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Pope’s visit will be a lesson for secular Britain, says Archbishop

By on Monday, 23 August 2010

Archbishop Nichols: 'Faith in God brings great riches and joy to men' (Mazur/CCN)

Archbishop Nichols: 'Faith in God brings great riches and joy to men' (Mazur/CCN)

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain next month is a chance to show a secularised society that religious faith is a gift rather than a problem, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has said.

The president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said he hoped the state visit from September 16 to 19 would mark a “new phase” in relations between Britain and the Catholic Church.

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, he said that faith was increasingly being seen as a private matter which, he suggested, many Christians were tempted to hide away from others who were hostile to the notion of the existence of God.

He said he hoped the “historic event” of the first state visit of a reigning pope would help the people of Britain understand the positive nature of religious faith.

“We hope that the illuminating presence of Benedict XVI might help many in our lands to understand that the faith in God is not a problem to resolve, but a gift to rediscover,” he wrote. “Faith in God brings great riches and joy to men. He is the liberation and the guide that we seek, motive for inspiration and perseverance, source of forgiveness and compassion.”

Archbishop Nichols said that when the Pope is greeted by the Queen in Edinburgh on September 16 the pair will discuss the importance of Christianity to British society. He said the pair harbour shared concerns “for the well-being of the peoples of the world, for the role and value of Christian teaching and the importance of having stable institutions for the benefit of society”.

His comments come after a period in which the Church has had to fight bitterly to retain its rights in education and to govern its charities in accordance with its teachings.

This period has been paralleled by a rise in an aggressive form of secularism which dictates that religion should have no public role.

As a result the papal visit has met with hostility since it was announced in the spring with anti-Catholic activists threatening to disrupt events or even arrest the Pope for alleged “crimes against humanity”.

Although Pope Benedict was invited to Britain first by Tony Blair and then by Gordon Brown there has been an outcry at the taxpayer footing much of the £20million bill.

Worshippers have since been asked to contribute from their own pockets after the Catholic Church in England and Wales later said it would cover the costs of the purely “pastoral” events, estimated at about £7million.

The visit has also even met with hostility from some Foreign Office officials, with one mid-ranking diplomat suspended for suggesting in a memo that was sent to Downing Street that the Pope should open an abortion clinic or launch his own brand of “Benedict Condoms” while in Britain.

English Catholic officials are hoping that the Pope will not further inflame anti-Catholic sentiment by speaking out against gay marriage or adoption, or abortion and divorce.

They are focusing on common ground between the Vatican and the British government in such areas as the environment and international development. But this was thrown into jeopardy last month when Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, announced an “unprecedented focus” on abortion and contraception in all future British overseas aid programmes.

The Pope will also be visiting the UK just a month after the last of 11 Catholic adoption agencies lost its legal battle to stay open in the face of gay rights laws compelling them to assess same-sex couples as adopters.

The Pope denounced such British equality laws as a “violation of the natural law” when he met the bishops of England and Wales in Rome earlier this year.

The highpoint of the papal visit will be the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Cofton Park, Birmingham, on September 19.

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Nichols said that Cardinal Newman was a “man that understood how mind and heart should go hand in hand in the great enterprises of life, the greatest of which is the search for God and the salvific relationship with Him”.

Pope Benedict has been a lifelong admirer of Cardinal Newman’s “theology of conscience” and has described the Victorian as the greatest thinker on conscience since St Augustine of Hippo. Such theology was also an inspiration of German wartime resistance members Sophie and Hans Scholl – who were beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 – and their White Rose movement which had urged the German people to rise up against Adolf Hitler.

  • http://twitter.com/MR_CHIPFAT MR_CHIPFAT

    When mr.666 himself meets the queen, I hope she will revel in reminding him of Britains long proud and magnificent Protestant tradition, both religious and political.

