How many divisions has the anti-Pope?

By Simon Barrow
September 2, 2010

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, which put out a nuanced statement a few days ago making its criticism of some of Pope Benedict's pronouncements very clear, while hoping that his upcoming visit could still be "an occasion for celebration" for LGBT Catholics, has been misreported and criticised for dissing anti-Pope protests.

Curiously, a paragraph from Ekklesia's news brief about the statement ('Disagree with respect during Pope's visit, says LGCM', 31 Aug 2010), was attributed to LGCM by PinkNews.Co.Uk and in a piece published in the Guardian.

PinkNews.Co.Uk have now amended their story, after we pointed this out to them. They now write that "A Liberal Christian group has criticised secularist plans to protest at the Pope's visit to the UK this month."

Hmmnn... well, that's not quite right either. It was a report, not a statement or press release, and in it we pointed out that many progressive Christians (and even one or two atheists, it might be added) regard the tenor of much of the opposition to the visit as unhelpful or counterproductive. At least, that's what a number of people have said to us.

These are people who are very unhappy with the direction of the current papacy but who aren't persuaded that anti-campaigns and aggressive rhetoric are the best way to make a powerful moral case about vital issues such as the dignity and humanity of LGBT people, the case for women's ordination, the current Vatican position on contraception and HIV/AIDs, equality and human rights, and more besides.

The proof of this is that not a single church group has yet joined the Protest the Pope umbrella organisation, whose stance is to oppose the state visit, and whose current members are Atheism UK, the British Humanist Association, Central London Humanist Group, Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, Doctors4Justice, Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association, Humanist Association of Northern Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Liverpool Humanist Group, The Marches Secularists, National Secular Society, North London Humanists, One Law for All, OutRage!, Plymouth Humanist Group, the Richmond upon Thames LGBT Forum, Southall Black Sisters, Women Against Fundamentalism and Young Freethought.

Meanwhile, groups such as LGCM, Catholic Women's Ordination and Catholic Voices for Reform have understandably decided to take a rather different approach - using the occasion to make clear the strength of feeling within the Catholic community and many others over issues which the Vatican has been trying to sideline or suppress, but to do so with dignity and respect.

That makes sense. And it's sad that anything other than outright rejection or shouting is somehow seen as collusion - or alternatively that generating a debate is characterised as anti-Catholic - in this febrile climate.

As we said in response to the Opinion Business Research poll on reactions to the visit ('Missing the papal point', 29 Aug 2010), the evidence is that "[m]ost people are neither uncritically adulatory nor bitterly antagonistic... [t]hey want conversation not confrontation, and will judge the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on his words and actions."

More on the papal visit from Ekklesia here.

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