Who are these people?

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.


We, the undersigned, share the view that Pope Ratzinger should not be given the honour of a state visit to this country. We believe that the pope, as a citizen of Europe and the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK, is of course free to enter and tour our country. However, as well as a religious leader, the pope is a head of state, and the state and organisation of which he is head has been responsible for:

Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.
Promoting segregated education.
Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women.
Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
The state of which the pope is head has also 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. In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.
Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Susan Blackmore, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Ed Byrne, Baroness Blackstone, Ken Follett, Professor AC Grayling, Stewart Lee, Baroness Massey, Claire Rayner, Adele Anderson, John Austin MP, Lord Avebury, Sian Berry, Professor Simon Blackburn, Sir David Blatherwick, Sir Tom Blundell, Dr Helena Cronin, Dylan Evans, Hermione Eyre, Lord Foulkes, Professor Chris French, Natalie Haynes, Johann Hari, Jon Holmes, Lord Hughes, Robin Ince, Dr Michael Irwin, Professor Steve Jones, Sir Harold Kroto, Professor John Lee, Zoe Margolis, Jonathan Meades, Sir Jonathan Miller, Diane Munday, Maryam Namazie, David Nobbs, Professor Richard Norman, Lord O'Neill, Simon Price, Paul Rose, Martin Rowson, Michael Rubenstein, Joan Smith, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Professor Raymond Tallis, Lord Taverne, Peter Tatchell, Baroness Turner, Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton QC FBA, Ann Marie Waters, Professor Wolpert, Jane Wynne Willson


Anonymous said…
What's dishonest about the letter? Where does it invoke 'the spirit of the gibbet'? Where does the letter insult the Pope, insult Catholicism, or overstep 'the bounds of polite discourse'?
Mike Begnal said…
Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of problems with the position of the Catholic Church on the issues listed in the Guardian letter -- but it's ironic how many of those attaching their names to said letter are "Lords" and "Baronesses" and "Sirs" and MPs, thus identifying themselves with the British Empire, which has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history right up until, oh, probably the present day....
What's conspiratorial and dishonest about the letter? The Church did try to cover up cases of child rape. The Pope does continue to spread the message that condoms don't help in the prevention of HIV transmission. Catholicism does still transmit the message that homosexuality is a sin and that women are unsuitable to minister. The Catholic church is the largest organised religion in the world with more power over the lives and minds of others. No other head of state, no matter how corrupt, has that much power over so many minds.

As a non believer who was once a baptised, faith schooled, confessing and confirmed Catholic, I think that the Catholic Church can be a force for good, but right now only seems to be working to try and help problems such as poverty that are partially caused by its medieval views on birth control. The Catholic Church is just as much a friend of poverty as it is a friend of the poor.

The protest will hopefully steer the way for the selection of a more liberal Pope when Ratzinger is no longer with us, who will hopefully not only send a more productive message regarding birth control, but also trash the message that homosexuality is an intrinsic evil and that women are unsuitable to minister.

People do protest the Jewish State of Israel, and yes, these protests are met with accusations of Anti Semitism. Your ideas that the Catholic Church shouldn't be protested against because Catholics were oppressed in the past are no different to ideas that Israel shouldn't be protested because of the holocaust. The EDL protest the influence of Islam regularly in the UK, the liberal broadsheets may paint them as a group of racist thugs ( they may indeed be, but this might also just be a symptom of middle class liberal prejudice towards the working class) but the protests are happening.

The planned protests will be peaceful, Tatchell has met up with Church authorities to make sure that the planned protests wont impinge upon the official proceedings. People are angry at the Church, many of whom have not had the luxury of choosing Catholicism as an adult but by having the choice made for them as children, leading to disastrous and unforgettable consequences for many.
Thank you for these comments. Anonymous, you ask what is offensive about the letter. Well, the claim that the Pope is masquerading as a legitimate head of state, and that the Holy See is a fiction for influence, is the sort of bigoted anti-Catholic propaganda that mirrors the anti-Jewish rubbish from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I think that Mike makes a good point about the British Empire, which is no fiction - why so many Lords and Ladies against the Vatican? What are their vested interests I wonder? Certainly not in a classless society. Niall makes god points - and there are many liberal Catholics who do hope for a more nuanced approach from the Church leadership in years to come.
Anonymous said…
What a ridiculous and self-important post Todd Swift - there's nothing gibbet-like or conspiratorial about the letter, and the claims it makes against the Pope and the Catholic Church as an establishment are all correct. There's no correlation between the letter and atheistic values, something you deliberately skirt over, and, worse, distort. To say that it bears any resemblance to the Protocols of Zion is hysterical and batty, and thoroughly dishonest. What a pisspoor post. I can;t believe I'm rising to this bilge, and I'm a Catholic. Of course the Holy See amplifies the influence of the Pope - what else do you think it does? Why d'you think it's there? Have you ever been there and thought it did anything else than amplify the authority of the Church? Why d'you think the place is full of national embassies and envoys? Tourism? The papal city state has existed to protect and advance papal authority, to give it immunity, and to put a religious figure on the same par at the UN as elected heads of state.
Self-important? I didn't sign a letter deciding to take on a religion followed by 1.2 billion people: that seems grandiose. And, while I appreciate the sarcasm of your using my full name, it is a bit rich coming from yet another internet coward-bully hiding behind "anonymous".
Stef Mo said…

I think the Pope and elements of his Church have very legitimate crimes to answer for. The aforementioned letter, and the widespread fury among both atheists and theists regarding the Pope's visit, stem from the hypocrisy of his visiting the UK to impart some great moral wisdom to us when he can be directly linked to hideous, despicable acts. They're not just trying to victimise the Catholic faith for the sake of it. It's all very well standing up for the poor downtrodden Catholics, and the great works of art they've provided over the centuries - including that delightful Inquisition of theirs - but who was there to stand up for the terrified children who were systematically brutalised by the priests they'd been taught to trust? Pope Ratzinger seems delighted to jump to these vile priests' defence. And I think that's the root of Fry, Dawkins et al's letter, not simple Catholic-bashing.
Rufo Q said…
This letter is daft. You don't forbid a foreign dignitary from visiting a country simply because you disagree with his positions. Russia? China? Venezuela? Italy (whose government is in cahoots with the mafia)? France (whose government is busy expelling its Romany population)? The Vatican has full diplomatic relations with the UK so the Pope is entitled to a State visit, regardless of how unpleasant the signatories of this letter may find his opinions.

The Catholic Church has an enormous amount of work to do concerning the sexual abuse committed by some of its priests and covered up by members (often very senior members) of its hierarchy. But that is all the more reason to maintain diplomatic links with it and to exert diplomatic pressure upon it to do so.

This letter is childish, internally contradictory ("the pope is a head of state" ... "we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state") and, given the number of academics and members of the Upper Chamber among the signatories, alarmingly ill-informed about the rules of public discourse and the workings of international diplomacy.
I think the signatories to this letter have valid points to make about the opposition of the Catholic Church to contraception and abortion (with harmful social effects), and about the big, worldwide cover-up of priests who abused children - even though the signatories do include some noted atheists with an axe to grind(Dawkins, Pullman, Grayling, Miller). The Catholic Church does good in some quarters (e.g. CAFOD) but I still regard it with ambivalent feelings.
Poetry Pleases! said…
Dear Todd

The signatories to this letter include the names of some of the most intelligent people in Great Britain. I wouldn't dismiss what they have to say so hastily.

Best wishes from Simon

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