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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.

  • Nigel M

    Again Damien, I am afraid that your argument fails on the grounds that, regrettably, many of these poor women are forced to have sex without even the choice of condoms.  Given that they are forced, they are not in a position to exercise free will.  As you will probably know, the culpability of any act is removed if the person’s freedom has been taken away.

  • Michael McManus

    The Pope played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, according to a shocking documentary to be screened by the BBC tonight.
    In 2001, while he was a cardinal, he issued a secret Vatican edict to Catholic bishops all over the world, instructing them to put the Church’s interests ahead of child safety.

  • Parasum

    The conduct may have been “rude”, but rudeness is not the preserve of any one group. Catholics have a long record of rudeness – and worse ! – to those whose ideas (& persons) they find repulsive. So why blame secularists as though their behaviour were a novelty ? There are thuggish Christians, & there are gracious unbelievers. As Esther Rantzen might say, “That’s life”.

    What are we to think of the protests when a Chinese politican (Hu Jin Tao ?) visited Britain a few years ago  ? Were those who protested against his visit, because of the character of the state he represented, wrong to do so ? If people had not protested that Communist regime by protesting against him, it would have been possible to say that people were failking to oppose an ideology which Pius XI called a “satanic plague”. Or is protest tolerable only if one agrees with the protesters ? That outlook is not a sound basis for a state that claims to be a plural society – it works against Catholicism, because others have as much right before the law to criticise Catholicism, as Catholics have to criticise them; we cannot deny others liberties that we wish to enjoy, unless we are in a Catholic confessional state or a Catholic dictatorship. And Spain is neither. Protests against the Church are (1) often justified to some degree & (2)  made possible, even inevitable, when a state is a plural democracy. The solution is for the Church to be beyond criticism. Complaining of the protests of others lets us off too easily.  

  • Parasum

    So why the complaints when the anti-Papal protesters exercise their free speech ?

  • Parasum

     As a Catholic I would like my taxes *not* to go towards funding research into weapons that destroy people’s lives. War between Christians makes Cain look like a Saint, or certainly a very minor offender. Maybe it would be best if the Church withdrew from public life – we might have more influence for good if we were not contaminated by being entangled in secular society.

  • Parasum

    “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…

    ## A very good point. The Papacy has a way of switching between identities (a bit like Superman) according to need. When sued because of the predator priests, Popes rely on its identity as a sovereign state. When on a state visit, the Pope acts as in his identity as a Christian pastor. To avoid trouble in one identity, the Papacy relies on what is proper to the other identity. At least Clark Kent is vulnerable to green kryptonite whether he acts as the Man of Steel, or as a mild-mannered and bespectacled news-anchorman.

    This kind of behaviour leaves a bad taste – and it looks horrible, not to mention cowardly and irresponsible.  The rest of us have to take the consequences for our failings, follies, and faults – what moral principles allow the Popes to act in this consequence-free way ?     

  • Michael McManus

    He his tell that to victims in Ireland, Canada, Australia, Usa, Germany , Belguim, Who the church are refusing to help, And of cause England, Is promoting some one who covered up child rape helping victims, survivors, And because catholic every were support that thing that was promoted , You all say its ok to cover up child rape

  • TheGF

    I am completely sick of Brenda.

  • Parasum

    “One of the virtues of secularism is that it accepts pluralism of conscientous belief; it does not protest against it.”

    ## Is there anything in atheism or secularism that makes it inconsistent for either of them to protest against religious personnel, or religious beliefs, or the conscientiously-held beliefs of others ? 

    There are atheists who reject the very notion of tolerance (somewhat ironic, perhaps) as firmly as Gregory XVI did, & for similar reasons, if in less vivid language. John Courtney Murray, thou shouldst be living at this hour ! “Error has no rights” seems to be a principle as acceptable to some of the more militant atheists as  (with a very different application) it is to Traditionalist Catholics. And the irenic, dialoguing, ever-so-Anglican post-V2 CC is caught in the middle. 

    “…reference to the Pope as “Herr Ratzinger” is very very rude…”.

