Monday 6 September 2010

The Pope is coming to Britain: two dilemmas.

The Pope is coming to Britain, which causes me two dilemmas. I doubt he cares. I don't figure on his radar. But he does figure on mine.

I don't think he should have been invited. I don't think he should be invited to anywhere in the world until he has put the hierarchy of the Catholic Church completely to rights over the issue of sexual abuse. For the record, I don't the church has done anything more than it has been forced to do by publicity and the horror of the outside world. I don't think they have changed their basic view that the reputation of the church (reputation - ha!) must be preserved by all means, and if that means ignoring law breaking and the most disgusting and immoral behaviour then so be it. I still think they see this as a PR exercise, not a moral one, and I find that just as disgusting as the original crimes.

Recently evidence has been put forward in defence of the current Pope that in more junior days he tried to do something about one priest in particular, but was thwarted by higher authorities in the church. That doesn't cut it for me. Faced with gross abuse like this, "obeying orders" is not a defence. He let them stop him doing anything. The deliberate and persistent covering up of these crimes over a long period of time still haunts the church, and will continue to do so as long as they remain so secretive. A good deal more transparency is necessary.

The church has now said that such crimes, if committed nowadays, should be reported to the police. But it has not met with universal agreement. Apparently bishop Grings of Brazil responded by saying that he thought it should still be a matter for internal church discipline. And that has received no reaction from the Pope. The reaction should have been swift and loud: "If you ever fail to report a case of child abuse to the police, you will no longer be a bishop". But no, we have had nothing.

You can't actually stop people abusing children. I have had my own brush with the issue. When I was a social worker in Cambridge, I sent children regularly to an assessment centre, the head of which was given a twenty year jail sentence in 1997 for having abused the children in his care. (As far as I can ascertain, none of the children I sent there were abused.) It took a while for suspicions to harden into action, but the County Council eventually did something about it. The Catholic Church on the other hand has had to be pushed all the way. And it's still pushing back.

Taking an opportunity to put the whole affair behind him, the Pope managed to make it clear just how archaic the thinking of the church hierarchy is. It speeded up the process for investigating priests accused of child abuse, but, crucially, did not make it obligatory to report such crimes to the police. Which century do they think they're in?

And it is notable that they did not give the issue of child abuse by priests its own declaration, which it surely deserved, but included it as part of a decree in which among other things,they upgraded the sinfulness of trying to ordain a woman to a "more grave delict", a tastily ancient phrase for saying it's one of the most horrible things you can do. And putting that in the same document is a slap in the face to every choirboy that's ever been felt up by a randy Catholic priest, not to mention the pain given to the female half of the world's population by the Vatican's misogyny.

So it's pretty clear where I stand. The Pope should be given a raspberry wherever he goes, till he does something that says the church is taking this as seriously as it deserves. But that brings me to my two dilemmas.

The first is that I want to protest when he gets here. I want to go somewhere where my presence tells him that his presence here is contemptible. But the only organised protests that I can find are those beholden to the National Secular Society, and others', alternative agenda. I'm a Christian and I do not want to be associated with those who would tar all religious with the same brush. But the response of religious bodies who disagree fundamentally with the Pope's actions seem to be too wishy washy by half. They have criticised the secular protests for being too confrontational (I agree) but they do not appear to have organised an alternative. Can anybody tell me different?

And my second dilemma is with regard to my Catholic friends. I have several, all good people. I have debated the issue with them before. I have always been absolutely clear that I have no problem with Catholic people as such, but I do have a problem with the structure of the church and the vindictively patriarchal nature of some of its hierarchy. But with most of them I find it very difficult to get this distinction across. They do not see a distinction at all; an attack on any part of the church is taken as deeply wounding to them personally. They're all nice people and I do not see how to take this forward, because I cannot in all honesty think of the Pope and some of his underlings as anything but contemptible.

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