No Pope Here! Pope, come damn quick!
Cranmer has been asked to comment on the ‘Ad limina’ address of Pope Benedict XVI to the 35 assembled bishops and archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, in which His Holiness was perceived to criticise the legislative programme of Her Majesty’s Government.
His Grace has already attempted to do this, but manifestly failed miserably. He was accused of being inter alia ‘too clever’, ‘pompous’, ‘conceited’, blah, blah, blah (though not [yet] ‘bigoted’, ‘creepy’, ‘yucky’ or ‘disgusting’): the usual diatribe of puerile ad hominem vitriol which tends to be deployed by those who are either incapable of comprehension or unwilling to engage with the argument (or both).
Firstly, it would help to understand precisely what the Pope said, for the true account will not be found within the pathological distortions of the mainstream news media. When one is acquainted with the Pope’s perception of many of his 35 bishops and archbishops in Eccleston Square, it becomes evident that his 'attack' was not so much upon the UK’s anti-Christian Labour Government as it was upon his own recalcitrant bishops’ lack of unity, their obstinate reluctance to implement his reforms, and their stubborn refusal to be subject to the Magisterium and adhere to traditional orthodoxy (ie, their 'Anglican' tendencies...).
And his speech concerned ‘natural law’, though few journalists have mentioned it, and of those who did there is apparently little understanding of the term or of how it relates to issues of justice.
What has been read by most commentators as a high-handed, interfering papal condemnation of the secularist-humanist-equality-obsessed politicians in Her Majesty’s Government was more a humble and wholly-justified rebuke to the ecumenical-relativist-perpetually-compromising bishops and priests in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
And yet the media narrative has been dominated by Harriet Harman’s ‘Equality Bill’, and she has not helped herself by the timing of her spectacular (cowardly and utterly disappointing) climb-down. After all, either she believes in ‘equality’ or she does not: if she does, why has she not pushed this Bill through Parliament irrespective of the will of the Lords, as Labour have done on so many occasions for far more trivial bills? Does the banning of hunting with hounds really merit the deployment of the Parliament Act more than ensuring the inviolable rights of women or homosexuals?
Ms Harman, is the fox’s right to life worth more than gay equality?
Of course, she has one eye on the General Election, and God knows Labour need their traditional five-million-strong ‘Catholic vote’ if they are not to be completely annihilated.
But one hopes that traditionally-Labour-supporting faith groups of all descriptions and denominations will not be duped into believing that this is anything but a temporary lull, a calculated pause, a manipulative political manoeuvre to avoid the Pope’s visit being completely overshadowed by Labour’s odious and utterly illiberal ‘equality’ agenda.
Yet the Pope’s ‘intervention’ has produced a curious coalition of unanimity:
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian says ‘the pope is right and Harriet Harman is wrong’:
‘I might prefer the opposite to be the case but, on the matter in hand, Voltaire's principle should apply. The Roman Catholic church (sic) may be a hotbed of religious prejudice, indoctrination and, somewhere in the United Kingdom, social division. But faced with Harriet Harman's equality bill and her utopian campaign to straighten all the rough timber of mankind, the pope's right to practise what he preaches needs defending.’
Even though Simon Jenkins ‘deplore(s) the attitude of the Catholic church to homosexuality, veiled as it is in decades of a hypocrisy whose consequences for many young people are only now coming to light’. And even though he notes ‘the church's historic aversion to religious debate and dissent, its pathological conservatism, its veneration of relics, its cruelty to its own adherents and its necrophilia make the pope's plea for tolerance ring hollow’, he detects in Ms Harman’s ‘Equality Bill’ a potential tyranny by which ‘a new social order’ of Labour’s own devising is being constructed.
And so he concludes: ‘Harman's interest is not social equality – which her government has conspicuously ignored – but state control.’
Andrew Pierce in The Daily Mail observes the persecution of society’s most vulnerable. He says: “Indeed, children such as me, raised for two years in a Catholic orphanage, could be the real losers of Harman's obsessive drive to force the Church to embrace her doctrine of legalised social engineering.”
“That's not to say that I agree with all of the Pope's edicts. In particular, I find the Church teaching that homosexuality is ‘intrinsically disordered’ deeply offensive. But imposing legislation is not the answer to countering such outdated views.”
And he understands that the very intolerance which has historically been expressed towards homosexuals, not least by the church, is now being directed at those who hold sincerely-held objections to homosexual equality, thereby rendering them inferior and so unequal. And he calls Ms Harman a ‘zealot’.
Brendan O’Neill at Index on Censorship is succinct: ‘It is a shocking indictment of the state of progressive politics in Britain that it has taken Pope Benedict XVI — the head of a backward church — to put the case for freedom of conscience against the UK government’s Equality Bill.’
He, too, refers to a ‘tyranny of equality’ as the State removes the right to freedom of association (and therefore the right to discriminate).
Christopher Howse in The Daily Telegraph says of Pope Benedict's remarks on the doings of Harriet Harman that ‘an irresistible force has collided with an immovable object’.
Presumably the Pope is irresistible because Ms Harman is manifestly movable (God willing). Yet Mr Howse reminds us that ‘the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England’, and notes ‘the Primate of England...got there before the Pope’ when he said: "If religious freedom means anything, it must mean that those are matters for the churches."
