • http://coolcatholics.org Marvin

    One secular person said it well, “Anyone has the right to be angry, but no one has the right to look ugly.” Quite a strong statement, isn’t it? But if you look right through that statement, it simply says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

    Many of the concepts we take for granted today (liberty for instance), have their roots in Christian teaching, whether we like it or not. The reality is, the secularist cause would one day look for some kind of moral anchor to justify its character. What sort of anchor would that be, after dissociating themselves from their roots?

  • http://coolcatholics.org Marvin

    One secular person said it well, “Anyone has the right to be angry, but no one has the right to look ugly.” Quite a strong statement, isn’t it? But if you look right through that statement, it simply says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

    Many of the concepts we take for granted today (liberty for instance), have their roots in Christian teaching, whether we like it or not. The reality is, the secularist cause would one day look for some kind of moral anchor to justify its character. What sort of anchor would that be, after dissociating themselves from their roots?

  • http://coolcatholics.org Marvin

    One secular person said it well, “Anyone has the right to be angry, but no one has the right to look ugly.” Quite a strong statement, isn’t it? But if you look right through that statement, it simply says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

    Many of the concepts we take for granted today (liberty for instance), have their roots in Christian teaching, whether we like it or not. The reality is, the secularist cause would one day look for some kind of moral anchor to justify its character. What sort of anchor would that be, after dissociating themselves from their roots?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Hang on, these are people protesting about Governement cuts, not government extravagance.On the whole they support government spending….except when it comes to Papal visits, which, as it has been shown, will not cost the Spanish taxpayer anything.

  • Michael McManus

    I was at the rally supporting other survivors of abuse, , My last sentence is fact, Because of who still has their top jobs even though the pope knows they covered up child rape

  • Michael McManus

     I will not show courtesy to some who promoted some one who covered up the rape of children

  • ConfusedofChi

    …….so would I.

  • Oconnordamien

    Objecting to government cuts is still objecting to government spending. I merely pointed out there is a huge amount of evidence that there have been long standing protests. 

    And why do you doubt their sincerity?
    What evidence do have that they are not truly concerned about government cuts. Or that their rage is synthetic?  

  • ConfusedofChi

    I invite you to read yet another web site http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=18767

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Perhaps my point was not clear. Here in the UK we have endless protest about cuts in spending; I know that the Indignados are also protesting against cuts in spending; it seems a bit strange that they should now protest against government expenditure/extravagance, when they have never ever said that the government spends too much in the past (except of course on arms – I will conced that.)

  • Oconnordamien

    The article questioned the protesters sincerity and asked did they protest before. The fact is that protests about government spending have running since May. They are also so well known that they have there own name, “The Indignants” and “The 15M’s”.

  • Oconnordamien

    As always there will be disagreements on what should be cut and which spending will be beneficial.
    It may well be that the protesters are factually incorrect, I’m starting to think that may be the the case on the popes visit. 

    But that was not your point in the article. I quoted you questioning their sincerity. So I still ask why do you think they were insincere or their “rage” was manufactured? It is perfectly possible to be incorrect and sincere at the same time.

  • Oconnordamien

    I would recommend the national secular society’s site if you’re interested in finding out more. I am in no way saying you should agree with them but I think it will help you see their viewpoint. It can also give links to some interesting news stories. I scan the site a couple of times a week.

  • Nat_ons

    Clearly you cannot mean an Arabian overlord would have put Her Majesty to utter shame by paying for his own State Visit because the English Crown was short of a bob or two, but a prince of the church, and the sovereign of a petty state, should. One might wonder, however, whether that Arabian sovereign’s visit generated as much good will for Britain (and hard earned pennies for the ordinary man) as the papal visit – with its glorious presentations of warmth, charm and tolerance. Perhaps Her Majesty’s Prime Minister over stepped his brief in inviting the Pope when he knew the old spending-money was getting tight, I suspect not; it may be that the Vatican should have listened to the vituperative gainsayers and declined or pulled out; that would certainly have saved some money for those who know the price of everything but not the value of even so little a thing as joy (televised to the whole world, free of charge, and welcoming).

    If that is a waste, dear Lord God only help us all!

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

    WHAT THE SON OF GOD, THE SAVIOUR BROUGHT TO US CHRISTIANS IS VALUE OF THE HIGHEST
    ORDER:TO BE PERFECT AS OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. THIS REQUIRES SACRIFICE, NOT JUST DOING JUST WHAT EASILY COMES TO ANYONE OR GOING FOR THE PLEASURABLE IN ANY EASY WAY.

    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Anonymous

    Re your headline. Goody!!

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone else have difficulty when they press the reply button? Like the comment just goes to the top everytime!!

  • Oconnordamien

    One could just as easily say that it’s like the concept of Karma. Like it or not slavery can and was justified by christian teaching. The abolition of slavery was justified the same way.

    You are heading towards the “can you be good without god” debate. There are many interesting articles and debates on that subject.

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

    ALL THOSE WHO PRESENT THEMSELVES AS VICTIMS OF CHILD ABUSE ARE’NT NECESSARILY SUCH. SOME ARE JUST ANTI-POPE AND ARE LOOKING FOR EASY MONEY.

