Catholics humiliated at debate
popularity : 18%
It was an uneven match from the beginning. The proposition in the Intelligence Squared debate was "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world." Opposing it were Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. Supporting it were Ann Widdecombe and the Archbishop Onaiyekan of Abuja in Nigeria. 2,500 people gathered at Westminster Central Hall for a jousting contest that turned into a massacre.
Needless to say, Hitchens and Fry trampled their opponents into the ground with ease. Ann Widdecombe put up a brave struggle but eventually had to resort to preaching and appeals to superstition to support her arguments. The Archbishop looked dazed and bewildered to be subjected — sometimes personally — to such a ferocious attack. It is clear that he is not accustomed to such treatment and nor was he prepared for such a vitriolic attack.
Naturally all the Vatican’s many failings were tabulated – the child abuse, the ban on condoms, the condemnation of homosexuals, the mistreatment of women. "Oh dear," wailed Ann Widdecombe, "I wondered how long it would be before condoms were trotted out."
To which Stephen Fry retorted: "That’s rather like a burglar going to court and moaning that the judge would have to bring up the irrelevant matter of a burglary."
Christopher Hitchens came to the defence of Stephen Fry’s sexuality by telling the Archbishop: "I would be happy for Stephen to babysit my kids, any day. But if a man with a dog-collar arrived at the door to do the job, I’d first call a taxi and then call the police."
When the Chair of the debate, Zeinab Badawi, asked the Archbishop what Jesus had said about homosexuality, the prelate blushed and muttered: "That’s the wrong question..."
Unfortunately, this indicates that there wasn’t really a debate at all. It was a simple rout. Or, as P.Z. Myers put it: "Ah, fish in a barrel, defended from a pair of professional big game hunters and explosives experts by a pair of ditherers. That’s entertainment!"
The two sides were certainly ill-matched, but I don’t think the Catholic Church could have produced anybody who would have withstood the elegance and articulacy of these to secularist assassins. Especially as there is no satisfactory answer that any Catholic can produce to the myriad accusations that were paraded before us.
The debate was filmed and will be shown on BBC World on 7 and 8 November.