The Protest the Pope campaign in the UK will brief the press tomorrow to further outline its protest plans and its charges against Pope Benedict XVI, days before he is due to visit the country amid controversy.
The four-day visit is a controversial one, not only in light of the sex scandal to hit the Catholic Church, resulting in multimillion-dollar compensation payouts, but because of the tens of millions of pounds the UK taxpayer is expected to pay out for what is a state visit.
The last visit by a pope was that by John Paul II in 1982, but that was a pastoral visit, and didn’t attract huge taxpayer costs.
The visit by Joseph Ratzinger is expected to cost anything between £12 million and £20 million, with much more than that coming out of individual police force budgets for security.
Speakers at tomorrow’s press conference – at 3 p.m. Conway Hall in central London – include the feminist writer Joan Smith; Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society; Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association; and Marco Tranchino and human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the Protest the Pope campaign.
Speaking in advance of the press conference, Sanderson said: “The cost of this visit to the taxpayer will run into tens of millions of pounds, at a time when the government is about to announce 25 percent cuts in public spending. If the Pope really cared about poverty – and these government cuts will hurt the poorest in our society – he would offer to pay his own way from his church’s fantastic wealth.”
Tatchell, added: “The Protest the Pope campaign deplores Benedict XVI’s refusal to hand over the Vatican’s sex-abuse files to police forces worldwide and his decision to welcome back into the church the holocaust-denying Bishop, Richard Williamson.
“We are calling on the British government to disassociate itself from the Pope’s opposition to women’s rights, contraception, gay equality, fertility treatment, embryonic-stem-cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. On these and many other issues, Benedict is out of step with the majority of British people, including many Catholics.
“It is hypocritical for the Pope to attack Britain’s equality laws, as he did earlier this year, while happily accepting hospitality and funding from the British people and government,” said Tatchell.
“We object to parts of his visit being funded by the taxpayer. Public funding is not appropriate. The British government doesn’t fund visits by the Grand Mufti of Mecca or the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Why should the Pope get privileged financial support?
“In 2001, when he was a cardinal, the Pope wrote to every Catholic bishop in the world, ordering them to report all child sex-abuse cases to him in Rome. They did. He cannot claim that he was unaware of sex abuse. His letter demanded ‘Papal secrecy.’ It did not advise the bishops to report abusers to the police.
“Even today, the Pope refuses to open the Vatican’s sex-abuse files and hand them to the relevant police forces worldwide. Many people see his inaction as collusion with sex crimes against children. Such a person should not be fêted by our government,” Tatchell added.
Copson said: “The idea that the Holy See is a state and the Pope a head of state is nothing more than a device to amplify the influence of the Vatican on the international stage. The Holy See uses this influence to undermine the reproductive and sexual health rights of men and women, and the human rights of women, children and gay people, among others. The Pope as head of the Holy See is not worthy of the honour of a state visit to our country.”
Attack on equality laws
Tranchino said: “On Saturday 18th of September, we will assemble at 1.30 p.m. at Hyde Park Corner, march through central London and conclude our protest with a rally opposite Downing Street. We will tell our government that it should not honour the Pope as a head of state. The Vatican must not be allowed to consolidate its influence. In a liberal society, no religious leader should be permitted to attack our equality laws without challenge and no religious leader should have privileged, undemocratic influence on our political leaders.”
The Pope’s visit to Britain was already becoming a controversial one several months ago, and led to demonstrations, because of his apparent cover-up of priestly child molestation when he was a cardinal and because of the huge cost to the UK taxpayer. If the visit were a pastoral one rather than a state one, this cost would be met by the Catholic Church, but it could cost Britain up to £20 million, plus the expense of security, which will come from existing police funds.
A recent suggestion by the Pope’s second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that child abuse and paedophilia were connected with homosexuality brought condemnation even from fellow Catholics in the UK.
Recently, the atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens put their weight behind a plan to have the Pope arrested when he gets to Britain and charged under international law with crimes against humanity.