Public gaffes made by Pope Benedict and his retired senior adviser Cardinal Kasper, in aligning atheism with Nazism and describing Britain’s social mix as being ‘like a Third World country’, show that the church needs to re-learn how to communicate by listening not lecturing, says the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia.
“The pontiff has misjudged his wider audience by pandering to exaggerated fears of antagonism to religion, rather than building bridges of understanding and cooperation between the peacemaking and justice-loving heart of Christianity and those of other or no faith committed to doing good in a plural society," said Ekklesia’s Simon Barrow.
“It is not clear what the pontiff means by ‘aggressive secularism’. This makes discussion difficult. The equality legislation he criticizes is backed by many believers and invites the church to practice what it preaches about non-discriminating love of neighbour. As for cases of alleged discrimination against Christians, the overwhelming majority of these have been found to hold no water.”
He continued: “Many people are not so much hostile to religion as baffled or indifferent. Overall, the Pope has been greeted with warmth in spite of widespread concern about sex abuse and scepticism over his negative message about family planning and the place of women and LGBT people in church and society. These issues need to be addressed through open dialogue not closed pronouncements. Making the faithful more fearful will not resolve the challenges we face together in a complex, plural society.
“The heart of the matter is that the Christendom model of the church as a top-down alliance of throne and altar is dying – as many Christians, including Catholics, have been saying. This is why there is controversy surrounding the city state status of the Vatican. Hierarchical institutions cemented by the temporal power sit in direct tension with social equality, enemy-loving, learning by example, and concern for the most marginalised, as exemplified by Jesus and his earliest followers.
“It is this spirit and these lived values which have to be re-learned and re-expressed in an era where the church needs to gain a hearing through honest persuasion rather than unaccountable privilege,” concluded the Ekklesia co-director.
Notes to Editors
1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml
2. Ekklesia’s coverage of the Papal visit – including news, features and comment - may be found here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/7854
3. For further comment: Simon Barrow, co-director firstname.lastname@example.org