Friday September 10, 2010

Anti-papal Protesters “Not Representative” of British: Catholic Voices Spokesman

By Hilary White

ROME, September 10, 2010 ( – The hostility that the papal visit has engendered among a “small, well organized group” of homosexualist and hard-core secularist activists is “extraordinary,” but their opinion is not representative of the general British public, said Austen Ivereigh, a journalist and former deputy editor of the liberal Catholic magazine, The Tablet, in an interview with (LSN).

Ivereigh, who is acting as a co-coordinator and spokesman for the group Catholic Voices, which has been leading the charge in defending Pope Benedict’s state visit, told LSN he believes the tide of anti-Catholic media coverage is about to turn.

The anti-visit campaigners have “shot their load” and their efforts will backfire, he said. Rather than the fiasco predicted by the papal critics, Ivereigh expects the visit to be a smash hit with ordinary British people, both Catholic and non, who will be impressed with the personal charm of the pope himself.

The Catholic journalist pointed to what he called a pattern in the responses to previous papal controversies, such as the pope’s comments on condoms and AIDS transmission. Whereas the loud anti-Catholic voices often get the first wave of press, the second wave always brings out the more measured, balanced opinions in response.

“I think the thing is turning now. Certainly in the next few days there’s going to be a turn-around and you will see more positive press. These hostile groups have made their arguments.”

While Ivereigh said “we’ve really been quite surprised” by the virulence of the attacks on the Church and the pope, he also said he takes the view that the papal visit presents a “tremendous opportunity politically.”

“The government is wholly behind the visit and it is coming at an amazingly propitious time.

“I think there is in a strange way a hunger in British society to escape from moral relativism.” The economic crisis, he said has created a “new openness” that will create an opportunity for the people to connect with Pope Benedict and his message.

“The hostility is because of this openness. It’s a response to it, in a way.”

He pointed to recent surveys taken by the Theos think tank and The Tablet that showed that the “strong opposition” to the visit so insisted on by the anti-pope protesters, is actually shared by no more than 5 percent of the British population.

Ivereigh said that in fact, according to the polls, most British people are “indifferent” to the visit. “I think that the pope is something of an abstract figure to the British.”

Nonetheless, although people don’t have strong feelings, the same poll showed that one in five is expected to follow the visit “closely.”

Ivereigh said that the polls have also shown that the British strongly admire the Catholic Church for its strong moral and social teaching. “It’s a typically British response, of course. They don’t have strong feelings themselves, but admire people with strong convictions.”

“So these vociferous anti-papal groups don’t speak for mainstream opinion.”

However, Ivereigh pointed out that Pope Benedict will be visiting a different Britain from the one that received Pope John Paul II in 1982. “There is now in Britain a new, aggressive atheism that wasn’t there at the time. There is still a certain amount of old fashioned Protestant ‘no-popery,’ but this is mostly a nostalgic archaism.”

Fr. Timothy Finigan, the influential founder of the group Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, and Britain’s most-read priestly blogger, agreed with Ivereigh’s assessment. He told that the pope is going to win the day.

“For all that people have protested against the visit, for all that some Catholics have joined in with that protest, for all that other Catholics have shown apathy or neglect on the visit, what they cannot control is the content of the Holy Father’s addresses.”

Pope Benedict, he said, “will address in a courteous and gentle way the West’s problems. He’s spoken many times before on the importance of peace and tolerance and the search for truth. And it will also be fascinating to hear what he says about education.”

Although Fr. Finigan doubted that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or gay activist Peter Tatchell would change their minds after the visit, he is confident that Benedict will surprise detractors.

“What will happen is that people who read Tatchell et al will be surprised that their portrait of him is absolutely false. The ordinary people, whether Catholic or non Catholic, will be swept away by enthusiasm for him and for his kindly and gentle manner.”

Fr. Finigan pointed to an article appearing this week in the Catholic Herald by Mark Dowd, a self-described “gay” Catholic and BBC documentary film maker, who created a documentary, Benedict: Trials of a Pope, for BBC 2 that will air next week. During its creation, he said, the pope surprised him. In the article, “How I changed my mind about the pope,” Dowd calls Benedict “one of the most clever and gifted people on the planet.”

To “do justice to him,” Dowd said, “you have to look behind the headlines and the angry rants on the blogosphere. In short, you have to do justice to the man as best as you can.”

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