    ## The British media are equally careless – & more than capable of erasing these differences in interviews;  very ignorant. So the professor is not to blame.

  • Anonymous

    Free speech does not mean we can not disagree with the message. Bob Hayes (who I was referring to) talks about showing courtesy, and I wanted to point out to him that it is up to Christian groups to show to same respect.

    I don’t feel that showing up to a gay pride event expressly to criticize gays shows anything bordering on respect.

    I also feel putting pride in ‘inverted commas’ is not respectful either.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, this struck me immediately. When I disagree with people I do not question their motives – I argue the case in point. 
    It is also quite un-provable, and a blanket statement about all involved.I think we should give people the benefit of the doubt, and have the confidence in our own arguments not to have to resort to questioning character.    

  • Anonymous

    e.g. George Bush

  • Anonymous

    I only find it used as a term of abuse, rather than a term many people use to apply to themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps the author should worry about the Catholic cause rather than the secular cause. After all, it is not the secularists who are worshiping at the feet of a former NAZI, defender of pedophiles, and an enabler of the sexual abuse of children.

    Let’s check the moral compass, shall we? On one hand we have protesters that some consider rude – and on the other hand we have child rapists and those who enable child rapists. Now tell us please, who exactly has the moral high ground here?

  • Anonymous

    Oh my gosh I just saw a website called postmodern revelation and it had one of the scariest pictures I have ever seen.  It was Jesus being stabbed by the Pope.

    The image is at http://www.postmodernrevelation.com

    Why do people to these things

  • Anonymous

    Give some irrefutable proof regarding the complicity of the pope in cover-ups instead of making defamatory accusations.  If you know anything about this pope’s role(which I very much doubt), he was the first person in authority to meet this problem head on.  When as Cardinal during his time as head of the Congregation For the Doctrine Of The Faith, he persuaded the then pope, the Late, Blessed John Paul 11, to grant him personal responsibility for systematically speeding up the resolutions of sex abuse cases so that justice could be dispensed for the victims. As pope, he has tightened up canon law to defrock abusers quicker and to prevent them getting off on technicalities.  He has also met victims numerous times during his travels abroad.

  • Anonymous

    This pope in his former role as head of the CFD far from conspiring to hide abusers, actually took personal command of the whole tawdry issue of child abuse in order to systematically speed up resolutions of the cases.  Since becoming pope in 2005, he has tightened up the procedures in canon law to remove abusing priests and prevent them from utilizing loop-holes to escape justice. So you see,  he has actually been in the reformist camp.  He has not got everything right up until now but he has put the Church collectively on the right track.  So I think that you need to get your facts straight,and change your sources of reference to get a balanced view of what this pope is about.

  • Anonymous

    So that is ok then.  Pluralism grants a license to hate-filled protesters to spit on kids and shout obscenities at them.  

  • Michael McManus

    What is deflamatory about the truth, Hes met the problem head on, That statement IS A LIE , He has in fact evaded dealing with one of the most damaging aspects of child rape, And that is being reminded that those who could have stopped their rape , Turned their backs on them , That is mental torture, I personaly will never talk to any of my family because of that  

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    This sort of vulgar abuse does not constitute rational argument….. and illustrates my point exactly.

  • Michael McManus

    No you did not misunderstand me , My message was clear , One of my friends spoke in front of her countries parliament about the abuse she suffered, Which is well documented , She spent 10 yes 10 years in a adult mental hospital because of catholic nuns, So far she has had NO justice in the courts or any where

  • Anonymous

    You will find that the state paid for the state and security aspects of the event as for any state visit, but that the Church paid for the pastoral elements. “Your” taxes – and by the way I pay them as well, and probably more than you – were not “wasted” on a “mass meeting”.

  • Anonymous

    What is vulgar about what pdxprogressiveX wrote, or is that just the sort of adjective that you use towards anyone who does not share your point of view? By your comment, I rather think that you are to some extent illustrating the point being made by pdxprogressiveX (and it is a valid and important point).

    Since the Murphy report, a Catholic friend of mine has downgraded her revulsion of child sexual abuse. Why do you think that is? Could it be anything to do with a stubborn belief in the goodness of the RCC?