But the Primate of England was scarcely reported.
And no-one listened.
Law Central gets to the elephant in the room, about which His Holiness has been disconcertingly silent:
‘(The equality) battle is already lost and the Catholic Church does itself no favours to suggest that the rules and laws of a religion should prevail over national laws protecting the basic equality rights of others. It will find itself in uncomfortable extremist company if it persists with that line.
‘Whilst the Church still has some time to influence the debate on the draft Equality Bill, it has missed the boat completely on the existing equality laws protecting gay and female workers. These are now firmly established in the UK and are underpinned by European legislation.’
The Spectator also notes the Brussels dimension: ‘The coalescence of British and EU anti-discrimination law is but an immodest garment for trenchant ideology. Harman’s bill strives to subjugate individual freedoms, such as that to religious expression, beneath state-imposed rights. This legislation is the progeny of faith in social engineering, not social mobility; it ignores that toleration and freedom in Britain were derived from the right to religious observance free from state proscriptions.’
The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in The Times is more philosophical: ‘Using the ideology of human rights to assault religion risks undermining the very foundation of human rights themselves. When a Christian airport worker is banned from wearing a cross, when a nurse is sacked after a role-play exercise in which he suggested that patients pray, when Roman Catholic adoption agencies are forced to close because they do not place children for adoption with same-sex couples and when a Jewish school is told that its religious admissions policy is, not in intent but in effect, racist, we are in dangerous territory indeed.’
And he notes the distinctly English understanding of liberty which is at variance with that on much of the Continent: ‘The English approach was gradual, evolutionary, mindful of history and respectful of tradition. The French approach was perfectionist, philosophical, even messianic in a secular way. For the French revolutionaries there is an ideal template of society that can be realised by the application of politics to all spheres of life. Liberty is to be achieved by a vast extension of the powers of the State.’
And this is the method embraced by the European Union and now adopted by Labour: they are forcing men to be free. While the English tradition of liberty has been to set limits to the State, on the Continent (noably in France) liberty is imposed by the State. We have traditionally legislated to prohibit; they to permit.
And so there is very broad agreement across the political and religious divides that the Pope was right to ‘intervene’ and remind us that the Law of God transcends the laws of man, and that the Roman Catholic Church is supranational and Semper Eadem.
And yet, and yet...
There is an awful lot of hypocrisy about, especially from anti-EU Conservatives who habitually deplore the 'interference' in British politics of a meddling ‘President of Europe’ who struts his stuff on the world stage like an ‘absolute monarch’ and presides over an ‘unelected oligarchy’ or ‘ruling élite’ with a ‘democratic deficit’, aided by a complicit civil service answerable (in theory) to an ‘impotent parliament’ in a state in which no criticism is permitted, social activities are regulated, liberties are restricted, the press and media controlled, with its own army and police force ...
...just like The Vatican.
One cannot have it both ways. If Conservatives are jubilant that the Pope has ‘declared war’ on Labour, one has to wonder how they would have greeted Pope John Paul II’s ‘declaration of war’ (as Anglican bishops frequently did) against the policies of Margaret Thatcher, or how they might react to a papal rebuke of any of David Cameron’s policy proposals. And one also has to wonder at the poverty of the understanding of such notions as political sovereignty and religious authority and how, in a representative liberal democracy, these may be legitimately expressed without moving towards omnicompetent clericalism or a theocracy of suzerain monocracy.
The Pope is not simply the leader of a worldwide religion: he is a head of state. What would have been the reaction if President Bush had sought to influence the vote in Parliament on the Iraq war? Do clerical robes make such an intervention more acceptable? What if President Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez were to comment on UK employment law in an attempt to influence the outcome of the legislative process?
Just because the Pope’s ‘interference’ (if that is what it was) concerns a religio-political matter with which very many might agree does not render it politically acceptable. If UK law should not be subject to omnipotent directives from Brussels, then neither should it be subordinate to the infallible orthodoxy of The Vatican.
When it was decreed that ‘the Pope of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England’, it was a declaration that the government of England is not subject to any foreign prince or potentate.
But, like nature, politico-religiosity abhors a vacuum.
The greatest sorrow and tragedy is that the Pope’s intervention has demonstrated the undeniable spiritual vacuum which emanates from the black hole within Lambeth Palace, and the almost total abdication of responsibility by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course the Pope should not be ‘interfering’ in UK politics: that is the constitutional role of the Esablished Church. And yet, if they are silent, God will speak through another and say what He wants to say.
And the people are evidently listening, whatever their politics, religion, race, gender or sexuality: the Pope has articulated something of the English tradition of liberty and the instinct of the people for freedom from tyranny.
And the reality is that people now feel less threatened by the Pope than they do by their own government: they fear the Vatican less than they fear Parliament; they despise politics more than religion; they respect the Roman Catholic Church more than the Church of England; and they honour the Throne of St Peter more than the Throne of the United Kingdom.
It is a sad day indeed when we need the Pope to remind us of our history, customs and traditions.
But when we are already subject to a foreign power, unable to make our own laws or govern ourselves according to those customs and traditions, and when our Parliament, Government, Monarch and Church are all apparently complicit in that occupation, one must thank God that the King of the Vatican is prepared to ‘interfere’ and remind us of the source of our spiritual strength, the fount our political power and the origins of our philosophical greatness.