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Papal visit inspires Catholic-Humanist discussions

By on Thursday, 28 October 2010

The New Humanist was critical of the papal visit to Britain

The New Humanist was critical of the papal visit to Britain

Catholics and Humanists held groundbreaking talks this week about Aids, contraception, faith schools and same-sex adoption.

Eight members of the Catholic Voices group, including Austen Ivereigh, Jack Valero and Fr Christopher Jamison, discussed the issues with 14 members of the Central London Humanist Group, including Alan Palmer, the group’s chairman, Josh Kutchinsky, a trustee of the British Humanist Association, and Paul Sims, news editor of New Humanist magazine.

The discussions, which lasted for two hours, followed on from a public debate held at Conway Hall before the papal visit, at which Catholic speakers were heckled, and which Mr Sims described as “loud and rowdy”.

Following the Conway Hall meeting, both groups wished to organise a smaller, more respectful meeting. A member of the Central London Humanist Group explained his understanding of Humanism and secularism, and Mr Sims gave some reflections on the papal visit. The three Catholic speakers each then put the Church’s case on one of the topics being discussed, which was followed by a discussion of that topic aimed at clarifying areas of disagreement.

One Humanist and one Catholic were then asked to summarise the views of the other side, to ensure both sides had listened attentively to the other. Dr Ivereigh gave what Mr Sims described as “a very eloquent description of what Humanism stands for”.

Mr Valero described the meeting as “an unexpected fruit of the papal visit”. He said it was “respectful and attentive, but there was no attempt to suppress real differences”.

Mr Sims described the meeting as “really interesting”, saying that “people from both sides came away with more understanding of where the other side was coming from, framed in reasonable terms”. He added that he did not think the Humanists were convinced by Catholic arguments on Aids.

“You’re not going to change the world with something like this. It’s about seeing what the other side has to say, and that’s constructive in itself,” he said.

Further meetings are planned following Tuesday night’s discussion.

Dr Ivereigh said: “This kind of exchange should be part of what we do in the future.”

  • Eric Conway

    Interesting. But I'm not convinced by the Humanist argument on aids. If they disagree with the Church, why don't they set up their own aids hospices. Perhaps Stephern Fry would act as sponsor !. We can all then agree to differ. Why are humanists so obsessed by the Church's approach to the aids problem ?. It's really none of their business.

  • Saunders9

    I think the Church's opposition to contraception does create a problem relating to AIDS. I don't think there is an easy answer. The use of condoms does prevent the transmission of AIDS, but at the same time by the Church supporting this, it would contradict it's teaching. However, non catholics simply can't understand the teaching and it's hard for me to as well. But I do accept the church's teaching although it's a hard one to understand.

  • Duncan

    Surely the Church's teaching on Contraception and AIDS is at least reasonable. The Church has to try and argue what in good conscience it thinks Jesus would have said. AIDS is obviously transmitted from people who are infected. If you had AIDS and you loved someone would you sleep with that person? Since there is always a risk in transmitting AIDS, even with contraception, surely the answer would be no. Since the Church views sex outside of marriage as wrong and the person who was infected must surely have had sex outside marriage then once again the Church must argue that contraception is not a MORALLY LICIT way of reducing AIDS. Furthermore, a number of AIDS prevention think tanks, including the Harvard AIDS school (which conducted studies over a long perio of time into the relation between condoms and AIDS) have come on record as arguing that their studies show there is a direct correlation between AIDS and the availability of condoms. So, perhaps the Church's teaching on contraception IN RELATION TO AIDS is not quite so unreasonable. The problem I guess is that for many, the Church's (and therefore JEsus') moral teaching is too idealistic. It can also sound very judgemental. I am not sure that the latter is really true.

  • Eric Conway

    Reasonable comment, Saunders9. However, the Church's teaching is correst. Among the most serious aids afflicted countries is South Africa, not a predominantly Catholic country ( despite which, the Catholic Church is at the centre of the aids related assistance ) where condoms etc., have exacerbated the problem. The leading Harvard aids expert, Prof. Edward Green ( a non-Catholic ) supports the Church's approach to dealing with aids. I think he's more qualified than the humanist association & Stephen Fry !.

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