  • D Stables

    http://relijournal.com/christianity/the-anti-catholic-bbc-and-the-reality-of-world-youth-day-2011/

    Report I wrote based on the protests, BBC and the true reality of WYD. Would appreciate any feedback.

  • Anonymous

    The abuse of children was and is a terrible crime, but the fault lies with the perpetrators not with the Pope. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions and stop trying to off-load them onto the institution of the Church.

  • Anonymous

    The (very recent) Cloyne report gives examples of the mendacity of the Vatican. Are you suggesting there is an innocent explanation for the deceit? The recent Jay report is an amazingly obvious attempt to excuse abuse. Why should I trust anything the RCC says? I prefer to be swayed by the thousands of reports on the matter from many different agencies around the world. (For example, an article in an Australian publication reports that the RCC is estimated to have spent more than one million dollars funding the defence of evil Christian Brother Robert Charles Best.)

    There is no balance to be struck between truth and falsehood.

  • Anonymous

    The abuse of children was and is a terrible crime, but the fault lies with the perpetrators not with the Pope. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions and stop trying to off-load them onto the institution of the Church.

  • Oconnordamien

    I think old “W” had a couple of mitigating reasons. IQ be one of them. 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think anyone is accusing the Pope of direct abuse, but is it not worse to facilitate the abuse – to knowingly maintain the conditions whereby the abuse is made easy, where victims are silenced, where abusers are not reported but moved to new pastures where they can reoffend, where concern is directed at the salvation of the abusers rather than the compensation of victims, etc.? The Church is placing clergy in positions of trust and must accept the responsibility that entails.

  • Oconnordamien

    Just like parts of the bible, it’s a metaphor and not to be taken literally. 

    As to the “why”? You just demonstrated why. So it will be dissembled and talked about.

  • Oconnordamien

    First off sorry about the last non-sentence. I typed “The pope would say no”, then I remembered he spoke last year about male prostitutes and condom use. I was changing it to read “So what would the pope say?”. I then realised that would muddy the waters as he had spoken about male not female prostitution.
    When trying to delete I somehow managed to post gibberish instead.

    As to your point, so under those circumstances, just as she could not be blamed for the sexual act, she would not be blamed if she could and did use a condom to try to protect herself.

  • Oconnordamien

    You still haven’t shown a rational argument as to why the protesters were insincere.

  • Oconnordamien

    Forgive me for this blatant theft of your metaphor.

    To add Spiderman, the first lesson Peter Parker learned was ” with great power comes great responsibility”.
    The pope must been seen as going far beyond what any CEO, Police Chief or politican would do.
    I’m sorry to say that hasn’t been the case. While there are on-going cases with the church arguing that the pope does not control bishops or that priests are not employees of the church this will continue to be the case.

  • Oconnordamien

    If you click on Refresh once the comment appears the page will update with the comment in the right area.
    If though it’s a problem with your network connection or speed, as happens to me.
    well even I’ve resorted to prayer on that one!

  • Anonymous

    “Besides which, since when did protesters actually protest anywhere about government spending?”
    Surely you jest. Tens of thousands protested against exactly that in London on March 27 this year.

  • Oconnordamien

    If someone identifies as an atheist it tells you only one thing about them. You may well infer much but you have no evidence. The same is true for a theist. Yet again it doesn’t tell you anything about their actual beliefs or actions.

    As the Cambridge definition of secularism is the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country. Using Evan Harris’s Secular Manifesto demonstrates only one thing. What Evan Harris believes.

    There is no dogma or doctrine, no vicar or infallibility.
    So there is no such thing as a “so called secularist.
    Particularily if to be “so called” one only has to not follow the accusers favoured guidelines.

  • Oconnordamien

    If someone identifies as an atheist it tells you only one thing about them. You may well infer much but you have no evidence. The same is true for a theist. Yet again it doesn’t tell you anything about their actual beliefs or actions.

    As the Cambridge definition of secularism is the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country. Using Evan Harris’s Secular Manifesto demonstrates only one thing. What Evan Harris believes.