    Note how she will not meet him on English soil. Good girl.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Pope Benedict needn't worry himself about the state of secular Britain, since his mission is to teach and preach the Catholic Faith and to discipline those who dissent from it – and that includes the Soho (“gay” Masses-condoning Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

    This nonsense – that the Church should take a lead in spreading humanism among atheists and secularists while ignoring the elephant in the room (the widespread loss of Catholic faith around the world and most especially in the UK) – is not fooling anyone of average intelligence. Take the following (ridiculous) extract from the above article – it really does say it all:

    “English Catholic officials are hoping that the Pope will not further inflame anti-Catholic sentiment by speaking out against gay marriage or adoption, or abortion and divorce. They are focusing on common ground between the Vatican and the British government in such areas as the environment and international development…”

    Excuse me? By what authority do these “Catholic officials” dare to prescribe what the Pope can and cannot say? And would these “Catholic officials” happen to include Archbishop Nichols and his brother bishops, one wonders? Oh and the Scots bishops?

    Some of us will be scrutinizing the Pope's words very carefully indeed, when he comes to the UK, to check for traces of… well … Catholicism, for want of a better word.

  • David Pollock

    “This period has been paralleled by a rise in an aggressive form of secularism which dictates that religion should have no public role.” At a time of constant and legally hopeless court cases from such as the Christian Legal Centre and demands for handpicked judges from an ex-archbishop of Canterbury one might better talk of aggressive Christians.

    The extent of talk about “aggressive secularists” is a measure of how unused to criticism religion has been, comfortable in its privileged position of uncritical acceptance for so many decades. The questioning it is now encountering – if you ignore the froth – is radical but rational and requires more of an answer than mere name-calling. Too often the churches seem to cry persecution in an attempt to curry political favour rather than face up to (for example) the conflict between human rights and their constant demands for exemptions.

    So the myth of aggressive secularists is assiduously perpetuated – but secularism in this context means neutrality on the part of the state and its institutions in matters of religion and belief. Opposing neutrality is necessarily asking for privilege for one group (Christians?) and for discrimination against the rest.

    Note also that secularism does not mean exclusion of the religious from public affairs! Humanists, who are the principal supporters of secualrism, are not opposed to Christians or anyone else contributing to debate in the public arena, nor to their institutions (churches etc) likewise having their say. (This should be obvious, since humanists also wish to take part and we are great believers in equality!)

    What we oppose and hold to be illegitimate and profoundly unwise is for decisions to be made – and therefore for arguments to be made – that are based solely on religious doctrine – such as the Catholic doctrine of natural law. The legal enforcement of religion – or morals – has a horrifying history. But insofar as religious believers have insights into what is conducive to social welfare that are based on evidence, can be understood by others and are not dependent on religious doctrine, their contributions are welcome and needed.

  • djpb

    “English Catholic officials are hoping that the Pope will not further inflame anti-Catholic sentiment by speaking out against gay marriage or adoption, or abortion and divorce”

    Some evidence to back this up is needed. Is this a hard fact or personal interpretation? Is it an inference based on what has or hasn't been said by those leaders preparing for the papal visit?

  • GFFM

    Who are the “English Catholic officials” who are afraid that the Pope will talk about marriage, family, and sexual morality? Again, the society needs a bit of inflaming. The intrusion of government and fanatical secularists into religious institutions is remarkable in Britain and the Church rarely objects with any abiding consistency. The Herald needs to quote these “English Catholic officials” and needs to call them to task. Finally, the laity needs to object to the so called equality laws in England–they are discriminatory, they limit religious freedom, and they are oppressive. Anyone reading such policy and law is reminded of “Experiment House” in Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.

  • Ryan

    If he doesn't go to jail, he'll then go to hell!

  • Curious

    I see from the Pope's itinerary that: “He will then go and meet 3,000 young people – schoolchildren, students…”

    Has this Pope been required to produce an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check by the organizers of this event. What steps have been taken to protect Britain's Children during this visit?