United Kingdom : Tensions surrounding the visit of Benedict XVI

Source: FSSPX News

Twenty-eight years after John Paul II, the Vatican has officially announced a trip by the Supreme Pontiff to Great Britain on September 16-19, 2010.  This first visit of Benedict XVI to Anglican territory will be only the second by a pope since the Reformation in the sixteenth century. 

In this land with a strong anti-papist tradition, the announcement of this visit has revived the tensions aroused by the address of the Holy Father to the British bishops during their ad limina visit, in early February 2010 (see DICI No. 211).  Benedict XVI then exhorted the British prelates to show their opposition to the proposed bill, which was then being debated, aimed at protecting homosexuals from “discrimination”, of which they would be the object.  His criticism of a bill proposed by the government of Gordon Brown provoked violent reactions, with some people accusing him of meddling in British politics just a few months before legislative elections.

This trip also occurs less than one year after the announcement by the Catholic Church of its decision to accept some dissidents from the Anglican Communion, which is in full crisis (see DICI No. 205).  The climate of dialogue between the “ecumenical interlocutors”, in the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, had been troubled by that decision, even though Benedict XVI has since met with the Anglican primate, Rowan Williams (see DICI No. 206).

A complaint against the Pope?

Since the first rumors of a papal visit to England, many voices have been raised within British civil society, to sway public opinion against this visit.  Two proponents of militant atheism, the scientist Richard Dawkins and the Anglo-American author Christopher Hitchens, have therefore demanded that the Holy Father be arrested upon his arrival on British territory, for “crimes against humanity”, based on unsubstantiated rumors that he had covered up the dealings of priest-pedophiles.  Even though it smacks of a publicity stunt, the two militants have nevertheless asked several attorneys specializing in human rights to determine which juridical procedures could be used against Benedict XVI.  In The Guardian, cited by l’Agence France Presse (AFP), the lawyer of Richard Dawkins, Mark Stephens, has indicated that they have three options:  avail themselves of British justice, turn to the International Penal Court (CPI) of La Haye, or bring a civil charge.  Again according to AFP, a British judge can effectively issue a warrant against a foreign person visiting the United Kingdom, at the request of a plaintiff, if he deems that that person participated in war crimes or crimes against humanity.  The reader may recall that in 1998 the former Chilean president, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in the United Kingdom as a result of a Spanish warrant for his arrest.  And last December, the former Israeli minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, canceled a trip to London at the last minute after a warrant for her arrest was issued following a complaint by pro-Palestinian associations.  After that incident, London was urged to reconsider its legislation and promised to do so.

Poster and Petition Campaigns against the Pope’s Visit

While it is unlikely that the Pope will find himself in trouble with the law in Britain, he may glimpse one of the ten posters calling upon him to ordain women that will be circulating on buses. A feminist group has announced it will launch an advertising campaign during the Holy Father’s visit. The slogan “Pope Benedict Ordain Women Now” will appear on ten buses for a month starting August 30. According to the weekly Tablet, the cost of the campaign, around 10,000 Euros, will be paid by the group Catholic Women’s Ordination.

Even if the British weekly does not say so, it is quite possible that this group signed the online petition denouncing the Sovereign Pontiff’s stay in the land of Henry VIII. Though 12,300 signatures had already been gathered, the British government was constrained to remove it from the Internet site posting it. Sponsored by the lay coalition Protest the Pope and launched by a militant homosexual, the “citizen’s appeal” exhorted the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to distance his government from “the Pope’s intolerant viewpoints” and not to support the official visit financially.

The funding of the Sovereign Pontiff’s official visit has also sparked numerous polemics, so much so that, according to the British media, to attend the beatification ceremony of Cardinal Newman on 19 September at Birmingham, priests and faithful will have to spend more than 20 Euros. The evening before, at Hyde Park, an entrance fee of about 10 Euros will also be charged…

If the United Kingdom is more than 70 percent Christian, they are officially Anglican by a large majority. However, according to some observers, the percentages are shifting.  Under the combined effect of declining religious practice among Anglicans and an influx of immigrants from Catholic countries, the number of practising Catholics would tend to be greater than the number of Anglicans attending services.  A tendency which the visit of Benedict XVI may confirm.