From NSS Newsline - 26 february 2010

Thursday 4 March 2010
popularity : 100%

- How the Pope intends to spend (a lot of) your money
- NSS "Make the Pope Pay" petition to be delivered to Downing Street next week
- Vatican gets huge donations from struggling Irish businessmen (but not towards Pope’s trip to Britain)
- Philippine Catholics try to get secularist health minister sacked for trying to stop spread of AIDS
- An interesting week for secularism

JPEG - 2.3 kb How the Pope intends to spend (a lot of) your money

More information is emerging about the Pope’s trip the UK in September. Apparently Vatican officials travelled to Britain last week to stake out the territory.

The visit will begin in Scotland on Thursday 16 September with a Mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow. This is the same venue as the one used by the previous Pope in 1982. Ratzinger will meet the Queen at Holyrood, possibly with a reception or garden party. Friday 17 September will see the Pope visit his former best friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. (The Archbishop should, perhaps, watch out for the Pope measuring up for curtains in anticipation of his own future occupation of the desirable riverside residence).

Herr Ratzinger will then — for some reason — address parliament in Westminster Hall and partake in an "ecumenical prayer service" in Westminster Abbey. (His Holiness does not, of course, really believe in ecumenism. He has already told every other Christian denomination in the world that they are "defective" or inauthentic and only he has genuine access to the magic hotline).

The next day will see a Mass at Westminster Cathedral and a "prayer vigil" – possibly at Wembley Stadium. The final day, Sunday, will be taken up with the "beatification" of Cardinal Newman, whose well-known homosexuality is unlikely to be part of Herr Ratzinger’s celebration.

This is designated a "state visit", although it is difficult to know what "state business" will be conducted amidst the whirl of church services and prayer vigils. So why is the taxpayer expected to fork out for this religious orgy?

Meanwhile, the Tablet reports that a "discreet fundraising campaign has begun" to help Herr Ratzinger with his incidental expenses. The magazine says:

Potential donors are being approached by the Church to help fund the visit, anticipated to cost about £20 million, with the Church expected to pay around a quarter of that amount.

Ben Andradi, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference fund raising committee, said: ’We are in discussions about the fund-raising and how it should be done. We are fortunate to benefit from a group of loyal donors who give discreetly as they believe in the mission of the Church in this country.’

While Catholics will have to pay a significant share of the costs of the visit, it is believed the Government will fund a large part, such as the cost of security, as it is a state visit. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the Government is expecting to fund an amount ’usual in state visits’.

The Church will be anxious not to repeat the heavy debts incurred by Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982. The large open-air mass at Coventry airport cost £1M but only £26,000 was raised in collections at the Mass and parishes had to make up the shortfall. See also: Pope invited to bite the hand that feeds him on visit


NSS "Make the Pope Pay" petition to be delivered to Downing Street next week

The NSS’s 25,000 signature petition objecting to the state-funding of the Pope’s visit to Britain will be delivered to Number 10 Downing Street by a delegation of supporters. The petition will be delivered at 2pm on 4 March.

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign the new petition on the Number 10 website objecting to the state visit of Ratzinger to this country; it will only take a moment and will eventually elicit a response from the Prime Minister. Although we don’t have to wait that long, as Mr Brown made clear to a press briefing at Downing Street this week that he is "greatly looking forward" to the visit.


Vatican gets huge donations from struggling Irish businessmen (but not towards Pope’s trip to Britain)

Irish builders and bankers who have reigned over a catastrophic virtual collapse in the country’s economy donated nearly €9m to the Vatican last year. Among those named as donors were property developers whose loans have been taken over by the state-run National Assets Management Agency (NAMA). Property developers Derek Quinlan, Treasury Holdings’ Johnny Ronan, Ballymore Properties’ Sean Mulryan and Paddy McKillen, one of the so called "Anglo 10" all made significant donations.

The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums published recently reveals that these troubled property developers provided ’financial support’ for the restoration of the historic Pauline Chapel in the Vatican Museum.

Fellow donors included former Anglo Irish bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick and the controversial former boss of Irish Nationwide Michael Fingleton. Other donors included Digicel owner Denis O’Brien and William Bollinger, the Irish co-founder of the €3bn Egerton Capital Hedge Fund.

The donors were given special medallions after a private mass in the Pauline chapel, celebrated by Cardinal Lajolo last July. Solid gold ’Michelangelo’’ medallions were given to donors who had given more than $1m, with silver ’Raphael’ medallions for donors of $500,000 plus. ’Bramante’ medals were presented to donors of $250,000 or more. A marble plaque listing the names of all 26 donors, including the Irish builders and bankers, was unveiled in the chapel.

No mention was made about what medals would be awarded to the Irish taxpayers who have had to bail out all the businesses in which these people were involved over the past year.


Philippine Catholics try to get secularist health minister sacked for trying to stop spread of AIDS

The "non-political" Catholic Church is agitating to get the Health Secretary of the Philippines, Esperanza Cabral, sacked because she authorised the distribution of condoms on Valentine’s Day in the fight against Aids.

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said on the Church-run Radio Veritas: "It is immoral for a government official to support the distribution of condoms which we know do not really reduce or stop the spread of HIV-AIDS."

Another bishop, Dinualdo Gutierrez, joined the attack when he said Cabral should not remain as health secretary. Gutierrez said Cabral was not a good Catholic — if she was one in the first place — if she backs the distribution of the prophylactics.

Ms Cabral responded by saying that the Catholic Church can be "vicious" at times, but she intended to continue defying it. "Of course, I am afraid of the Church. They are very powerful and they can sometimes be very vicious. I’m not exactly one who likes to live dangerously," Cabral told a local TV station. However, she said that she’d rather live dangerously than do nothing against the very alarming rise in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed a total of 4,424 HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to December 2009. The highest number was recorded in 2009 with a total of 835 cases. "At the rate we are going, in 3 years, we are going to have more than 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines," the health secretary said.

