A number of British luminaries has set out to welcome "Pope Ratzinger" to Britain with a letter in The Guardian, which, among other things, suggests the Church has "resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties ("concordats") with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states." It also calls the Holy See, as a state, a "fiction". The letter is below.
If the signatories of this dishonest and petty letter had made such conspiratorial claims about the Jewish faith (that it was simply an attempt to "amplify international influence") or the Islamic faith, they would be considered intolerant bigots. But, this is England, this is anti-Catholicism, and no such boundaries of polite discourse exist. I find it shocking, and frightening.
A few brief comments. In England, the rights of Catholics until recently were severely curtailed, and at the time of John Donne, a priest found conducting Mass would be arrested, and tortured to death - usually by being drawn and quartered, and then set on fire. The English nation, with Cromwell in Ireland, with its armies in India, in the New World, killed and degraded millions. The colonial era, which saw England's vast influence swell, also saw England sign many treaties to pursue its own interests.
Meanwhile, the history of Catholicism has given the world some of the greatest works of art, music, poetry, and philosophy. The Saints have offered extraordinary edification to billions of faithful over the centuries. The Catholic Church is even credited, along with Reagan, of helping to bring about the fall of the Russian Communist empire - hardly a position to undermine human rights.
In fact, Catholicism is one of the only belief systems that puts the value of the human individual at its core - debatable or laughable as that may be to some; this position leads it into disturbing territory, especially for the scientifically-minded, if only because the Church's bottom line is that each human has a soul, and souls are not believed in by materialists.
It is worth noting that capitalism and the worlds of marketing, finance, industry, advertising, banking, big media, big pharma, big tobacco, big oil, and the arms manufacturing corporations, all profit from a world of conflict, struggle, poverty, a world where humans are treated more as commodities than as beings of value for their own selves. We see the environmental and political degradation of our world coming closer, and many feel helpless to do anything about it. The Catholic church has opposed recent wars of aggression in the Middle East, urges proper stewardship of the planet, and also aims to defend the poor. At times, many of its priests have even developed theologies of liberation, more ground-breaking and brave than any Guardian editorial.
It is time to recall that England's antipathy to Catholicism (see Guy Fawkes night) is historical, long-standing, and at times a barbaric remnant of nationalism that our new century should see buried. A pity that talents as apparently cool-headed as Dawkins and Pullman have sought to resurrect the spirit of the gibbet, the gallows, and the cat o nine tails, in order to scourge the land, yet again, of those of unProtestant faith.
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