Archbishop of Southwark to Meet Anti-pope Protesters

By Paul Lewis
The Guardian
September 6, 2010

Protesters have planned a march on 19 September in London to coincide with the pope's visit to the capital. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

An archbishop is to meet leading campaigners against the pope this week to tell them to "show respect" to Catholics celebrating his visit to London.

Scotland Yard has brokered the meeting between the Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, a senior figure in the Catholic church, and the organisers of a campaign against Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

Smith said today he had no intention of infringing the rights of those intending to protest against the papal visit. But he said he planned to use the encounter to encourage them not to become overly confrontational.

"I've always said, thank God in this country we have free speech," he said. "They are perfectly entitled to protest. What I would ask of all of them is to do so in a dignified way, which does not disrupt the joy of the Catholic community in welcoming the pope. I hope they would show respect to those of us who do have [religious] convictions."

Smith denied that he requested the meeting. But a Metropolitan police memorandum seen by the Guardian states that the request came from Smith.

"At the request of Archbishop Smith, the Metropolitan Police Service will provide a room for the meeting between members of the Protest the Pope Movement and the Roman Catholic Church," sergeant Nicholas Williams, the Met's head of the Communities Together Strategic Engagement Team, said in a letter to protesters.

"Can I stress this is not a Metropolitan Police meeting. We are simply acting as the 'middle man' in order to bring you and the Roman Catholic Church together for a discussion."

High-profile members of the campaign group Protest the Pope, an umbrella group of organisations opposing the visit, will meet Smith on Wednesday. They have planned a march on 18 September to coincide with his visit to the capital, which will culminate in a vigil in Hyde Park.

Organisers meeting Smith include the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the British Humanist Association, and Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. He said he would not be "lectured" by the archbishop. "There is a defensive tone in what [Smith] is saying," he said. "It is an indication of the church's fear that something will happen to bring the pope into disrepute. I think something should happen to embarrass the pope into, for example, confronting the child abuse scandal. We're not going to be kind to the Pope because he does not deserve to be respected."

Although there is a rainbow coalition of groups opposing the papal visit, they have agreed a strategy that will focus on the stories of sexual abuse survivors.

Organisers are planning to to fly abuse survivors into London from across the world for a press conference on 15 September, the eve of the visit.

They include Mark Fabbro, an Australian who says he was sadistically raped by a priest at a Jesuit school in Melbourne in 1971, when he was 11. Also planning to speak is Sue Cox, who recently broke a 50-year silence over the sexual abuse she endured from a priest, detailing her trauma in a public letter to the Archbishop of Westminster.

"As an abused child, I knew nothing of 'orders' or 'dioceses' or anything hierarchical all I knew was that a priest, of the kind I had been brought up to revere, seriously sexually abused me when I was 10 years old, on the eve of my confirmation, then raped me when I was 13, in my own bedroom in my own home," she wrote.

"I can hardly believe," she added, "that the church is so stupid that it cannot see that there is a real opportunity here to show some of the compassion and humility that it preaches so fervently."


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