The Pope should have been left in peace during his visit to Britain

There has been a lot of hoo ha over the Pope’s visit to Britain.  The Pope has been greeted by attacks from various organisations with an axe to grind.  Not all of the attackers were from secular organisations.  Of course, Ian Paisley was there in Edinburgh doing what he has been doing since before I was born. 

I read the post of Brian McClinton, Chairman of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland, published by Jeffery Peel.  

I am actually an atheist myself, though brought up as a Catholic.  Even though I agreed that what Mr. McClinton had said was mostly factually correct, I found the article disturbing.  It was, perhaps, a hasty reaction of mine to suggest in my first comment that the article would feed Protestant anti-Catholic propaganda.  In a second comment upon the article, I expressed the view that we should be careful about how we criticise religions.  Jeffrey countered that the Catholic Church had escaped criticism for too long. 

There is plenty of merit in what Jeffrey said and yet I still could not help the feeling that there was still something wrong with Mr. McClinton’s article.  That feeling was heightened when I watched the broadcast highlights showing the Pope give a joint sermon with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey and the scenes of joy from people who came to see a significant ecumenical event.

The criticisms made by Mr. McClinton are not new.  His message was clearly aimed at Catholics.  However, there almost no Catholics who are unaware of the problems of Paedophile Priests or the fact that senior clergy have erred in the way that they have handled the allegations. 

We are in the age of reason, enlightenment and human rights.  The latter point is important in this context.  Whatever wrongs there are with the Catholic Church, Catholics are free to choose whether they want to remain Catholics or not. 

Never mind this Pope’s failings or the failings of the structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church.  The people who welcomed the Pope genuinely wanted his visit to be a symbol of peace and goodwill.  Those people deserve to be left alone to pursue that very laudible objective during the Pope’s visit.  Accordingly, the timing of Mr. McClinton’s comment was inappropriate. 

Simon Heffer writing for the Daily Telegraph has a very similar view to mine on this particular issue. 

“In a society like ours, faith should be a consideration, such as whether one takes sugar in one’s tea. It is entirely a matter of private conscience and taste and of no consequence to anyone else. Only when fundamentalists decide they wish to start to force their feelings on others, even to the point of murder, should the state intervene to protect the liberties of the people. Religiosity should have no part in politics – the comments to the contrary by Baroness Warsi on Thursday were fatuous, opportunist and shallow – but individual politicians are free, in their private lives, to do what they like. The atheists have, though, set a bad example by becoming so unpleasant about the Pope. Let’s just hope the religious fanatics don’t follow their example.” 

Amen to that.

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8 Responses to The Pope should have been left in peace during his visit to Britain

  1. Editor says:

    I find this suggestion that Atheists should suspend their freedom of speech to criticise religion very odd. There is a widespread view that religions are beyond criticism. They aren’t. And just because people are filled with joy at ecumenical services doesn’t get away from the fact that if religions didn’t divide humanity in the first place there would be no need for such services.

    Oh and the United Kingdom is one of the greatest pluralist democracies in the world – and now one of the most advanced secular states. Lets rejoice in that.

    Jeff Peel

  2. shane says:

    Man is an instinctively tribal animal – even the Northern Irish Humanists (and since when did humanist become a euphemism for atheist?…what would Erasmus have made of that?) have had their bitchfights.

    The UK is NOT one of the most secular countries in the world. Bishops sit in the Upper House of Parliament, as of right, and there are two established (or quasi in the case of Scotland) churches. Jeff seems to be confusing secularism with atheism. You can be secularist and also be devoutely religious. And on other hand, you can be a militant atheist and still be anti-secularist. The NSS constantly conflate the two, as Sunny Hundal has pointed out:

    Nobody saying that atheists shouldn’t be free to criticise. It takes an enormous prick to protest religious ceremonies though.

  3. shane says:

    The early Christians were not only peasants but city dwellers from all classes and (uniquely among contemporary sects) were not bound by divisions of race or location. All they had in common was Koine Greek (used in the eastern empire and by Christians in the liturgy) and their religion. They were the first cosmopolitans and the roots of universalism and the concept of common humanity draws from St Paul’s then very revolutionary dichtum that the Church was for ‘Jew and Greek’ (ie. everyone). The Protestant Reformation destroyed religious uniformity in western Europe.

    • Seymour Major says:


      I agree with some of what you have said. However, despite what I have said about the intolerance and indecency inrelation to the protests made during the Pope’s visit, that does not mean that I will meekly accept all of the propaganda which comes in my direction from the Churches.

      With the greatest respect, you seem to be trying too hard to minimise the wrongful acts of the Church during its history.

      There is one point of yours that I will pick up upon

      “religious uniformity in western Europe”

      I think you meant to say ‘christian religious uniformity’.

      There also seems to have been one piece of uniformity which was not destroyed in the early history of the reformation. That is the attitude of Christian leaders towards the Jews. Martin Luther certainly did not change his prejudice towards them.

