How Do You Welcome an Unpopular Pope?

By Heather Horn
Atlantic Wire
September 15, 2010

The pope arrives in Britain on Thursday. Revelations of abuse scandals and coverups in the past year have made Benedict highly unpopular in certain quarters. For weeks, British publications have been full of debate over how he should be welcomed. Some wish to protest his visit. Some want him arrested. Some comedians and militant atheists at New Humanist have written distinctly aggressive responses. Then there are those who think the animosity is misplaced and in poor taste. Here's a sample of some of the more civilized and thoughtful takes from both sides:


* Stop Blaming Benedict This pope might be having a rough time partly because he's not as charismatic as his predecessor, under whom much of the damage attributed to Benedict was actually done. "The paedophilia plague ... is far more Wojtyla's responsibility than Benedict's," argues Peter Popham at The Independent, pointing to the previous pope's alliance with Cardinal Bernard Law, "who refused to step down as Archbishop of Boston even though accused of covering-up the abuse of thousands of children." He concludes by arguing that Benedict "should be welcomed to Britain" as the "representative" of "many thousands of Catholics who perhaps pay only lip service to the church's doctrinal strictures [and] continue to do amazing work on the ragged fringes of their societies, inspired by the Gospel, a fact in which our tub-thumping secularists show no interest."

* What This Pope Is Fighting For, and Against Benedict is crusading against the spread of secularism--not the separation of Church and State but "the amnesiac eradication of one of the principal roots of Western civilisation and the deliberate marginalisation of all religion to the private sphere," argues Michael Burleigh The Telegraph. He is fighting to preserve the Catholic church at a time when "churches are pushed to the margins, licensed at most as a pick-up service for the most intractable social problems, or for when life finally brushes up against mortality," while "their room to exercise their traditional right to accord praise or blame is being curtailed ... by the tyranny vociferous minorities exert over majorities through laws preventing 'discrimination', which rarely favour Christians themselves."

* An Argument for Tolerance, Civility "The role of host is an opportunity for people to show off--in a good way--all that is best about themselves," argues a Telegraph editorial. One of the things that is best about Britain, the editors say, is its "tradition of civilised discourse with people whose views we do not share." Benedict is a pope that respects that tradition, and should thus be accorded its benefits: "By all means, let critics challenge the Pope's teachings while he is here. But this four-day visit is not an invitation to drown out the voice of the leader of a billion Christians with sneering and mockery."


* Catholics, You Should Join Protesters "I believe you are much better people than this man," writes Johann Hari in British publication The Independent. "It is my conviction that if you impartially review the evidence of the suffering he has inflicted on your fellow Catholics, you will stand in solidarity with them--and join the protesters." He reviews said evidence and then addresses objections:

There are people who will tell you that these criticisms of Ratzinger are "anti-Catholic". What could be more anti-Catholic than to cheer the man who facilitated the rape of your children? What could be more pro-Catholic than to try to bring him to justice? This is only one of Ratzinger's crimes. When he visited Africa in March 2009, he said that condoms "increase the problem" of HIV/Aids. His defenders say he is simply preaching abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it, so if people are following his advice they can't contract HIV--but in order to reinforce the first part of his message, he spreads overt lies claiming condoms don't work. ... If your faith pulls you towards him rather than his victims, shouldn't that make you think again about your faith? Doesn't it suggest that faith in fact distorts your moral faculties? ... Which side, do you think, would be chosen by the Nazarene carpenter you find on your crucifixes?

* Or Abstain From the Entire Affair Andrew Sullivan writes sorrowfully at The Atlantic that he can neither honor the pope nor join protesters: "The church is deeper than its current awful leader and its truth deeper than [the pope's] neurotic fears and sublimated desires." Despite "long[ing] for reconciliation" with the organized part of his religion, he writes: "I would marginally prefer to attend a cocktail party with Roman Polanski than bow down to this pontiff as my grandmother would expect."

* What the Pope Is Really Visiting For: Conversion John Hooper at The Guardian looks suspiciously at one Vatican official's confirmation of "a rumour that had been circulating for some weeks: that Benedict would be using the trip to Britain to step up the use of Latin." Hooper thinks that "Rome long ago resigned itself to men and women of faith being in a minority in European states" and Benedict is aiming to turn Catholicism into a "'creative minority' of fervent (and theologically conservative) believers." Britain is an ideal target on this mission: it has plenty of non-progressive British Catholics, and "holds out the potential for conversions en bloc of disgruntled, traditionalist members of another denomination." As further evidence of Benedicts intentions, Hooper points to the recent "beatification of Cardinal Newman, who converted from Anglicanism."

* What Benedict Himself Should Do At the Financial Times, Stephen Wall does not quite take the side of either the protesters or the papal defenders. But he does think that the pope is proving to be his own worst enemy:

Organised faith is in decline in the west--the result, the Pope would say, of a collapse of moral values. To have any hope of recapturing the imagination of millions of Catholics, not to mention non-believers, the Church would have to accept that it does not have a monopoly on truth, that individuals have their own values, that a changing moral code is a normal part of social evolution and that the Church's own moral failings should induce a little humility. But that would, in Benedict's eyes, be not so much reform as reformation.


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