For her efforts, one of the bishops said she already had one foot in hell for "going against the teachings of the Church". But Cabral said that the distribution of condoms is actually the DOH’s last resort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. She commented: "We are not a religious state like Iran. We are a secular state where there is separation of Church and State. While it is very important for us to find out what the Catholic bishops think, to cooperate with them in areas where we can be cooperating, the government is the government and must do what it thinks is right for everybody."

She added that "not everybody in the Philippines belongs to one church," and that the DOH was "always willing to discuss and negotiate" the matter with Catholic Church officials.


An interesting week for secularism Editorial by Terry Sanderson

This week has been an interesting one for secularism in Britain. It began with the announcement by the Government that it intended to amend — at the behest of the Catholic Church — its Children’s, Schools and Families Bill provisions on mandatory sex and relationship education in all schools. After whingeing from the Catholic Education Society, Mr Balls gave an opt-out for "faith schools" to teach sex education in conformity with the teachings of the faith. He insisted that it would not compromise the Bill in any way. But he did not adequately explain why, if that was the case, the amendment was necessary in the first place. (See also this interesting video on YouTube on what it will mean in practice).

Mr Balls received a massive kicking for watering down the requirements – not least from the NSS, which was on the front line of attack for this further disgraceful concession to the "faith communities". (You can read all about it by following the links in the "NSS Speaks Out" feature below.)

No sooner had this gift been given to the Catholic Church, than the Government’s (zealously Catholic) Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, gave a speech in Westminster opining that religion has a big part to play in politics and that the Labour Party should court the "faith vote". It wasn’t clear what exactly he wanted the party to do, beyond an embrace of "family values" (a concept that takes on a sinisterly authoritarian shade in a Catholic context), but presumably appealing to religious voters means giving them something in exchange for their vote.

What Mr Murphy forgot to mention – or perhaps is unaware of – is that there is no such thing as a "faith vote" any more. It went the way of the Dodo and is now extinct, if it ever existed.

How do I know this? Well, the latest ComRes poll for the Theos think tank (sponsored by the Bible Society) tells me so. Disregarding the foolish spin Theos puts on the poll, let’s look at some of the interesting details.

When the 1,085 respondents were asked to say what religion they belonged to, 674 claimed to be Christians. Of the 674 claimed Christians, only 127 (less than 12% of the population) thought that their beliefs were more than "a little or "some" importance. (Almost 27% of the respondents were honest enough to say that they had no religion.)

This does not augur very well for religious claims that people vote according to the teachings of their religion. Neither does the result of the British Social Attitudes Survey published last month which showed that when asked about religious leaders trying to influence how people vote in an election, 75% said that they shouldn’t, while 67% think religious leaders should stay out of Government decision-making. When asked the question: If many of our elected officials were deeply religious, do you think that the laws and policy decisions they make would probably be better or probably be worse? Nearly half of respondents thought they would be worse, whereas only 26% thought they would be better.

A Yougov poll carried out for Catholics for Choice showed that only around a quarter of self-defined Catholics in this country support the teachings on abortion propounded by the Church of which they are titular members. And the proportion for homosexuality is likely to be far less and for contraception even less than that.

All this seems to point to the direct opposite of what Mr Murphy has been preaching.

But that did not stop the bellowing Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh (and Scotland’s only cardinal) berating Mr Murphy the very same day for being part of a Labour Government that had failed to do what the Church had ordered and retard progressive legislation. O’Brien said that the UK government had undertaken a "systematic and unrelenting attack on family values".

He said: "When introducing legislation to permit experimentation on and destruction of human embryos, objections of the church and other faiths were ignored. When introducing legislation to permit civil partnerships and same-sex adoption, the objections of the church and other faiths were ignored. In refusing to tackle the soaring toll of abortions, the views of the church and other faiths were ignored."

But who is out of step with the will of the people here – the Labour Party or Keith O’Brien?

It is surely time for our politicians to come to terms with the fact that the churches do not wield the power that they claim and nor do they, in the main, represent the people they claim to represent.

It is time for the secularists in the Labour Party to stand up and make their voices heard more clearly. Instead of allowing the Churches to cow them into compliance on important legislation, they should tell them to take their teachings back to the churches where they belong.

The whole "faith vote" was widely discussed as the Tories claimed to be the Christian party. The chief proponent of this idea is Tim Montgomerie, who wrote in the Guardian

Although the "faith vote" is relatively small in Britain and motivated by many different factors, it still matters. It is an energised voting bloc that takes democracy seriously. The "internet age" also means that it can be targeted in a way that wasn’t true in the "broadcast age". Wise political parties will set up websites that advertise their policies on faith schools, international aid and freedom of religion. In marginal seats, organised faith communities may make the difference."

NSS honorary associate Johann Hari countered with this denunciation of the influence of evangelical religion in the Tory Party:

As the Conservative Party has shed its mass membership — like every other party — even a relatively small number of people with a determined agenda can become dominant. So evangelicals have been signing up as Cameron’s Militant Tendency. Where the Tories have held open primaries to select its candidates, they pack the meetings to secure one of their own. Candidates are increasingly frightened to take on their agenda. A Conservative Home poll of candidates selected to fight marginal seats for the Party found that large majorities want to curtail a woman’s right to choose an abortion, and say it’s OK to discriminate against gay couples who want to provide a home for an orphan.

For further debate on the topic of religious vote-gathering see: Faith leaders in Scotland gang up on Labour Pope could give Labour hell, says cardinal Nero chasing the Christian vote The mythical Muslim vote Multi-racial Britain won’t vote Tory



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