      There are plenty of examples of persecution of the Jews before the reformation much of which were directly instigated by Clergy. For example, there is the notorious Friar John Capistrano (died c. 1486) who was later canonised. He held the office of Papal inquisitor. He brought about the abolition of Jewish rights in various towns across Europe. In Bavaria he pushed the authorities to enforce that Jews wear a badge, to expel them from several villages, and to have the debts owed to them by Christians canceled. Unfortunately, many of the acts of the Nazis during the Holocaust take some sort of precedent from acts of the Church in the Middle Ages.

      The Persecution of the Jews by Christians seems to have its roots in the Bible. The Gospels themselves depict the Jews, after Jesus entered Jerusalem, in an extremely poor light, whereas the Romans who enforced the law, received a very mild press. The story of Jesus’s crucifiction may well have been largely made up, following the Jewish wars (ca 63AD to 70AD). In 1995, the Council of Dutch Bishops acknowledged that there was a direct road that leads from the New Testament theology to Auschwitz.

      • shane says:

        Seymour, you are correct about Martin Luther’s anti-semitism. Hitler was a big fan of him and quoted his works liberally.

        I agree that anti-semitism did exist among the clergy. That’s because it existed everywhere. I see no reason to believe that it was more concentrated among clergy than laymen.

        The reason anti-semitism became so intense was because Jews were allowed under the Torah to charge interest on loans to Gentiles (although not to themselves) while for Catholics that was forbidden up until relatively recently. This allowed Jews to acquire massive capital over the decades and to monopolize the money-lending business. Much of Nazi anti-semitism had its impulses in traditional economic resentment but also the influence of social darwinism and eugenics. The belief that Jews, inter alia, were an inferior race was quite popular among Victorian scientists.

        Jansen, the great historian of the Reformation observed:

        “The Jews not only monopolized money-changing; the real source of their wealth was usury, they gradually became the bankers and financiers for all classes.”

        Jansen notes that in 1338, Emperor Louis of Bavaria permitted Jews to charge interest rates as high as 32½% upon the citizens of Frankfurt and 43% for foreigners in the city. At Ratisbon, Augsburg, and Vienna, they were allowed to charge interest up to 86%. One of Jansen’s contemporaries complained:

        “The Jewish usurers now install themselves in fixed places in even the smallest towns; when they advance five florins they take security representing six times the value of what is lent; then they claim interest and compound interest, so that the poor man is deprived of all he had (Erasmus of Erbach” 1487)

        One of the reasons Philip Augustus expelled the Jewish people from France in the 12th century was because they had acquired a third of land, and they had hoarded up so much money that when they left it was difficult to find any.

        At the same time, Popes and bishops were traditionally the greatest defenders of the Jews and frequently condemned anti-semitic mobs that injured their persons. The fiercest enemy of the Jews was not the Church, but the guilds and merchants, and it was not unusual for Jews to be given refuge by bishops.

        Pope Innocent III wrote: “They are the living witnesses of the true Faith. The Christian must not exterminate or oppress them. We must not molest them in the exercise of the privileges accorded them. As they seek our help, we accept and take them under our protection; and following our predecessors Callixtus, Eugenius, Alexander, Clement and Celestine, we forbid the forcing of baptism on a Jew, also harming them in any way or taking their goods, etc., or violating their cemeteries and digging up corpses to find money. The punishment for disobedience to these dispositions is excommunication.” (Licet Perfidia Judaeorum, 1199)

        Pope St Gregory the Great is also widely regarded as a champion of Jewish rights
        “For it is necessary to gather those who are at odds with the Christian religion the unity of faith by meekness, by kindness, by admonishing, by persuading, lest these…should be repelled by threats and terrors. They ought, therefore, to come together to hear from you the Word of God in a kindly frame of mind, rather than stricken with dread, result of a harshness that goes beyond due limits.”

        In his admonition to the bishop of Naples he demands that the Jews are not to be disturbed in the celebration of their religious ceremonies:

        ” Those who, with sincere intent, desire to lead people outside the Christian religion to the correct faith, ought to make the effort by means of what is pleasant, not with what is harsh, lest opposition drive afar the mind of men whom reasoning could have attracted. Those who act otherwise demonstrate that they are concerned with their own enterprises, rather than with those of God!
        Now, the Jews dwelling in Naples have registered a complaint with Us, asserting that certain people are attempting, in an unreasonable fashion, to restrain them from some of the solemnities connected with their own feast days, as it has been lawful for them to observe or celebrate these up to now, and for their forefathers from long ages past. For of what use is this, when…it avails nothing toward their faith and conversion?…One must act, therefore, in such a way that…they might desire to follow us rather than to fly from us. Rather let them enjoy their lawful liberty to observe and to celebrate their festivities, as they have enjoyed this up until now.”

