No Pope Here!


I awoke this morning to the "news" that the Orange Order is objecting to the state visit of the Pope to the UK this coming September. I hardly expected them to be welcoming him with open arms given the history of tension between Orangism and Catholicism here in Ireland over the years, and the particular attitude of the Orange Order to the Papacy, which is an un-diluted 17th/18th century analysis of the person and position of the Pope both as "Anti-Christ/Man of Perdition" (a position which John Wesley himself espoused) and the head of a foreign state which actively sought the overthrow of the "Protestant" monarchy of Britain. However, given their recent attempts to "rebrand" Orangism as a cultural grouping which stands for religious tolerance, I might have expected their position to be a tad more nuanced. But then, over recent years the leadership of the Orange Order have never ceased to surprise me with their ineptitude in dealing with most things in the public sphere (and I say this as someone whose family have very deep roots in the Orange and other "loyal" orders... but then again that paints me as the classic liberal "Lundy").

But then, this afternoon I discovered that they are not the only ones protesting against the state visit of the Pope. Given the current controversy concerning child abuse that is engulfing the Catholic church, not only in Ireland, but all across the globe, and the current Pope's key role in this over recent decades as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, many feel that this is an inappropriate time for such a visit. Ruth Gledhill looks at this in detail in her column, including the news that this Sunday, the gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the new Protest the Pope group are organising a demonstration outside Westminster Cathedral.
'In a 2001 edict to Catholic Bishops worldwide, the Pope ordered a cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. He failed to ensure that priests who raped and sexually abused young people were reported to the police. This is why he is not welcome in the UK and why we object to him being honoured with a State Visit in September, especially a State Visit that is being funded by the taxpayer,' says Tatchell.

So it seems the Orange have strange bedfellows, to use a definitely un-PC cliche. But it does raise very real issues. There are frequently questions raised regarding the validity of a state visit, including that of Auguste Pinochet, the Emperor of Japan and Chinese heads of state in the past... But it is rare to find opposition from such a wide spectrum.

My own feeling? Well, you won't find me rushing out to welcome the Pope, and I have issues with both the amounts of money lavished on ANY state visit (particularly in such a time of recession), and the way that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has dealt with the issue of child abuse... But you equally won't find me on a picket line protesting against his presence... Such protests are rarely constructive and are often misconstrued as supporting the rationale behind the protests of others...

Which goes back to the whole idea of protest and the origins of the word "protestant." All too often the latter is understood as being purely oppositional... Defining itself by what it is against...

If I am to define myself as a protestant at all (and given the history of this province that is a definition I often baulk at) then it is in the sense of the latin root of that word... pro-testare "to testify to..." And what I prefer to do is to testify to the good news of God's grace in Christ, through what I say and what I do...

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