The Pope, the Holocaust and human rights

By Peter Tatchell
10 Sep 2010

I was born in 1952, seven years after the end of the Second World War. My awareness of the Holocaust is one of the factors that spurred me to work for human rights, to ensure that such monstrous crimes never happen again.

The Nazi genocide remains an ever-present influence, including on my views concerning next week's State Visit to Britain by Pope Benedict XVI. I am shocked that he has embraced Catholics accused of being soft on Nazism.

Last year, the Pope rescinded the excommunication of the holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson. He has called on Williamson to recant but he has not revoked his re-admission to the Catholic church. A holocaust denier remains within the faith, with the Pope's blessing.

Benedict wants to make a saint of Pope Pius XII, despite the war-time pontiff's failure to speak out publicly against the Holocaust. His refusal to open the Vatican files suggests that Pius' record is less than honourable - and unworthy of sainthood.

These are two of many actions by Pope Benedict that call into question his moral authority. He says women are unfit to be priests, childless couples should be denied fertility treatment, embryonic stem cell research is murder, using condoms to stop the spread of HIV is immoral and gay people are not entitled to equal human rights. Most shockingly, the Pope is accused of colluding with the cover up of child sex abuse by priests. Even today, he has not handed the Vatican's sex abuse files to the police.

Part of Benedict's visit to Britain is being funded by the taxpayer. A Comres poll found that 77 per cent of the public oppose us footing the bill. After all, we don't fund visits by other religious leaders, such as the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Why should the Pope receive privileged financial support from our taxes?

Benedict's defenders point out that he is a head of state. But heads of state are normally leaders of countries. The Vatican is not a country and it is not recognised as a country by the UN. Benedict is only a head of state because the anti-Semitic fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, granted this status to Popes in 1929 as part of a treaty with the Vatican. It is a legacy of fascism and a historical anomaly.

By all means let Catholics welcome the Pope to Britain and fund his visit. But I don't think he should be honoured with a state visit at [the] taxpayer's expense.

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(c) Peter Tatchell is an independent campaigner for human rights, LGBT freedom, democracy, global justice, peace and ecological sustainability. He is a member of OutRage! and the Green Party. An atheist with a background in the church, he was a speaker at the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in 2010. His television documentary on Benedict XVI, The Trouble with the Pope, will be broadcast on Channel Four at 8pm on Monday 13 September. Peter Tatchell's website is www.petertatchell.net and you can follow him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/PeterTatchell or join his Human Rights Campaign on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/cj9y6s

This article also appears in The Jewish Chronicle and is reproduced with permission and grateful acknowledgment.

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