    There is no dogma or doctrine, no vicar or infallibility.
    So there is no such thing as a “so called secularist.
    Particularily if to be “so called” one only has to not follow the accusers favoured guidelines.

  • Oconnordamien

    If someone identifies as an atheist it tells you only one thing about them. You may well infer much but you have no evidence. The same is true for a theist. Yet again it doesn’t tell you anything about their actual beliefs or actions.

    As the Cambridge definition of secularism is the belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country. Using Evan Harris’s Secular Manifesto demonstrates only one thing. What Evan Harris believes.

    There is no dogma or doctrine, no vicar or infallibility.
    So there is no such thing as a “so called secularist.
    Particularily if to be “so called” one only has to not follow the accusers favoured guidelines.

  • Michael McManus

    There is an article into todays Irish independent about the stupidity of the hierarchy of the church in Ireland, A few years ago , You would not have such an attack on the church , It talks about the laity proping up a flawed organisation, That is not just happening in Ireland but across the world, catholics claim the pope has done more about the abuse scandal than any one, I have talked to many people about this , And so far we cannot find any out side of the church proof of this, We can prove catholics across the world actively support people who covered up child rape , abuse, And one of the people who did just that is the head of the church northen Ireland

  • Geraldodoire

    My comments were in relation to the accusations that you were making against the pope.  I have shown that he has been in the vanguard redirecting the Church away from prevaricating and indeed misleading statements and behavior.  There is little doubt that members of various national hierarchies have been found guilty of mendacity and hiding suspected abusers from the secular authorities.  This comes from a misplaced, narrow culture of clerical entitlement which has led to shepherds putting the reputation of the Church above natural justice.  This mindset has to be removed before trust can be restored.

  • Anonymous

    I’m afraid you are in the wrong in this matter.  The facts are presented in my comments and you can check them on any site that presents a balanced overview of the steps taken by our present pope to deal with the sex-abuse crisis.

  • Anonymous

    “Tens of thousands protested against exactly that in London on March 27 this year”
     
    I think you’ll find they were protesting the fact that the government was cutting spending rather than the fact that spending was too high. I think Father Alexander’s point is that it was probably the only time these people were protesting about the government spending too much.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting that you continue to fail to give any piece of evidence to back up your claims.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thanks, Jonathan, that is exactly what I meant. Glad someone understood me. And that is why I dount their sincerity. They are against govt spending too little and spending too much at the same time. A self-contadictory position.

  • Michael McManus

    You might like to read about the pope promoting some one who covered up the rape of children on the vatican web site

  • Michael McManus

    His name cardinal b law , person still in job dispite covering up child abuse , Brady Ireland

  • Anonymous

    1. How can one remove such a mindset when ‘God’ is supposed to be at the top of the hierarchy? The sense of entitlement is intrinsic to a monarchical structure. (This makes priestly child abuse so much worse because the victim may see the abuser as interposed between the victim and God.)
    2. It does not matter that sexual abuse would not occur if Canon Law was strictly followed; the actions that Canon Law dictates for cases where the Canon Law is broken should be made entirely consistent with the appropriate national laws. When is Canon Law going to be changed to this effect, or would that be incompatible with the notion of divine inspiration? The Vatican cannot even comply with international law; I suppose it thinks it is above that too.

    In many ways the Pope acts the powerless figure. Even if he did think that some of his thoughts were influenced by the Holy Spirit (and I do not suggest that he does think that), it would not make his actions any more excusable. Acting as though it was the case, he is a danger to society.

  • Anonymous

    From Wikipedia:

    “In March 2010 it became widely known that the then Father Seán Brady had participated in an internal Church legal process in 1975 that required victims of Father Brendan Smyth to remain silent about their abuse.”

  • Anonymous

    Spending too little in areas where there should not be cuts and spending too much in areas where there is insufficient justification are both legitimate targets. There is nothing self-contradictory in protesting about both. Do you retract your accusation of insincerity?

  • Oconnordamien

    You yourself implied that you would agree with less spending on armaments in an earlier post. You are using your democratic right to support spending in one area whilst objecting to it in another.

    I accuse you of being insincere as you object to different things than I do.