|Protest the Pope Rally Sees 10,000 March through London's Streets
By Tracy McVeigh
September 18, 2010
Day three of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain and it was a day for protests and anti-papists under bright blue skies in central London. Around 10,000 people took to the capital's streets for a Protest the Pope rally and march against what the organisers called "papal intolerance" and to condemn the state funding of the visit.
They came in red cardboard papal hats scrawled with the words "bigot" and "homophobe" and carrying placards, rainbow flags, pledges of atheism and balloons made of condoms. One giant banner showing the Pope carrying a swastika was later taken down after offending many of the protesters, who went as far as complaining to the police officers lining the route of the march to Downing Street.
Although a good-natured crowd, the force of feeling against the presence of Pope Benedict in the UK was clear in the messages condemning his stance on homosexuality, the use of condoms, segregated schools, women's rights and, most of all, the child abuse scandal for which so many hold the pontiff personally responsible for both accelerating it and then covering it up.
"He is a symbol of all that is wrong with this terrible church, but he is more than that, he is also steeped in guilt at the cover-up," said Paul Stevens, a 35-year-old lawyer on the march with friends in exuberant "leftover gay pride suits". The first speaker to the rally was Sue Cox, 63, who was abused by a priest as a young girl and who told the crowd: "All I have ever experienced from the Catholic church is fear, disgust, lies and shame."
She concluded her speech by warning the Vatican that they would no longer be able to get away with overlooking clerical sex abuse. "We will continue to watch and shout out and work towards change. This is not over," she said.
The protest organiser Peter Tatchell told the Observer the event was held both to send a message to the Pope that child abusers had to be brought to account and to call on the British government not to tolerate the Pope's "harsh, intolerant views on women's rights, on gay equality and on the use of condoms which is so vital to stopping the spread of the HIV virus".
If the pope's key message during his visit has been to warn against atheism and secularism, then this rally was the chance of those with those views to present their view of Benedict. "An enemy of humanity" was the unminced words of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, who gave a strong speech to the rally on its arrival at Downing Street.
Comedian Al Murray also figured among the crowd. He said: "Like a lot of people I am a perplexed that it is a state visit. The pope's opposition to condoms kills people. It is all very well him lecturing us on morals, but he should look at his own organisation's view."
Asked how his alter ego, the Pub Landlord, would react to the visit, Murray replied: "He doesn't like it either, but that is because he is a fan of Henry VIII, because of his marriage arrangements."
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