    WHO IS DOING MORE FOR  THE CHILD ABUSE VICTIMS THAN POPE BENEDICT?

    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Michael McManus

    Dont you find the popes behaviour inexscusable , Promoting some one who covered up child rape ???????????  Dont you find catholics behaviour inexscusable , When they know this has happened and they remain silent , Many catholics in Ireland know the cardinal there silenced abuse victims , But they support the cardinal not the victims,  

  • Nat_ons

    Erm? ‘..  the adjectives the popes and bishops use to describe atheists and secularists ..’ Like?

    ‘Of course, what is essential is a correct understanding of the just autonomy of the secular order, an autonomy which cannot be divorced from God the Creator and his saving plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 36) ..
    On a deeper level, secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world.’ Benedict XVI, Response to Questions of American Bishops, 2008.

    “Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.” Benedict XVI, Address at Holyrood, 2011.

    “Healthy secularism lies in a society which gives life and family the importance they are due. Civil power is autonomous and the Church works with others to defend certain values ..” Benedict XVI, Address at Monte Titano.

    If ‘aggressive’ is not an accurate description of so much vanity dressed up in the term ‘secularism’ as currently used, I apologise for the Pope and my own lack of understanding. And if ‘healthy secularism’ does not depend on a healthy world-view then any theorising on autonomy of the state is pointless – practically – in helping to build a ‘healthy’ society. Tradition, value, challenge all play a part in any healthy society (in fact, in any healthy development as a human being) – at least as the awesome Benedict XVI sees it; sadly, there are those who are so wrapped up in protesting for protest’s sake that this sound reasoning is seen as an affront .. not the confronting of a particular (destructive rather than constructive) worldly view.

  • Iainw9

    As would I – God bless the pope

  • Nat_ons

    I trust I misunderstand you. 

    Are you say that Pope Benedict XVI rejected the survivors of abuse – or that he hid their abusers, in covering up abuse?

    For anyone who has the least desire to find out the truth, the wickedness of such an insult is plain for all to see!

    More than any other pastor in the Roman Rites – or beyond – Joseph Ratzinger was and is the answer.

    True, his quietly determined way of getting this done – without fanfares, headlines and plaudits – is not to the worldly taste. Yet he recognised the root cause of, understood the pastoral remedy for, and applied the unpopular, corrective discipline to the deep-seated (even institutional) problem: Laxity. Not human weakness, for this goes without say, but an unwillingness to confront wrongdoing with truth .. his contrary stance he was lambasted; the flabby, unthinking, irrational pandering to appearance (especially worldly-fitted appearances) did the sinner no good and the victims of his sin great harm, and thereby served only crime and covering criminality and magnifying the criminal over all and any other good.

    You must seek this out for yourself, as experience shows all other witness is discounted – if it contradicts the prevailing opinion of the world (especially when the crowd has got hooked on defaming some soul).

  • MrsHolmes

    “The difference is that King Abdullah didn’t burden the British taxpayers with a huge bill”
    Of course he did – who funds the security/policing that is required for ANY and EVERY state visit, who funds the Queen and her family who host such a visit as well as the government and its various departments – that’ll be the taxpayers then.

  • Honeybadger

    Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI categorically DID NOT cover up rape of children!

    Your ignorance is breathtaking… or are you a complete idiot?

  • Honeybadger

    Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI categorically DID NOT cover up rape of children!

    Your ignorance is breathtaking… or are you a complete idiot?

  • Honeybadger

    Well *duh* Roman Catholics DO pay taxes… and pay them ON TIME!!!

    Our taxes go on things we don’t like… which includes NHS funded FREE contraception (yes, FREE!), abortion, anti-Christian laws.

    And the cheek and hypocrisy of people to protest at last year’s Papal Visit was outstanding.

    Let the anti-Pope, anti-Catholic aggressive atheists keep up their protests. Let them show themselves up for the morose, joyless shower they really are… we need a laugh!

  • Oconnordamien

    What of people to which abstinence is not a choice. Should the estimated million women around the world, trafficked and forced into prostitution not use condoms to reduce the chances of contracting HIV?

    The pope so no.

  • Honeybadger

    Yes… me, too! God Bless and keep our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI!

    A Papal Visit is of more benefit to the nation – any nation – than other useless, destructive and dangerous things our taxes go on which cost more than a dozen Papal Visits!

    A policeman in Birmingham told us at Cofton Park that it made a change to police a peaceful, good atmospheric large public event without any trouble or disruption.

    There, HM Government! The answer to your austerity measures are staring you in the face.

  • Michael McManus

    Can you read minds , And re read my post

  • Anonymous

    From an article about the Vatican’s pretence that it has little power over priests:

    “Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Joseph Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith for more than 20 years. The role of the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith is to “safeguard the doctrine of the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world” and deals with, among other things, priests accused of pedophilia. It is unlikely that there is anyone alive today who knows more about child abuse in the Catholic Church than the current Pope.”

    Even if the neo-inquisition were just obeying orders and were prevented from ‘blowing the whistle’ by threat of death or torture, why would Ratzinger continue to be complicit when he became Pope, promoting those he knew to be involved in covering up child abuse?