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Lord Carey on the Pope's visit

By Lord Carey

Like many others, I will be among those enthusiastically welcoming Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Britain next month.

But I cannot deny there is vicious intolerance in the air. Unfortunately, a minority have been making noises which go beyond reasonable criticism to hate-filled bigotry.

The world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, has declared the Pontiff head of the world’s "second most evil religion", while writer Claire Rayner describes the Pope’s views as "so disgusting, so repellent, and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him."

There have been rumours, too, of plans to arrest him while he is in Britain and countless groups are attempting to mount protests.

The hysterical overreaction of so many people who claim to be rational freethinkers reveals anti-Catholic bigotry from the 16th century is still alive and well 500 years on.

And today it is allied to a strident and shrill secularism which seeks to banish religion from public life altogether.

The same intolerance is behind much- publicised cases of banning crosses, marginalising the celebration of Christmas and the sacking of Christian civil servants who won’t bow the knee to the gods of equality and diversity.

So how should the vast majority of Britons view the visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict?

Well, let’s acknowledge the positive, to begin with. The Catholic Church is a massive force for good in the world.

I have seen for myself, in many travels in the developing nations, the leadership displayed by the Roman Catholic Church in tackling Aids and poverty, and in providing education and opportunities to children. Even here, its contribution to our country is immense.

However, with sadness I have to say that there has been an increasing defensiveness in the Vatican to the cry of many Catholics for further reform following the Second Vatican Council.

Take for example, the issue of clerical abuse of children and the chilling cover-ups which have emerged. To a lesser extent other churches are guilty of the same offences. And the same goes for secular institutions too.

Few organisations are without sin as far as the abuse of children is concerned. But it is the scale of these offences in the Roman Catholic Church that is the truly scandalous matter.

We are talking about thousands of cases in the States, Ireland, the UK, Germany, Austria and beyond.

People ask if the Roman Catholic Church can be trusted with their children.

Personally, I do not think that the hierarchy fully comprehend the gravity of the problem. Nor how difficult this is making the Catholic Church’s mission in the developed world.

The recent gaffe when they revised church law, putting the ordination of women in the same category of ‘crimes’ under church law as clerical sex abuse, reveals a Church with an odd set of priorities.

Disturbingly, no open debate is possible or allowed on the issue of clerical celibacy and its link to abuse.

Earlier this year the great Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, who in 1979 was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology, cited celibacy as a cause of the Church’s uptight attitude to sex.

He may be wrong, though I share this view—but much more Vatican openness is needed.

At the very least, clerical celibacy has drastically reduced the pool of potential priests in Western Europe, in turn magnifying the problem of priestly abusers.

It has to be said that the Roman Catholic Church in this country has led the way in responding to clerical abuse with child protection measures. Let’s hope the Pope listens carefully to expertise here.

The danger of next month’s visit is that calls for a greater openness and engagement between the Roman Catholic Church and the world will be lost amid protests. In turn, these will reinforce the Vatican’s defensiveness.

But I hope for a different outcome. A new openness, a candid recognition from the Holy Father that other Christian churches are equally blessed by God, and an acknowledgement that the priesthood of the Catholic Church has failed so many children.

So you are welcome, Pope Benedict, to Britain—a land truly blessed by the Christian message in which the Catholic church has played and continues to play a part.

I believe you are here as a friend. Not an enemy. But if we want to change the world the Catholic Church must start with itself.

We are waiting.



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