The Trouble with the Pope – a Documentary

GLT News
September 2, 2010

Channel 4 documentary presented by Peter Tatchell

Broadcast Monday 13 September at 8pm

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell presents an hour-long examination of Pope Benedict XVI, broadcast on Channel 4 at 8pm on Monday 13 September, three days before the Pontiff’s State Visit to Britain.

Summarising the documentary, Peter Tatchell said:

“The programme questions the Pope’s policies on a range of issues including his opposition to contraception, condom use and embryonic stem cell research, as well the Pope’s mishandling of the child sex abuse scandal, his distortions of the life and ideas of Cardinal Newman and his readmission to the church of the holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson.

“It examines the impact that Benedict XVI’s pronouncements have had on both the developing and western world – with filming in the Philippines, plus Italy, Germany and the UK.

“Interviewing both critics and supporters of the Pope, many of them Catholics, the programme explores Benedict’s personal, religious and political journey since the 1930s, from liberal theologian to conservative Pontiff. It shows how he was once a supporter of the liberalising, reforming Second Vatican Council but has since undermined it, including by the appointment of many ultra-conservative bishops.

“In the film, we go back to the 1960s, when the Pope was a young theologian and lecturer, then known as Joseph Ratzinger. We hear from fellow theologian, Hans Kung, who was with him at university in Tubingen, Germany, and discover the events that led him to become an arch conservative.

“The documentary also includes interviews with British sex abuse survivor, Sue Cox, who was raped by a priest at the age of 13, and the Catholic historian, John Cornwall.

“During his visit to Britain, the Pope will beatify the nineteenth century English theologian Cardinal Newman. We discover the way the Pope is manipulating and distorting Newman’s relationships and ideas to serve his own autocratic, homophobic leadership.

“The documentary interviews Chris Olly who is dying of motor neurone disease and Chris Denning, a Nottingham University scientist, who is using embryonic stem cells in a bid to develop new medical procedures to help combat a range of terrible diseases. We also hear a defence of this research by Professor Colin Blakemore. The Pope has condemned embryonic stem cell research and wants it banned.

“In the Philippines, we discover how the Pope’s teachings have a social and political impact, restricting contraception, sex education and condom distribution. We hear from a poor Filipino family, headed by Wilma and Ramon, whose following of Papal teaching against birth control has resulted in them having more children than they can care for adequately.

“The Pope provides a serious assessment of the impact of Benedict XVI after five years in office and examines the conflict between some of his key values and those held by people in Britain and the world, including dissent from his policies by many Catholics.

“We hear from Benedict’s defenders in the Philippines and the UK.

“Our programme is not anti-Catholic. I have great sympathy with grassroots Catholics who want a more open, democratic, accountable, liberal and inclusive church. The We Are Church movement is admirable, as is the UK group, Catholic Voices for Reform. I salute them.

“Some of the inspirations of my own human rights campaigns have been Catholic humanitarians, including the editor of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day, US anti-war activists, Fathers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and theorists of Catholic liberation theology such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff,” said Mr Tatchell.

Explaining some of the difficulties that arose during the making of the documentary, Peter Tatchell added:

“Most of our interviewees are Catholics; some are supportive of the Pope, others critical.

“Our aim was to include all viewpoints, so we made great efforts to seek the participation of leading Catholic figures.

“When we went to Rome, we requested an interview with Pope Benedict or a senior Cardinal. We were told that such an interview was not possible.

“Alexander DesForges of the Catholic Communications Network in the UK was approached to facilitate an interview with Archbishop Vincent Nichols. Our request was turned down.

“This is very disappointing. We wanted to give the Catholic leadership in the Vatican and in the UK an opportunity to present their perspective. Sadly, they declined our offer

“Although the Catholic Communications Network did put up a spokesperson at the last minute – Fiona O’Reilly, from the pressure group, Catholic Voices – this is not the same as having Catholic leaders defend the Pope and his teachings.

“It strikes me as a sign of weakness that neither the Vatican nor the Catholic Church in Britain was willing to be interviewed in defence of the Pope.

“When church leaders see the programme I suspect they will be surprised by its tone and content. They will probably regret not taking part.

“This is a very thoughtful documentary. Many of the voices we feature are Catholic ones,” said Mr Tatchell.

When announcing the documentary in June, Channel Four said:

“Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, a long-term critic of the Papacy, will challenge Pope Benedict XVI’s beliefs and positions on a range of issues – including condoms, homosexuality and fertility treatment – and examine the impact his policies have had on both the developing and Western world. The programme will give voice to a range of views on the Pope – featuring interviews with both critics and supporters.”

Ralph Lee, Head of Specialist Factual programming at Channel Four, said: “The Papal visit in September provides an ideal opportunity to examine the impact of Benedict XVI after five years in office. In keeping with Channel 4’s remit to provide a platform for diverse and alternative perspectives, equality campaigner Peter Tatchell will assess the effect of the current Pope’s teachings throughout the world and the conflict between some of his values and those held by modern Britain.”

The programme, due to air in a prime-time slot in the autumn, is being made by Juniper TV. Samir Shah is the executive producer and the director is Chris Boulding.

The film’s production company, Juniper TV, said:

“Juniper TV is making an hour long documentary for Channel 4 on Pope Benedict XVI to coincide with his State visit to Britain in September. The programme will be presented by Peter Tatchell and be an exploration of the Pope’s life – exploring his ideas, values and thoughts. It will provide a thoughtful perspective on the Papacy’s present condition, and make a serious assessment of the impact of Pope Benedict’s views and policies on Catholics and non-Catholics around the world. To ensure this, we currently plan to film in the UK, Europe and South East Asia.”


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