By Hilary White
LONDON, September 8, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, met today with anti-Catholic campaigners to ask them to “show respect” to Catholics celebrating Pope Benedict’s visit to London. The first official state visit of a reigning pontiff to the UK, starting September 16, will likely be marred by demonstrations by secularist and homosexualist protesters. Anti-Catholic sentiment has rarely been higher in Britain since the repeal of laws restricting Catholic practice in the mid-19th century.
The meeting between Smith and the protest organizers was organized by Scotland Yard. The archbishop said on Monday that he has no desire to infringe on the rights of protesters.
“I’ve always said, thank God in this country we have free speech,” Smith told media. “They are perfectly entitled to protest. What I would ask of all of them is to do so in a dignified way, which does not disrupt the joy of the Catholic community in welcoming the pope. I hope they would show respect to those of us who do have [religious] convictions.”
Today, Smith said that he had been given “very clear assurance” that the protesters do not intend to disrupt any of the events of the visit. He said, “We had an open and frank discussion on the issues of child abuse, homosexuality and the status of Pope Benedict’s visit as a state visit.”
The Protest the Pope coalition of secularists and homosexualist groups plan to hold a march and rally in central London on September 18.
Leaders of the Protest the Pope coalition have admitted that the Pontiff is a head of state who cannot be arrested while Britain maintains diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In an announcement in April, that was roundly ridiculed as an obvious publicity stunt, Richard Dawkins, along with Christopher Hitchens and a lawyer insisted that the Holy See was not truly an independent sovereign state, despite the 179 countries that maintain embassies there. They said the pope should be arrested when he touches down in Britain for what they alleged was his failure to stop clerical sexual abuse of minors.
Some of the leading figures, self-styled “brights,” of the anti-Catholic campaigns were not troubling themselves over courteous language in a recent interview in the New Humanist magazine. Asked what he would say to the pope were he granted an audience, Professor Richard Dawkins, Britain’s premier “New Atheist,” said he would say, “Mr. Ratzinger, as head of the world’s second most evil religion you are not welcome.”
Asked the same question, Claire Rayner OBE, a journalist and vice-president of the virulently anti-Catholic British Humanist Association, said, “I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature.”
Although Dawkins has been forced to admit the reality of the Vatican state, he now maintains that its status ought to be revoked since it was constituted by the Lateran Treaties, signed by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini when he was the head of the Italian state in 1929.
“Go home to your tinpot Mussolini-concocted principality, and don’t come back,” Dawkins added in the New Humanist interview.
So venomous has the anti-papal rhetoric become in recent weeks that even some homosexualist campaigners have called for cooler heads. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said it wanted the critics to “disagree with respect.”
LGCM will hold a prayer vigil, not a protest, saying they wanted the pope to become aware that his “homophobic comments affect real people.”
It said, “The Protest the Pope coalition of secularist groups has opposed the trip and promised noisy protests, but progressive Christians believe that this is unhelpful and counterproductive.”
Another anti-Catholic protest group, this time of feminists who demand that the Church change its teaching to allow women to be ordained, have spent £15,000 on advertising. The ads from the Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) group will run on London buses carrying the slogan, “Pope Benedict - Ordain Women Now!” for a month.
“We do not want to be disruptive, but I think the church has got to change or it will not survive,” CWO spokeswoman Pat Brown told Reuters. “I am quite hopeful at the moment because I think the church is in disarray.”
Meanwhile, the television broadcasters are vying to produce material in the lead up to the pope’s arrival that critics have said is nothing more than incitement “to religious hatred.”
The independent broadcaster Channel 4 was heavily criticized earlier this year when it tapped radical homosexualist activist Peter Tatchell to produce a documentary about Pope Benedict XVI. Having now seen the film, Damian Thompson, editor in chief of the Catholic Herald and the blogs editor for the Daily Telegraph, said that the piece, titled, “The Trouble with The Pope,” is a “hatchet job” that is “so crude it misses the target.”
The program, scheduled to be aired on Monday, features a woman complaining of sexual abuse by a cleric that occurred long before Cardinal Ratzinger had oversight on the issue. In another segment, a young German man is heard saying, “Do I want to be part of a Church in which people deny the Holocaust?” At one point in the program Tatchell claims that the Pope’s role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave him control over Church doctrines.
“That last statement is so ignorant that I could hardly believe I was hearing it. Did Channel 4 not employ any researchers for this project?” Thompson wrote today.