From NSS Newsline

lundi 3 mai 2010
popularité : 100%

- Government’s response to NSS petition springs no surprises

- Let the Pope pay his own way, say Catholics, as events become ticket-only

- America’s National Prayer Day ruled unconstitutional

- Irish court breaks Good Friday ban on pubs

Government’s response to NSS petition springs no surprises

Those 28,000 people who signed our "Make the Pope Pay" petition — which was duly delivered to Downing Street last month — will be interested in the reply we received.

It came from Jim Murphy, the Scotland Minster who is a very enthusiastic Catholic and a great apologist for the Pope. Of course, since the petition was delivered, the Vatican and the Pope have been under severe pressure for the way they covered up a world-wide culture of child abuse. Weeks of revelations and criticism eventually penetrated the "Holy See’s" usually impervious façade and Ratzinger was forced to respond.

The Vatican’s usual tactic is to remain completely silent when caught red handed but this time that little gambit failed to work and "His Holiness" was forced to meet abuse victims on his flying visit to Malta. We are told that the Pope was "tearful" as he met the eight victims. He probably had some soot in his eye.

Mr Ratzinger’s old school chum Hans Kung has also been paying off old scores and going gleefully for the papal throat. See this latest outburst .

Mr Murphy’s reply to our petition is, of course, the official response, no doubt written through gritted teeth. But Mr Murphy has been less restrained in comments to other people and has tried his best to rubbish the NSS’s petition in other places. For what it is worth, here’s his letter :

I understand your concerns about the cost to the taxpayer of the visit. As I confirmed in the press conference formally announcing the visit on 16 March, this is a unique opportunity for the United Kingdom. The visit will bring significant benefits to the UK, principally through the strengthening of our relationship with the Holy See. Pope Benedict will visit the UK not solely as the leader of one of the world’s major religions, but also as a Head of State. The visit will incorporate both religious elements — in which the UK Government plays no role — and events in which the Government will have an important role. These events will offer valuable opportunities to continue our ongoing dialogue on a number of international issues, on which our co-operation can yield positive results. A purely pastoral visit would deny us those important opportunities.

We share with the Holy See commitments to early delivery of the Millennium Development Goals, effective assistance to enable developing countries to tackle the effects of climate change, new mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflict and encourage disarmament, mitigating the effects of HIV/Aids and providing help to those affected, particularly in the poorest countries of the world.

Thanks to this relationship with the Holy See, we have been able to secure the Pope’s endorsement of the UK’s International Immunisation Fund (IFFIm), and indeed the purchase by the Pope of the first IFFIm bond. The Pope has supported the actions of the UK Government to encourage reform of the international financial institutions, and on this matter wrote to the leaders of the major economic powers ahead of G20 and G8 meetings, putting pressure on them to consider the needs of the developing nations. The UK Government supports and encourages the Catholic Church’s proactive stance on climate change : the Vatican City was the world’s first sovereign state to announce an intention to become carbon neutral, and the church works through its extensive network on the ground in vulnerable regions to help tackle climate change.

As with any visit of this status, a proportion of the costs will fall to the UK Government. These can be divided into two categories. Policing costs will be met by the State from existing policing budgets. We cannot confirm the total size of these costs at this stage, as they will depend on an assessment of the security threat closer to the time. Non-policing costs are estimated at £15m for both pastoral and non-pastoral elements. Discussions are currently underway to firm up this estimate, and decide the appropriate level of contribution from the Government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. More detailed figures will be made public in due course.

I hope this provides some further clarification, and will prove helpful to the people who signed the National Secular Society’s petition.


Let the Pope pay his own way, say Catholics, as events become ticket-only

As news emerges that admittance to all events during the Pope’s trip to Britain in September will be by ticket only, leading Catholics are asking the Vatican to reconsider the status of the visit — to change it to a pastoral visit so as to relieve the British taxpayer of the cost — which will run into tens of millions of pounds.

The Catholic Herald newspaper has carried an editorial calling for the status of the Pope’s trip to be changed. The editor, Luke Coppen, wrote :

"This newspaper believes that a state visit will be very difficult to arrange successfully, and not just because the Foreign Office has compromised its professional standards. The event has become a political football : in the second leaders’ debate, Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg all welcomed it but expressed disagreement with Catholic teaching. Moreover, the fact that this would be the first state visit to Britain by a Pope — John Paul II made a purely pastoral visit in 1982 — means that the taxpayer will foot much of the bill. Secularists, backed by the media, can therefore complain that their money is being used to celebrate an organisation they loathe (though Catholics also pay taxes). Their plans to disrupt the occasion are already advanced.

"There is one relatively simple route out of this minefield, and that is to make the Pope’s visit a pastoral rather than a state one. After all, its main focus — the beatification of John Henry Newman — is primarily a Catholic event ; and one could argue that, by offering his pastoral guidance to an embattled Church, the Holy Father will achieve far more than by taking part in a state-funded public relations exercise. We hope it is not too late for the organisers of the visit to consider a radically different course of action better suited to these disturbing times."

But it is clear that the Church would be unable to fund the whole event. At present it has promised to contribute just under £7 million towards the cost, with the taxpayer picking up the rest. The Church says that it will take a collection in every parish in England and Wales on May 23 specifically to raise money for the Pope’s visit.

