FaithWorld

Feisty debates between Catholics and secularists before pope visit to Britain

arrest the pope002If you like debates about religion but were turned off by the uproar in the United States over Koran-burning and the New York Islamic centre, take a look at the rhetorical duelling that’s been going on in Britain ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit there starting on Thursday. For the past few weeks, the leading lights of secularist and atheist thought have been hammering away at the Catholic Church, playing up its sins like the sexual abuse crisis and arguing that the pope doesn’t deserve the honour of a state visit. A quick Google search digs out plenty of them. (Click on the screen grab for video on British group’s proposal to arrest Pope Benedict during his visit/MSNBC via YouTube)

On the other side, a group of lay Catholics has formed a speakers’ bureau ready to face off with the critics and defend the pope and the Church. They’re a kind of rapid reaction force, ready to appear anywhere to refute the secularists and atheists. The result has been a feisty in-your-face exchange providing the pro and contra arguments for many current disputes over the Catholic Church. Some arguments could be criticised as too emotional or even irrational, but boring they’re not.

Catholic Voices, the speakers’ bureau that’s been putting up sparring partners for the Church’s critics, must already rank as one of the big innovations of this papal tour.  Popes are no strangers to protests when they visit foreign countries, but the Vatican and the local Church hierarchy usually ignore the critics or give cautious responses. Under Pope Benedict, Vatican public relations has been so badly organised that both he and his aides have often provided even more fuel for criticism. Given the strong and mostly critical interest the media would show in the pope’s visit, these speakers – journalists, lawyers, students and a few clergy – decided the Church needed a more professional operation if it was to get its message across.

skyscreengrabdebate002Catholic Voices coordinator Austen Ivereigh (photo at far right in screengrab from Sky TV debate, click on image for video), a former deputy editor of The Tablet and spokesman for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, gave me his thoughts about the project and how it’s been doing:

“We thought that our model of a ‘media-friendly, studio-ready, ego-free’ speakers would work well for both the Church and the 24-hours news media, but we’ve been amazed at its success. A big part of the success, we think, is that we making ourselves available to talk about absolutely anything –authoritatively, but in straightforward human language. I think the media have been really impressed that ‘ordinary’ Catholics have been standing up and rebutting these critiques – rather than polemicists or professional talking heads (or indeed bishops). We haven’t replaced those, of course, but have offered another kind of “voice” – deliberately non-expert, but very well briefed – alongside the usual commentators and spokespeople.

Pope must make amends, say British abuse victims

abuse (Photo: Mark Fabbro, Chris Daly, Sue Cox, Margaret Kennedy and Peter Saunders (L-R), who said they were survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, pose after a news conference in London September 15, 2010/Toby Melville)

Victims of abuse by Catholic priests urged the Vatican on the eve of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain to hand over lists of suspected offenders to the police to prevent further cases of clerical sex crimes.

Speaking in London on Wednesday, a group of victims and activists said the Vatican should go beyond verbal apologies and offer concrete steps to make amends over clergy abuse.

“The pope is the boss. He has the capacity to do these things. Words must be backed up by actions,” said Peter Saunders, chief executive of a charity called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood. “We need the pope to say: ‘I will hand over all information I have about abusing priests, wherever they are in the world, to the authorities of the countries where these people are being protected’.”

Confusion reigns as Belgium struggles with Catholic sex abuse scandal

shipFollowing the crisis of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Belgium is like watching a rudderless ship in a storm. The Church hierarchy seems overwhelmed by the scandal that has engulfed it. The state seems unable to intervene after its spectacular raid on Church offices last June backfired on it. Left hanging are at least 475 victims who have no idea what to expect next. (Image: A Dutch Ship in a Storm by Flemish artist Matthieu van Plattenberg, National Maritime Museum, London)

The latest installment in this confusing drama came on Tuesday when Bishop Guy Harpigny, the bishops’ conference spokesman for abuse issues, confessed in two morning radio interviews that the Church botched a news conference on Monday by not issuing a full apology to victims. But — as my colleague Phil Blenkinsop reported in our story today — he admitted it was afraid to do so because that could bring on a wave of compensation demands.

“If we say ‘mea culpa,’ then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money. We don’t know what the lawyers and the courts will do with that,” he told the Flemish-language Radio 1. “We are afraid. Who will ask — the victims, the courts or someone else? That’s why we are so careful.” A bit later in the interview, he admitted: “The news conference yesterday was a missed chance for a ‘mea culpa’. Maybe the church was too concerned with itself.”

from The Great Debate UK:

Pope’s visit both punctual and provident

POPE/ - Madeleine Teahan is a speaker for the Catholic Voices project. The opinions expressed are her own -

The Holy See is a sovereign entity which has enjoyed diplomatic relations worldwide for at least 1,000 years and as head of this state, the Pope has been invited by the Queen to visit Britain and address civil society.

