Pope Benedict XVI begins his trip to Britain today. Media coverage in the run-up to the visit as well as this first day has spent considerable time talking about protests. For example, the Reuters article on the first day spent 27% of the article discussing the protests (I did word counts). But do the protestors and the secular organizations organizing them really deserve this much coverage? Police reports from the first day indicated that 125,000 people came out to greet the pope, and among them were around 150 protestors with gay pride flags and banners of various kinds. Do .12% of those in attendance deserve more than a fourth of the copy in the media stories? In a short news article, do 150 blokes out of 125,000 deserve even one line of copy if the intent of the story is to give an accurate snapshot of the day? Do headlines like “Pageantry and Controversy on Pope’s First Day” give an accurate snapshot of what is really happening?
Another story anticipated what it called the biggest protests of the visit, which are organized for Saturday. But those protests are only expected to have about 2,000 people. That’s it? Keep in mind that between 50,000 and 100,000 are expected for the beautification of Cardinal Newman on Sunday, and estimates are that 400,000 will attend the three big events (two papal Masses and a vigil in Hyde Park). And demand is far outstripping space for those events. Not bad for a country with only 700,000 Catholics!
Bottom line: while I would grant that Britain is the most secular country in Europe, it is only because so many in the media have drunk the Dawkins/New Atheist kool-aid that they think these protests are the story of the visit. That, and I suppose it is just easier to recycle controversy than it is to actually engage with a serious conversation about the fate of the West (which is what Benedict will spend a large part of his time speaking about).
In fact, I think Benedict pretty well nailed much of the new atheist discontent the other day, when he remarked that “It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” And really, it does not take much investigation to see who the kooky fanatical ones are in these debates. Just listen to some of the things the new atheists spew about Catholics and the Pope. Again, it is this distinction between a mature and wide-ranging debate and merely angry and uninformed diatribes (and the all too frequent tendency of new atheists to do only the latter) that was the occasion of me quitting the SHAFT blog.
I hope Britons listen to this man, who is not only a holy man but is also surely one of the greatest intellects alive today. He has much to teach them. For this to happen, I hope the media constrains their protest fetish just a bit in order to actually report what Benedict says. The soul of Europe and the West is at stake. George Weigel discusses some of what they may hear and hopefully learn here.
Here is an onslaught of articles on the papal visit.
This article anticipates Benedict’s scheduled address in Westminster Hall (yes, the very place where Thomas More was condemned). Benedict is expected to talk about faith and reason, freedom of religion, and the positive contributions of Christianity to culture. (Aside: if you have not seen A Man for All Seasons (1966), then netflix it straight-away. Beautifully done film, winner of 6 Academy Awards. And a nice biopic introduction to Christian Humanism).
The full text of the Pope’s in-flight press conference has already been translated. He spoke on a range of issues, including the sex abuse scandal (expressing his shock at the extent of the abuse and acknowledging that the Church was “not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick and decisive to take the necessary measures” to stem the crisis and that those abusive priests have a “disease” and that “free will does not work where there is disease” (this might be seek as a rebuke of past ways of thinking about and handling the issue which were often naive). In answer to a question about what the Church could do to make itself more attractive, Benedict replied, “I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path.” Many Catholic parishes and other religious groups need to pause and reflect on that statement.
I do not think that our USU Newman Club has any particular plans for the beautification on Sunday of Cardinal Newman. Perhaps something special will be done at the Newman Center student Mass (held Sundays at the Newman Center, 6pm). I may offer to give a lecture on Newman this year in honor of him. The Idea of a University is a must read for anyone serious about liberal education.
As expected, the threat of the “dictatorship of relativism” is already a central theme for the Pope. In his conversation with the Queen he warned of “aggressive forms of secularism” that see no place for religion in the public square. He also spoke of the “reductive vision of the person” that comes from excluding God and the transcendent (Amen, Holy Father!).
He was even more pointed in his criticisms of secular / pomo culture at the Mass in Glasgow: “The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a dictatorship of relativism threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny, and his ultimate good.” (Benedict first coined the phrase “dictatorship of relativism” back in 2005, remarking that “we are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”)