The Pope’s visit to Britain, costing the taxpayer up to £20m, is stirring up a whirlwind of protest. Lest anyone thinks this is a storm in a tea cup, it would be wise to look at the man and the crisis-ridden institution he represents.
Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict, took part in the liberal reformist movement within the Catholic church during the early 1960s. But after students invaded his lecture theatre in 1968, he headed in the opposite political direction.
Ratzinger became head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) previously known as the Inquisition. The Inquisition, dating back to 1542, notoriously persecuted “heretics” such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, usually sending them to be burnt at the stake.
Pope Benedict is not the first to repent his more radical youth and reinforce the ranks of reaction nor will he be the last. But as the arguments about the impending beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman show, he ranks amongst the more sophisticated and wily.
Moving Newman along the road to sainthood is the stated purpose of the Papal visit. But the 19th century English cardinal – who began his religious life as a Church of England priest - insisted that a Catholic should follow his or her conscience rather than the edicts of the Pope – exactly the opposite of Vatican dogma. Thus his appropriation by today’s Vatican is a Machiavellian move to encourage further dissent by conservatives in the Church of England’s ranks in the hope they will find their way to Rome.
The charges against Benedict are many and serious. A new book by Geoffrey Robertson QC, The Case of the Pope, presents a body of evidence showing how Ratzinger as head of the CDF between 1981 and 2005 protected up to 100,000 Catholic priests who sexually molested children and refused to help the victims. Far from supporting victims, Ratzinger and the then Pope John Paul II, insisted that all cases of sexual abuse referred to the CDF were to be dealt with by in total secrecy.
The Vatican uses the system of Canon law, the church’s own legal machinery, to hide its scandals and protect abusers instead of removing them from their posts. Anyone who refers such matters to the police or other authorities can be threatened with excommunication. Small wonder then that the Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors organisation and many others want cases of child abuse to be handed over the secular law-enforcers.
Ratzinger’s cover-up of sexual abuse goes side by side with his notorious hostility towards homosexuality and opposition to gay marriage. As part of its dogma that sex must only be for procreation, the Vatican opposes any kind of contraception under any circumstances. As gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explained last night on Channel Four, for the millions of poor Catholics in countries like the Philippines, this means a life of back-breaking misery. The Church’s opposition to condoms condemns millions more die from AIDs and STDs.
Benedict’s hypocrisy is equally monstrous in respect to the mass murder of Jewish people by the German Nazi regime. Whilst piously mouthing that holocaust denial is wrong, Ratzinger rehabilitated British priest Richard Williamson just days after he had shocked Swedish television viewers by denying that millions were killed in Nazi camps.
Far from being “in denial” as Tatchell suggests, God’s Rottweiler is only too aware of the problems faced by the Catholic Church in the present era, losing its grip on society in countries like Ireland, for example. The Vatican is full of cunning ideological strategists, however. As Benedict’s 2007 Encyclical about “Modernity” proves, his Vatican is capable even of trying to appropriate Marx in support.
The Pope is aware of the need to steal as much fire from enemies, with the aim of using a reactionary outlook based on mystique and medievalism to shore up a society riven by deep economic and ideological crisis. Blair, Cameron, Clegg, Harman and other members of the political establishment will be having audiences with him this week. It won’t solve their problems.
A World to Win secretary