With the papal visit less than one week away, the Birmingham Post predicts that the Pope’s visit will generate £12.5 million for the city’s economy. In further welcome news, Edinburgh is anticipating a profit of £4 million. With Birmingham and Edinburgh expecting to prosper so significantly from hosting Pope Benedict for one day only, this is a highly auspicious indicator for the economic benefits of the Holy Father’s two-day stay in London.

Rare pope trip to Britain faces welcome ranging from polite to hostile

tartan (Photo: Cardinal Keith O’Brien displays the papal visit plaid in Edinburgh, Scotland September 9, 2010/David Moir)

Pope Benedict this week makes a challenging trip to Britain — only the second by a pope in history — and his welcome in one of Europe’s most secular nations will range from polite to indifferent and even hostile.

Coming on the heels of a simmering scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests in several European countries, strained relations with the Anglicans, and discontent over the taxpayer footing part of the bill, he will have his work cut out for him.

Benedict’s four-day visit starting on Thursday has been fraught with controversy and the reception will be a shadow of the rapturous one given to the charismatic John Paul in 1982.

Child abuse was widespread in Belgian Catholic Church – Church report

AdriaenssensChild sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Friday.  “Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, told a news conference. (Photo: Peter Adriaenssens, July 6, 2010/Yves Herman)

More than half of its 200-page report, based on cases recorded up till then, consists of excerpts of testimony from victims. The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.

Adriaenssens said: “With these testimonies, it was not about superficial handling. It was about oral and anal abuse, forced and mutual masturbation. In other words, it was about people who had experienced serious acts.”

Belgian Cardinal Danneels admits making mistakes in sex abuse case

danneels newsconfThe former head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church,  Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has admitted he made mistakes in dealing with a case of sexual abuse and should have demanded the resignation of the bishop involved.

In interviews published in the newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and La Libre Belgique and the weekly magazine Knack on Wednesday,  he described his failure to urge former Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe to go as his “most serious error of judgement.” (Photo: Danneels at news conference on January 18, 2010/Timothy Seren)

Vangheluwe resigned at the end of April after admitting he had sexually abused a nephew, the first such known case of high-level abuse in the Catholic church in Belgium. However, Danneels suggested to the victim during a meeting earlier in April that it would be better to keep quiet, with the bishop due to retire in 2011, according to transcripts of the meeting published last month.

Expect papal meeting with UK sexual abuse victims — Patten

pattenOne regular but regularly unannounced feature of papal trips in recent years has been the private meeting with local Catholics who were sexually abused as youths by priests. Journalists only find out about them after they’ve taken place. Just such a meeting seems to be on the cards during Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next week, but of course it does not appear in his official schedule. Chris Patten, the prime minister’s special representative for the papal visit,  said as much on Monday in an interview with BBC television (quote at the end of the clip):

“On several previous visits, the pope has met victims of abuse. He has never said he was going to meet them before he did and his meetings have always, for very understandable reasons, been private. I would be surprised if in this visit or any future visit he behaved in any different way.”

When our London correspondent Avril Ormsby asked about any possible meeting with victims in an interview with him last week, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “It will not be announced beforehand, and it will take place in private, if that is going to be the case. But precisely because of those rules, it is not clear.”

Leaked Danneels tapes with Catholic sex abuse victim make for sad reading

danneels (Photo: Cardinal Danneels arrives at federal police headquarters in Brussels July 6, 2010 for questions about  allegations of sexual abuse by priests/Stringer)

“Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?” — Victim of sexual abuse by a Belgian bishop to Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

The transcripts of two meetings between Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a man sexually abused by the disgraced former bishop of Bruges make for sad reading indeed. Two Flemish-language newspapers, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad, published the texts on Saturday after the victim provided them with his secret recordings of the sessions.  My analysis of the case is here.

“Ordain women,” London bus ads will urge Pope Benedict during September visit

CWO BUS

Pope Benedict will be confronted by posters on London’s famous red buses during his trip to the British capital next month which will call for the ordination of women priests.

One group of women, Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO), will have its message plastered on the side of the buses as they travel along key routes, including past Westminster Hall, at the Palace of Westminster, where the pope is set to deliver a speech to Britain’s civic society on September 17.

The group has paid 15,000 pounds ($23,130) for 15 buses to carry the message “Pope Benedict – Ordain Women Now!” for a month. “We do not want to be disruptive, but I think the church has got to change or it will not survive,” CWO spokeswoman Pat Brown told Reuters. “I am quite hopeful at the moment because I think the church is in disarray.”