Standing in the the Shadow of St Peter...
I was thrilled to be there at the gates of Westminster Abbey to greet the Holy Father with rapturous cheers along with Fr Ray Blake, in what turned out to be a rather tense, yet still exciting and joyful atmosphere, with throngs of the Faithful - tense because the Protestant Truth Society, who were numerous and well 'up for it' shouted anti-Catholic slogans and sang Protestant hymns as loud as they could. But me, oh my, they did look awfully unhappy, having to watch the the Successor of St Peter walk into 'their' Abbey! So stern and severe! It was to their dismay that a Catholic Priest was going around congratulating them on their scriptural quotes saying, "Well done! The Holy Father would agree with you there!" Poor lambs...
Needless to say Pope's supporters gave as good as they got. AC Grayling was being interviewed by the BBC and a small contingent in the crowd began shouting "AC Grayling is a poor man's Dawkins!" He turned around and laughed! Good for him, too! He had more of a sense of humour than the Ian Paisley brigade! I shouted up that he was just jealous because he could never attract a crowd this size, but I don't know if he heard. One lady walked up and down the section of the crowd defending the Pope and telling all listening that Martin Luther married a nun. As the day progressed, she began going for Luther's jugular, shouting, "Martin Luther was a German Nazi...and he married a nun!" I'd never heard the theory that, for all of Luther's theological difficultites with the One True Faith, that ultimately he was just finding celibacy too difficult...
At one point, the militant Protestant section of the crowd shouted, "Stop selling indulgences!" leading to a small core of Catholics replying, "What do we want?! A Plenary Indulgence! When do we want it? Now!" and others advertising indulgences, crying out, "Get your indulgences, get your indulgences! Buy two indulgences and get your third absolutely free!"
The Protestant protesters were a nuisance but made for a colourful afternoon. Even if 'reaching out in a spirit of ecumenism' was proving quite pointless, it added a spicy 'edge' to the afternoon and evening. Reading the press so far, including what I have read today, I have to say that this Papal Visit will, I have no doubt, go down as a storming success and could mark a real culture shift in terms of public perception of both the Pope, the Holy See and the Church. He is being allowed to speak and what he is saying is, by and large, being reported without too much spin and anti-Catholic bias and propaganda. It is a joy to hear him, see him and to see him often look so happy to be here and very often at ease and relaxed.
It is a joyful time and the Holy Father is giving so many people so much happiness by his presence! It is really down to Pope Benedict XVI, his holiness, his modest charm, his humility, courtesy, intellect and even, as Damian Thompson says, his shyness, lends him an even greater credibility. People are seeing the real Benedict! His manners are impeccable, he carries himself with the utmost dignity and exudes genuine warmth, humanity, tenderness and love. It is hard to see our country not benefitting greatly from the visit of His Holiness. May his reign be long, for our beloved Pontiff truly is a light to a darkened country in the grip of relativism and amora, lrootless, rudderless, unsatisfying atheism, but yearning for truth and for love!
As Damian Thompson has already said, this Papal Visit is not going so well for the extreme atheists like Dawkins and Fry, and the celebrity world must surely be reeling because for all of their popularity and influence they do not have the presence, authority and credibility of the Successor of St Peter. Stephen Fry and Co. must be tearing their hair out at watching the joyful crowds and the warm reception that the Holy Father is being given as well listening to his soaring intellect. This isn't just good publicity for the Church and the Pope - this is natural and spontaneous outpouring of support for Pope Benedict - as natural as the personality that emerges when the nation puts aside its prejudice and meets the man himself.
As you will read in his speeches, which you may have watched live, the Holy Father conducts himself with a quite breathtaking poise, maturity, wisdom, dignity and courtesy, extending the hand of friendship, yet never holds back from speaking up for the Truth. We love you Pope Benedict XVI! Leaving London, we were reminded of Cardinal Kasper's comments regarding the 'third world country' that is the UK. We were told the train we were on, which on the platform really stank of shit, was 'broken' and had to wait for another. One man complained to a railway attendant saying, "This is meant to be a first world country!"
The Catholic Herald is running excellent ongoing coverage of the Holy Father's speeches, which I think we shall be pouring over for quite a while! Here is his speech in Westminster Hall today...
Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.
As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ”good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.
This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.
And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements – the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.
Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.
I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.
This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.
Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!