Tuesday April 27, 2010

British Party Leaders Bash Pope Benedict in Televised Debate

By Hilary White

April 27, 2010 ( – In a televised debate last week, all three leaders of the major British political parties accused Pope Benedict XVI of failing sufficiently to recognize and deal with the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

With Britain’s next general election looming and the country gearing up for an official papal visit, the televised debate featured the leaders of Britain’s political class scolding Pope Benedict for upholding Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, and for what was alleged to be his inaction on the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The three leaders were responding to a question from an audience member, Michael Jeans, who asked, “If you win the election, will you disassociate your party from the pope’s protection over many years of Catholic priests who were ultimately tried and convicted of child abuse, and from his fierce opposition to all contraception, embryonic stem cell research, treatment for childless couples, gay equality and the routine use of condoms when HIV is at an all-time high?”

In their responses, none of the party leaders challenged the questioner’s presumption that Pope Benedict has been guilty of mishandling the sex abuse scandal. Instead, each answered in a way that implied that neither the pope nor the Catholic Church has in any way responded to it.

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party that is likely to form the next government, said, “I think the Catholic Church has got some very, very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened, and they need to do that.”

He added that he does not agree with the Catholic Church on contraception or homosexuality. “A country where faith is welcome, yes, a visit from the Pope, yes, but does that mean we have to agree with everything he says? No.”

Nick Clegg, head of the rising Liberal Democrat party, whose wife is a Catholic, said he knows about the “immense feelings of anguish” Catholics are experiencing.

“I think they do want to see the Catholic Church express greater openness and repentance. You can’t keep a lid on sin, and of course you need to move with the times,” he said.

“I do welcome the pope’s visit,” Clegg added, “but I hope by the time he does visit, there is a greater recognition that there has been terrible, terrible suffering, there have been abusive relationships which have left immeasurable scars on individual people’s lives and we need a process of openness and then healing. You can’t undo the tragedies of the past, but you can be open about them so people can start to move on.”

The prime minister and head of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, said, “[T]he church has got to deal with these problems, and it’s got to make sure that there is an open and clean confession about what has happened, and that we help those people who have been put into difficulty by this abuse.”

Brown added, “Secondly, we must break down the barriers of religion that exist in our world. The faiths must come together and recognize they have common values and common interests.”

None of the leaders mentioned the apologies for the sexual abuse scandals already repeatedly offered by Pope Benedict during his visit to the U.S., in his letter to the Irish people and most recently during his recent visit to Malta.

The debate moderator, Adam Boulton, moved on to ask for the leaders’ responses to concerns about the Church and “science and gender” issues.

Cameron told Michael Jeans, “I would be agreeing with you, and against the pope in terms of, for instance, the need to make advances in… er… in science.” Cameron added that he disagrees with the pope on abortion, but said that this disagreement should not prevent the papal visit.

“We must try and build an open and tolerant country where we respect people for their different faiths, we bring faiths closer together with each other and we are prepared to have an open and frank discussion about these things.”

Clegg said that on these matters there is cross-party agreement: “I’ve made it publicly clear in the past, that I don’t agree with the formal doctrine on homosexuality of the Catholic Church.”

Brown also expressed his agreement with his political opponents, adding, “I think we know that in Africa, we know round the world, that it is important to give women access and choice so that they can make their own decisions, and I regret the fact that the Catholic Church does not do that.”

Last week’s leadership debate was quickly followed by a revelation that junior Foreign Office officials had circulated a memo which suggested that Pope Benedict be invited to officially open an abortion facility and preside over a “gay marriage” ceremony during his visit to the U.K. The document was hastily withdrawn and official apologies were offered to Vatican officials and to Catholics, but critics said it was indicative of a deep hostility towards Christianity and religious belief among Britain’s political class.

John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said the comments from the recent debate are an indication of the moral corruption that is rife to the highest levels of British society. Citing the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI condemning modern methods of artificial contraception, Smeaton wrote, “Britain is witnessing the fulfillment of the prophetic message of Humanae Vitae…[Pope Paul] warned about ‘public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law’.”

Writing on the Foreign Office memo, Spectator and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips, who is Jewish, said such attitudes as were found in the memo are simply part of the new “orthodoxy” among the ruling elites.

“It shows how flippancy and shallowness coexist with a brutalised arrogance. Among those who purport to be the most liberal, educated and enlightened, minds are actually closed and display a vicious illiberalism and gross absence of respect for other points of view, particularly mainstream European religious faiths.”

Smeaton added that “it is clear that Pope Benedict is being defamed by opponents of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person.”

In the light of the comments from the leaders of each party, SPUC is asking British voters to bypass their traditional party loyalties. “The unanimity of the three party leaders makes it all the more important that voters base their choice on how their local candidates promise to vote if elected to parliament,” Smeaton said.

“Whichever party forms the next government, the defence of human life in parliament will rely on individual MPs voting pro-life and resisting pressure from party managers.”

To contact SPUC for candidate information:

3 Whitacre Mews, Stannary Street

London, SE11 4AB, United Kingdom

Phone: (020) 7091 7091

Fax: (020) 7820 3131

Email: [email protected]

Read related LSN coverage:

Sex Abuse Victims in Malta ‘Impressed’ and ‘At Peace’ After Meeting Pope

Benedict “Has Done More than Any other Pope or Bishop” to Confront Sex Abuse

Media Attacks Mounting against Pope over Irish Abuse Letter