When I got back to Scotland, I was very keen on doing some kind of protest or demonstration against the Pope’s visit. Unfortunately most of the groups I’m involved in were either busy with other events or were reluctant to do anything because they didn’t want to be associated with the Orange Order. So I found a protest in Glasgow on Facebook, but it’s horrendously organised and it wasn’t an ideal place to stage a protest. There will be a Popemobile parade going through Edinburgh so I thought that’d be a better location. Anyway I’m in the process of sorting that out with the police, but I thought it’d be good to explain a few of the reasons why some of us will be protesting. Let’s do this as a rather boring numbered list, starting with the fairly mundane:
1. The disruption. Look at all the bus services that are being affected by the Pope’s visit to Edinburgh. Look at the roads that are being closed in Edinburgh and Glasgow. There will be still more disruption in Coventry and London. Bin collections are being cancelled, businesses are having to close, schools are being closed, hospitals are on high alert, all so the leader of a tiny proportion of the UK’s population (1.6% if we go by mass attendance) can have his parades and his masses and be ‘adored’ from behind his 6 inches of bulletproof glass. Faith in action, as Bill Hicks would say.
2. The cost. All the current estimates for the costs have failed to include the security costs. To my recollection, the UK government was originally supposed to cover £8million of the costs of the visit, whilst the Church would cover £7million, which supposedly reflected the proportion of the visit which would be a state visit as opposed to a pastoral one. The government’s contribution went up to £12m, and soon after that up to £20m, which is where I believe it currently stands. In the grand scheme of things that’s not so much, except that looking back at past events, the security is usually by far the biggest factor, and they’re not included. Bringing George Bush to Gleneagles for the G8 cost £72 million, and although there were much bigger protests happening then and IIRC that visit was a bit longer, the trip didn’t involve any parades or open-air masses, or any of that malarkey, and he was kept in one place, so we’re looking at a comparable sum of money. The News of the World claim to have uncovered a paper which showed the Scottish portion of the security will cost a minimum of £10 million, and the starting estimate for the costs of the London element is £1.8 million. I suppose we won’t know how much the visit will cost until it happens, but it’ll certainly be more than the £1m – £1.5m that the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police has quoted today.
Don’t forget that this money is coming from the normal police budgets, budgets that are already facing massive cuts in the coalition government’s spending review. People’s jobs and people’s safety are literally on the line because of this visit. Ok, not literally because I don’t know what line that would be, but they are literally at risk.
3. The Pope’s criticism of the UK’s equality laws and its opposition to equal rights for LGBT people. Despite the fact that there is already an exemption in place for ministers and priests, the Pope claimed that the UK Equalities Act which came into force this year imposed unjust restrictions on freedom of religion, basically because it wouldn’t allow the Church to discriminate against gay people when employing people. Let’s be clear here, the Church would not be forced to employ women or gay priests, but they would be banned from discriminating against gay people for example when employing people to be a secretary, or a window cleaner, or anything else that didn’t involve religious teaching. He wanted the Church to be above the law, basically. So not only are we paying through the nose for him to come over here, but while he’s here he’s going to rub salt into the wound by criticising our hard-won freedoms which we’ve had to prise out of the claws of religious groups like his.
4. The continued subjugation of women in the Catholic Church. I’m not just talking about not letting women be priests, but every time the Church releases a statement on the family, it’s always hearkening back to tradition and the old times, which is basically saying women should stay at home and be obedient to their fathers or their husbands. Granted, this isn’t just the fault of the Catholic Church, it’s a widespread phenomenon, particularly amongst religions, since the idea of the sacred is an inherently conservative force, and especially amongst Abrahamic religions. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church’s teachings on the family, abortion and contraception limit women’s reproductive rights and help to propagate the image of women as baby-making machines, which has all sorts of consequences.
5. The promotion of segregated education. We only need to look across the water at Northern Ireland to see the damage that segregated education does. Richard Dawkins made an excellent documentary on this issue which can still be viewed on 4OD.
6. The Vatican’s appalling handling of the abuse cases within the Church. As I’ve covered on this blog before, and as I’m sure new readers will be aware, a huge number of children have been sexually abused in the Catholic Church, and rather than handing over the perpetrators to secular authorities to be punished, Bishops, Archbishops and even Cardinals have chosen instead to deal with it privately within the Church, moving paedophile priests from parish to parish, free to offend again, whilst swearing victims into perpetual silence to protect the reputation of the Church. Whilst I don’t necessarily suggest that the present Pope has been personally involved in such cases, he has certainly not done enough to punish those who have covered up abuse cases. He has not called for the resignation of bishops who definitely did cover up abuse cases, and it is evident that as a Cardinal he put the reputation of the Church well ahead of the safety of children in its charge. He issued a self-serving apology to the Irish Catholics which offered no material solution to the problem. He appointed Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor as head of the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, himself a bishop who moved a known paedophile priest from parish to parish to reoffend. The Church has repeatedly blamed the paedophile crisis on homosexuals.
7. The Pope’s irresponsible comments about condoms and HIV. The Pope and others in the Church have repeatedly stated, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, that condoms do not help prevent the spread of HIV and that in fact they help to spread it. Abstinence-only education programmes have been shown to increase the spread of STD’s and whilst abstinence and fidelity are good ways to protect yourself from infection, it is not a choice that many women have in Africa, and condoms have been shown to be a good way to help prevent the spread of HIV and other STI’s. The Pope’s comments have undermined the work of many AIDS charities working in Africa, and have undoubtedly put lives at risk.
8. The Church’s continued silence about its role in the Rwandan Genocide. There’s not much else that can be said.
Those are some of the reasons. Notice that I have not attacked the Pope’s position as a head of state. Whether or not the Holy See is a legitimate head of state or not (and I’d say the Vatican is not much more than a palace full of old men in frocks) is irrelevant. In the sense that it’s necessary but not sufficient to justify a state visit. Kim Jong Il hasn’t had any state visit invitations recently, and if the heads of state of various other tiny countries like Macedonia or Andorra receive a state visit invitation, they won’t be parading in the streets of various cities. Seeing as the Holy See and its religion is pretty much one and the same thing, it’s only a minute distinction anyway. The Pope’s state visit should be opposed not because he is not a head of state, but because he is the leader of a Church which is completely out of touch with the majority of Britain’s Catholics, never mind the rest of the population, and which is morally corrupt. The visit will come at a great cost to the UK with relatively little benefit.