The official estimate of the total cost is £15 million, but this does not include the cost of security – which is by far the major factor. Individual police forces will be required to pick up the tab for this. To try to mitigate these costs and because of rising security fears, the Church acceded to police requests to make all the events during the papal weekend ticket-only affairs. Inevitably this will significantly reduce the numbers attending.

However, the National Secular Society said that if the Church sold the tickets rather than gave them away, it could finance the trip itself in its entirety, making it a pastoral and not a state visit.

NSS president Terry Sanderson said : "If the Church made a charge for tickets and sold merchandise at these events, it could raise enough money to defray the cost of the trip completely. It would remove some of the controversy from the visit and allow the Church to take complete control of proceedings. After all, this is a purely religious event aimed at a small section of the public. It is not appropriate for the taxpayer to fund it."

The Tablet reports that every parish in England, Wales and Scotland will receive an allocation of tickets for distribution to parishioners wishing to attend such papal events as the beatification of Cardinal Newman at Coventry Airport.

Police told the organisers that those who attended large papal Masses should be known to the Church. This will almost certainly mean that the vast crowds that usually attend these jamborees will not materialise this time.

Terry Sanderson said : "The restriction of access to events means that only practising Catholics who go to church to collect their tickets will be able to attend. That will reduce the numbers very significantly as mass attendance in the UK is falling rapidly and the number of practising Catholics is also in sharp decline."

The Tablet puts this development down to what it calls "so-called secularists" who are planning demonstrations during the visit. This is a reference to the Protest the Pope umbrella group of organisations — of which the NSS is a member — which is planning a series of events during the visit.

Vatican representatives will be coming to Britain in June to have talks about whether the Pope should meet abuse victims. It is likely — as in Malta — that if such a meeting is scheduled it will be with very carefully selected individuals and in private. Every attempt will be made to stifle any public questioning of the Pope about the scandals that have arisen all around the world.

The news of the need to ticket the papal events also raises the probability that the BBC will step into the breach to give blanket coverage of the visit allotting disproportionate amounts of unquestioning airtime. The Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson — a high-profile Catholic — has already had talks with Vatican officials in Rome about how the visit will be covered by the Corporation.


America’s National Prayer Day ruled unconstitutional

A federal district judge in the U.S. state of Wisconsin has ruled that the 1988 law creating the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

"It goes beyond mere ’acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled on 15 April, Religion News Service reports.

"In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, which filed the suit in 2008 to stop the prayer day, hailed the decision as a "sweet victory". The group’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor said : "The law is on our side. The judge had the courage to make the decision on the merits of the case and not worry about public opinion."

The White House issued a statement on 15 February on the social networking site Twitter saying : "As he did last year, President Obama intends to recognise a National Day of Prayer." In 2009, Obama issued a proclamation but did not host the traditional White House observance that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had held while he was president.

The American Center for Justice, which filed a brief in the case supporting the law on behalf of 31 members of Congress, called the decision "flawed" and predicted it could end up before the Supreme Court. "It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honoured tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," said chief legal adviser Jay Sekulow.

Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said following the ruling : "This decision is a tremendous victory for religious liberty. Congress has no business telling Americans when or how to pray. The Constitution forbids the government to meddle in religious matters. Decisions about worship should be made by individuals without direction from elected officials. That’s what freedom is all about."

The law creating the national observance dates to 1952 and was made more specific in 1988, calling for it to be marked annually on the first Thursday in May. The judge said the ban will not come into effect until all appeals procedures have been exhausted.


Irish court breaks Good Friday ban on pubs

As a demonstration of how the Catholic Church is finding it difficult to maintain the stranglehold it once had on Ireland, a Limerick judge ruled last week that the city’s 110 pubs can open on 2 April because the city is hosting a major Irish rugby match attracting tens of thousands of visitors.

It is the first time in the history of the Irish Republic that pubs anywhere in the country have opened on Good Friday.

It has been suggested that the judgment represents a watershed in the shifting relations between church and state in this rapidly secularising land.

"This could be the beginning of the end of Good Friday, because now legislation will have to be changed," said a jubilant David Hickey, one of the Limerick pub owners who successfully sued the state for the right to do business like any other Friday. "The option should be given to let publicans open if they want to and close if they want to. Today was a huge decision in that direction."

His side argued that keeping pubs shut for the match between hometown favourites Munster and Dublin-based rivals Leinster would represent an economic sin in Limerick, a city suffering from exceptionally high unemployment following the shock closure of its major employer, a Dell Computers plant. Accountants testified that keeping the bars closed could cost the city an estimated 3 million euros in lost income.

District Court Judge Tom O’Donnell agreed, ruling that it also would encourage the estimated 26,000 rugby fans attending to disperse peacefully and rapidly after the match – straight into the watering holes of Limerick.

The Rev. Tony Mullins, administrator of the Limerick Diocese, said the judge’s decision reflected "a changing society, where religious beliefs and the practice of one’s faith is becoming more a matter for the individual."

He appealed to the Catholic faithful among locals and rugby tourists alike to choose to attend afternoon Masses in the city and avoid the drinking dens. "The challenge in this new emerging Ireland is for Catholics to give even stronger witness to their faith and belief," he said.


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