Analysis of the third kind
22 October 2014 03:26 (South Africa)
Opinionista Simon Williamson

Pope's visit to the UK - a chance to heal or harm

  • Simon Williamson
It’s difficult to work out what the most irritating aspect of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church is. Is it the previously-Hitler-Youth Pope, refusal to prosecute child-rapists, the stance on gay rights and abortion or this complete balls-up of a visit to the UK?

Perhaps it is Rome’s overestimation of its own importance that really rankles me, particularly as the world moves pretty quickly toward secularity.

Pope Benedict XVI has recently popped over to the UK – only the second time a Pope has shot up to the isles since Henry VIII told the Vatican to get stuffed in 1534 (before making up a new church so he could get divorced – this was before he discovered how effective execution could be). Relations have since been restored as Catholicism made a return to Britain more than a century ago.

Controversy was bound to erupt. Not only are the British famously abrasive protestors, but an aide to the Pope declared to a German magazine that landing in Britain was like landing in a third-world country, and that wearing a cross in this country of “an aggressive new atheism” opened one up to discrimination.

What Catholic leaders fail to understand is that the world outside the protected haven of the Vatican operates differently, including Britain which runs in a totally secular manner (technically the state denomination is the Church of England, but religious freedom is espoused). This is not anti-Christian – in fact, it is a system which embraces Christianity, just not exclusively. For a senior Catholic leader to resent the fact that Britain is not solely a Catholic country once again shows up Christianity’s largest branch to remain stuck in the Crusades mentality, when forced conversions were cool. This attitude of superiority equates to Muslims calling for the blanket introduction of sharia law in Britain, or the British Nationalist Party wanting to throw out all the people who don’t pass its own version of the pencil test. It is discriminatory and goes against the workings of an established secular democracy, which, in the age of globalisation, is a right given to all who practice religion as well as those who don’t.

I am generally hesitant to trust these “greatest places to live” surveys that do the rounds, but as they (in this instance, Newsweek) always seem to spit out similar results, I’ll play along. Four of the top 10 countries (Sweden, Australia, Canada and Japan) are firmly secular. The other six nations (Finland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark) all embrace religious freedom. Some other secular states were former Catholic community strongholds: Mexico, Brazil and, dare I say it, Ireland, all promote religious freedom nowadays. Yet in all of these countries, Catholics may perform their rituals, celebrate their festivals, carry Bibles, build churches, protest against discrimination and don’t face persecution for doing so.

One only needs to look at a country politically dominated by one religion to see what happens to minority groups. Where religion is free for anyone to practice or not, debate, understanding and harmony have a chance to flourish.

So dear Catholic leadership, although the Brits may be giving you uphill as you cost them £12 million to pop round, there still are 5 to 6 million people there who see you as the Earthly head of their religion. And in spite of your controversies, you are most welcome to be there. Take a seat right there – yup, between Steven Hawking and Yusuf Islam. DM

  • Simon Williamson
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Simon Williamson was once in advertising before realising that trying to convince people to think differently was far more purposeful than getting them to buy stuff. He once wrote for TV websites before flittering around the world with the sole purpose of seeing more of it. Nowadays, he writes for GoTravel24 as a travel journalist, telling people where to take their holidays.

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