February 8, 2010
Secularists will want to portray Catholics as closed-minded oddballs obsessing about sex, but the truth is rather different
“Why should British taxpayers pick up the bill for the Pope’s visit?” an indignant radio presenter asked me live on air last week.
After the media storm whipped up over Pope Benedict XVI’s criticism of the Government’s equality legislation, there appears to be a growing hostility to his visit to Britain later this year.
However, in answer to the earlier question I think there are some compelling reasons why people in Britain should look forward to this historic event.
Firstly, this is a visit from a head of state whom Britain benefits from having good relations with. Quietly, in recent years, Britain and the Vatican have worked together to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which aim to eradicate extreme poverty, combat aids and protect the environment. Recently, Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, writing in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, explained that, “the Catholic Church… has been a crucial partner to the international community in helping to achieve the MDGs.”
People can easily forget that the Catholic faith has around a billion followers and it has embassies all over the world. Therefore the papal visit, only the second ever made by a pontiff to this county, is a boost to Britain’s foreign policy. And just for the record, while the taxpayer will be paying for a large part of the visit, the Catholic Church in this country is donating a sizeable chunk.
Second, the Pope’s visit is not only for Catholics. He’s the most prominent Christian leader in the world and won’t just be addressing his own followers – as if they were part of a sect – when he speaks.
His desire is to address, in the words of the seminal Second Vatican Council text, Gaudium et Spes, “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.”
One area where he has something important to say is on the economy. The Pope’s most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, was a subtle critique of unfettered capitalism. In the light of the British economy’s travails his message that support should be given to “economic initiatives which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic…of profit as an end in itself,” seems like an apt one.