About the author
Protest The Pope!
Yesterday, upwards of 10,000 people marched through the streets of London to protest the pope. The roads were closed from Hyde Park Corner to Whitehall, where speeches were given outside Downing Street. It was a carnival -- everybody dressed up, wrote witty placards, told jokes, and danced and sang. But we were there to make serious points -- points that not everybody who heard about the march got.
Many of those on the march are to some extent anti-religious, and the media gave a lot of attention to Richard Dawkins. Most were probably some variety of non-religious. But the march was not a march against the religious or even Roman Catholics: the religious who marched with us and the Roman Catholics who gave speeches were not out of place. Rather, the march was to highlight the many bad things that the Pope says and does. Really terrible, awful, immoral things. Amongst the most appalling things said by anybody in contemporary international politics.
One of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained best by Ben Goldacre. The Catholic church, under the explicit instruction of The Pope, actively sabotages effective public health campaigns for controlling HIV infection. Bishops in sub-Saharan Africa and South America tell lies so absurd that they should be laughed out of public discourse: in Mozambique, where one in eight of the population is infected, the church has invented a vast conspiracy theory and teaches that infection is actively spread by condoms; in Colombia, where infection rates have not yet caught up with Africa and could be kept under control, bishops make ridiculous claims about condoms being full of holes that let HIV through -- a claim that was ably refuted by the hundreds of inflated condoms floating over the march (hint: viruses are thousands of times bigger than oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide molecules). This was not about a petty or academic disagreement. This is about a bizarre and arbitrary dogma that contributes to the deaths of millions of people every year, and the one man who could put a stop to it.
Another of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained by Johann Hari. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was for 25 years in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in this role encouraged and enabled the systematic protection of thousands of sex offenders, and the cover-up of their crimes. The Pope has not merely inherited an organisation that has a problem: he was and is the problem. He could have stopped these crimes; instead he allowed them to happen. Any other organisation under competent, responsible, ethical leadership upon learning that their staff are rapists report them to the authorities that can prevent them from raping again. And if they didn’t -- if the director of a company thought that transferring a sex-offender to a different office would make everything OK -- then we prosecute them for obstruction of justice. The Pope even now thinks that child abuse is something that the church should handle itself, and considers it “deplorable” that the Belgian Police or justice system should think that they have any role in the investigation or prosecution of sex-abusers.
The Pope and the Vatican are homophobic, and spread homophobia in the Catholic Church and in politics around the world. In 1986, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the letter to bishops on the “pastoral care of homosexual people”, which is the document that many well meaning but dim Catholics use to justify to themselves their own role in homophobia. Ratzinger used the age-old tool of cults, ideologies, and dictators: he redefined his opponents as the troubled victims of mental disease and violators of a fictitious “natural law”, and his followers now cheerfully tell themselves that they are doing gays and lesbians a favour by denying them human rights. But the Pope’s homophobia is not merely a case of ruining the lives of gays unfortunate enough to be born into Catholic families, or restricting the careers of gay priests. The Vatican has repeatedly interfered in the politics of nations and international organisations in ways that can not possibly be reconciled with their claim to care for gay people, even as sick people. In 2008 they opposed a UN declaration for the decriminalisation of homosexuality which aimed to end the laws that in many countries still treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. In 2009 they interfered in Italian politics to oppose a bill that would recognise violence against gays as a hate crime, because, they said, it would give homosexuals “special rights”. The same is happening in Poland, South America, the EU, and everywhere that the Catholic Church pokes its way into politics. If the Pope really believes that homosexuality is a mental disorder, than it follows that he defends the practice of hanging the sick in Iran, stoning the sick in Saudi Arabia, and imprisoning the sick for life in many other countries; that he thinks attacking sick people in the street is just fine.
These are not the only harmful teachings and actions of the Pope and the organisation that he directs. They are merely the three that strike me as the most outrageous. They are three policies that the Pope is directly responsible for or deeply involved in. They are policies that he had and has the power to change. But he doesn’t. He has the effrontery to say he feels “deep sorrow and shame” for child-abuse while refusing to address the policies that caused the scandal, refusing to acknowledge his own central role in it, refusing to cooperate with the police and authorities and organisations who are trying to put right whatever can still be put right.
The Pope was invited to the UK on an official state visit, paid for by British taxpayers. He was supposedly here as our guest; not as head of a church but as a head of state and diplomat with whom we wish to cooperate and develop our relations. We spent £10-14 million on his visit at a time when infrastructure projects are being mothballed and councils are literally switching off the lights.
This is a Pope who plays an active role in the spread of untruths that will lead to many millions of needless deaths from a cruel disease, and the entrenchment of poverty in third-world Catholic countries. No head of state that does that should be welcomed as somebody with whom we can cooperate in delivering international aid and development. The Pope was and still is central in the decades long international criminal cover-up of sex-abuse and the protection of child-rapers. The director of an organisation that behaves this way should be subject to an international arrest warrant, not an invitation on an ell-expenses paid luxury visit and dinner with the primeminister. And the Pope is a homophobe, teaching homophobia and defending violence against gays and lesbians. Nobody should be allowed to preach that hatred to our politicians unchallenged.
To mistake these objections to the very specific bad things that the the Pope has done for a general knee-jerk or “militant” anti-theism would do a great disservice.
There are more photos in the Protest The Pope flickr set.