        Gregory IX’s also taught: “Est autem Judæis a Christianis exhibenda benignitas quam Christianis in Paganismo existentibus cupimus exhiberi” (Christians must show Jews the same kindness we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands)

        Gregory X condemned anti-Jewish persecutions and the ‘blood libel’ myth, that Jews were ritually murdering Christian children in their ceremonies. He repeated the instructions of his predecessors and demanded that they be left alone:

        “Although they prefer to persist in their stubbornness rather than to recognize the words of their prophets and the mysteries of the Scriptures , and thus to arrive at a knowledge of Christian faith and salvation; nevertheless, inasmuch as they have made an appeal for our protection and help, we therefore admit their petition and offer them the shield of our protection through the clemency of Christian piety. In so doing we follow in the footsteps of our predecessors of blessed memory, the popes of Rome—Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, Innocent, and Honorius.
        We decree moreover that no Christian shall compel them or any one of their group to come to baptism unwillingly. But if any one of them shall take refuge of his own accord with Christians, because of conviction, then, after his intention will have been manifest, he shall be made a Christian without any intrigue. For, indeed, that person who is known to have come to Christian baptism not freely, but unwillingly, is not believed to posses the Christian faith.
        Moreover no Christian shall presume to seize, imprison, wound, torture, mutilate, kill or inflict violence on them; furthermore no one shall presume, except by judicial action of the authorities of the country, to change the good customs in the land where they live for the purpose of taking their money or goods from them or from others.
        In addition, no one shall disturb them in any way during the celebration of their festivals, whether by day or by night, with clubs or stones or anything else. Also no one shall exact any compulsory service of them unless it be that which they have been accustomed to render in previous times.
        And most falsely do these Christians claim that the Jews have secretly and furtively carried away these children and killed them, and that the Jews offer sacrifices from the heart and the blood of these children, since their law in this matter precisely and expressly forbids Jews to sacrifice, eat, or drink the blood, or to eat the flesh of animals having claws. This has been demonstrated many times at our court by Jews converted to the Christian faith: nevertheless very many Jews are often seized and detained unjustly because of this.
        We decree, therefore, that Christians need not be obeyed against Jews in a case or situation of this type, and we order that Jews seized under such a silly pretext be freed from imprisonment, and that they shall not be arrested henceforth on such a miserable pretext, unless—which we do not believe—they be caught in the commission of the crime. We decree that no Christian shall stir up anything new against them, but that they should be maintained in that status and position in which they were in the time of our predecessors, from antiquity till now.
        We decree in order to stop the wickedness and avarice of bad men, that no one shall dare to devastate or to destroy a cemetery of the Jews or to dig up human bodies for the sake of getting money. Moreover, if any one, after having known the content of this decree, should—which we hope will not happen—attempt audaciously to act contrary to it, then let him suffer punishment in his rank and position, or let him be punished by the penalty of excommunication, unless he makes amends for his boldness by proper recompense.”

        When the Jewish Sanhedrin met for the first time in centuries in France (1807), it rendered public gratitude for the kindness of the Church in protecting Jews:

        “The Israelite Deputies of the Empire of France and of the Kingdom of Italy, at the Hebrew Synod decreed on the 30th May ult., inspired with gratitude for the successive benefits that the Christian clergy has bestowed in past centuries on the Israelites of different European States, and full of gratitude for the welcome which diverse Popes in different epochs have given to Israelites of various countries when barbarism, prejudice and ignorance combined to persecute the Jews and expel them from society, declare as follows:
        That the expression of these sentiments shall be recorded in the minutes of today so as to remain forever an authentic witness to the gratitude of the Israelites of this assembly for the benefits which the generations preceding us have received from ecclesiastics of different European countries.”

  4. Editor says:

    Well said Seymour. Shane is beginning to bore me with his canonical babble so delighted you took up that particular cudgel.

    Shane, as for definitions of secular – I have no issue. Most people in the UK believe in a separation of church and state (those of religion and those without). That’s why Anglican bishops in the House of Lords is an anachronism.

    • shane says:

      Jeff, if you write (or repost) highly inaccurate screeds about Catholicism, I think it’s reasonable for Catholics to correct you.

      You claimed that Britain was “one of the most advanced secular states”. That is demonstrably false. Britain is the only country in the world, bar Iran, to reserve seats in parliament for clerics.

  5. Seymour Major says:


    “I agree that anti-semitism did exist among the clergy. That’s because it existed everywhere”

    No, it was not. If a problem exists, it has to have an origin. I identified that origin in my previous comment – the Bible.

    “I see no reason to believe that it was more concentrated among clergy than laymen.”

    I never said that anti-semitism was more concentrated amongst the Clergy. I was talking about its origins and the role of the church in spreading it. You mention usary but it seems to me that this was a tool, used by the Church, to reinforce the original prejudice.

    The role of the Church in influencing anti-semitism cannot be understated. It was the Church which provided the dogma to the laity, including the laws against usary, to discriminate against the Jews. You have quoted Pope Gregory IX. He made the position of the Jews far worse by introducing the doctrine perpetual servitude of the Jews with the force of Canon Law. The later Pope Gregory X, who you have quoted, did not undo the damage caused by this doctrine.

    The Church influenced anti-semitism in law and Government across the medievil world. Anti semitism, based on the anti-usary doctrine, even found its way into a document most cherished by the legal profession – Magna Carta!

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