Catholic Voices vs Protest the Pope debate

On the platform: Dr Austin Ivereigh, Fr Christopher Jamison, Polly Toynbee, Professor Grayling, Peter Tatchell

On the platform: Dr Austin Ivereigh, Fr Christopher Jamison, Polly Toynbee, Professor Grayling, Peter Tatchell

The Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, London, was draped in Humanist banners and Nope Pope placards on Wednesday for a lively debate on the forthcoming Papal visit.

Organised by the Central London Humanist Group and the British Humanist Association, the evening was chaired by journalist Polly Tonybee. The motion: 'The papal visit should not be a state visit' , was proposed by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the philosopher AC Grayling.  The patron of Catholic Voices, Fr Christopher Jamison OSB, and its coordinator, Dr Austen Ivereigh opposed the motion.

Setting out his argument, after a quip about "people who believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden", Professor Grayling said he objected to Pope Benedict XVI making a state visit because, he said: "The Vatican is not a state". He attacked Benedict XV's role in the First World War and said that after the Unification of Italy in 1929, the Vatican was a "joke state".  He also objected to the "criminal conspiracy of child abuse" within the Catholic Church and said if the Pope wanted to come to the UK his visit should be a private one.

Fr Jamison responded by corrected Grayling's misrepresentation of Pope Benedict XV, He pointed out that the Pope was a lone voice at the time trying to persuade both sides not to go to war. He said that Grayling had presented a false understanding of the meaning of a 'state visit'. "Queen Elizabeth visited the Holy See in 1980 so in fact a state visit from the Pope is long overdue".  "The Holy See is the world's first United Nations" he said, and "predated the Vatican."  "178 nations today have diplomatic relations with the Holy See".

Fr Jamison said: "He is coming on an Italian plane, not the Armada. He is coming to speak in Parliament, not blow it up."

Fr Jamison went on: "Why should secularists be the only group to have a platform?" .. "One should not judge an organisation by its failings, but its success and values promoting love, hope and the common good."  Fr Jamison pointed out that the Church in the UK has since 1989 been developing and implementing a rigourous child protection policy that is seen as model by many other organisations.  The Pope would be meeting with abuse survivors during his visit.  The Church was the largest supporter of civil society in the world, he said. Among its work, the Catholic Church provides a quarter of all HIV in sub Saharan Africa.

Peter Tatchell applauded the Catholic Church's humanitarian work but described it as a "harsh, intolerant organisation" which was sexist, opposing women's ordination, cruel in its opposition to condoms, IVF fertility treatment, and its attitude towards homosexuals.

He expressed shock that the Pope had "reinstated the holocaust-denying  Bishop Williamson", and  said that Pope Pius XII had never protested over the Holocaust.  "These two examples show how far the Catholic Church has drifted from the teachings of Jesus Christ" he concluded, to loud applause.

Austen Ivereigh rebutted Tatchell's remarks one by one, describing them as a "parody" of the Catholic Church. Bishop Williamson has not, been reinstated, he pointed out. Pope Pius XII's defense of the Jews was well known. (He was in fact given an award by the State of Israel because he saved so many Jewish people from the Nazis).

As the floor was opened to questions, the focus of the debate drifted wildly from the proposal - with a number of quite abusive remarks hurled. A psychotherapist gave a very moving testimony on the devastating suffering she had experienced as a child at the hands of an abusive priest.  She wanted to know whether the Pope was meeting abuse victims. Fr Jamison expressed his concern and told her that the Pope would be meeting victims. She complained that Archbishop Vincent's office had not responded to her calls.  One speaker commented that he was not a Catholic but he was starting to defend Catholics, simply because on this issue: "all rationality goes out the window."

In his final statement Fr Jamison said he felt the Protest the Pope campaign would probably continue to protest whether the visit was a state one or not.  He said: "The government wants the Pope to come.  It is very brave of him to come here. We share your values. Christian humanism is the oldest humanism in the world. We need as many humanists as we can get."

Professor Grayling concluded that the Pope should come on a private visit, not a state one - "they should not have this massive amplification. They are not entitled to it."

For more information  see:  

Protest the Pope see: Catholic.

Catholic Voices:  

See also: Text: Fr Jamison at Protest the Pope debate

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