Friday, 17 July 2009

Vatican broadside

At some point soon, when the Pope recovers from his recent fall, he is due to come on a state visit to the UK.

I've been exchanging emails with a constituent who's not at all happy about this, given the Pontiff's stance on contraception, abortion and the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission, and in particular its impact on countries in the developing world. He does not think the UK government should be supporting such a man, nor the UK tapayer stumping up for the cost of such a visit. (I checked it out, and yes, we do pay the costs when a Head of State visits us, and vice versa when the Queen goes abroad).

I can see his point (the constituent's, that is). I think the Pope's views on these issues are wrong, even dangerous. But I don't think that means we should stop the State visit. (Actually my constituent has been arguing that he doesn't have a problem with the Pope's visit, but simply doesn't think we should be paying for it. But I don't think you can have a Head of State visiting this country without giving him the Head of State treatment). My constituent thought I was chickening out, not daring to criticise the Government's take on this, putting career before principle. But that was unfair. Even though I agreed with his analysis of the rights and wrongs of the Pope's views (OK, the wrongs) I simply didn't agree with him about the State visit, for the following reasons:
  • I think the Pope's stance on these issues, as propogated by Catholic relief agencies across the developing world, has undoubtedly had a negative impact on HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal health. But he's not alone. The Bush administration for example, only wanted to fund HIV programmes that promoted abstinence. (I've blogged about this before; one of Obama's first acts as President was to reverse this, which was excellent news).

  • We've hosted State visits for a range of leaders whose views in some areas do not chime with our own. The Chinese leader, for example. But rather than just blanking them, isn't it better to get them over here and put them in the spotlight? OK, the Pope's unlikely to turn up on Newsnight to be grilled by Paxman about his views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, but his visit will inevitably trigger public debate on such issues, with the Catholic church called to account. Peter Tatchell is, I'm sure, already dusting off his slogan T-shirts and placards, and will no doubt be arrested - or try to be arrested - before the visit is out.

  • Whether or not we like his views, there are rather a lot of Catholics in this country, many of whom will share the Pope's views. For them, the Pope's visit is an important moment, a major event. My constituent would no doubt argue that there are neo-Nazis in this country, and that doesn't mean we would roll out the red carpet for Hitler. But Catholics are part of the mainstream. Our last Prime Minister is now a Catholic. The last Speaker was a Catholic. Is the Pope really so extreme an example of the Catholic faith that we should treat him as a pariah? Don't I have a duty to my Catholic constituents to allow them the opportunity to participate in a papal visit? I can recall the last Pope's visit and the ecstatic welcome he received, although that was the cuddly Pope in his Popemobile who was portrayed on Spitting Image as a rap-loving hipster and who I think everyone quite like really.

So - am I right? Or wrong? You tell me.


Steven_L said...

Mostly right. Your constituent sounds like a fruitcake.

timbone said...

The Pope is the Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church, he is not a terrorist, he is not a political leader of an extreme persuaion.
I am an atheist. Due to having a period in my own life where I held a position in Pentecostal Evangelicalism, I have studied Catholicism in a theological realm.
The Pope's 'divine' directives concerning abortion and family planning/contraception do not, as far as I am concerned, have any relevance as to whether he should make an official visit to the UK with the courtesy of tax funded hospitality.
There are many people and organisations, spokespersons with particular views concerning lifestyle to whom I personally offer the hand of friendship, as long as they do not attempt to impose their views on me.
The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church do not threaten my lifestyle, even if I strongly disagree with smoe of their ideals.
I can think of several political and healthist bodies who are part of the UK who cause me far more harm and distress than the Pope and the Catholics.
Thank you.

Working Class Tory said...

I don't think we should be paying for the Pope to come here, no.

My reasoning is two-fold.

Firstly, many, many Catholics, especially in this country do not agree with the Pope/Vatican's stance on the issues above, like contraception etc. As such, he is not really representative of the views of the Catholics in this country, and so the hand of friendship makes us seem out of touch to Catholics.

Secondly, it seems odd to me that we pay for the Pope, as if he were a King or President. Let us not forget that the Pope is simply the Bishop of Rome. If Rowan Williams was paying a visit to, say, Ghana, he wouldn't have a lavish reception laid on - he would be visiting for the good of his congregation, his flock.

Whatever happened to the days when the Pope was the most humble person in the Catholic church? If the Pope wants to visit Catholics in this country, who are in a tiny majority, he can do so by his own means. We wouldn't fund Ian Paisley visiting Presbyterians, so why the Pope?

Thirdly, this is a recession. We don't need to be spending money on visits.

Coincidentally, if you want a damn good view of the moral causes of the recession, the Church of England has several eminent Bishops and Archbishops who have written extremely well on the subject.

Kerry said...

The Pope is a Head of State, i.e. the Vatican. A very small State, but a state nonetheless. And rather more influential on a global level that the average archbishop.

Working Class Tory said...

I know he is a head of state, but the Vatican is a gimmick - it's simply the legacy of the Catholic Church willingly supporting Mussolini's fascism in return for material wealth.

He's hardly Obama, or Sarkozy etc. He is a religious leader before he is a head of state.

Man in the Street said...

Is he the one who believes in fairies or goblins?

Dick the Prick said...

The Pope doesn't respond to fads, gimmicks, trends or opinions. If people followed his advice the world would be a much better place.

David Love said...

Bottom line is if you have diplomatic relations with a country (including the Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra etc) then the rest of the shebang follows: police protection for their embassies - and state visits. Cutting off diplomatic ties has rarely helped resolve anything. Consider US-Cuba and US-Iran relations...

DaveA said...

As a, I hope, reasonable Christian, but poor C of E church goer here are my bon mots. At a practical/secular level there is not too much I agree with the Pope on. Contraception, especially in the Third World where Malthusiam economics seems to be entirely vindicated. That is, the Third World has as many babies as the economic infrastructure allows. I particularly object to the banning of condoms in this HIV climate.

I am a moderate on abortion, but I believe it is being abused and used as a form of contraception and at 20 weeks plus where the mother's life is not in danger or gross disformity of the baby etc, Parliament should look to its conscience.

I also think the Pope is wrong on homosexuality.

But in a world of notable social liberalism, I have a sneaking admiration for the moral stand of the Catholic Church. Child molesters aside it does take integrity and conviction to give up sex, especially in your 20s to devote yourself to the pastrol care of others. Priests probably are the best example that altruism does exist.