The Pope Debate

A local priest and a spokesman for a Catholic group of speakers set up explicitly for the papal visit outline their attitudes to some controversial issues that have been raised surrounding the visit to the UK by Benedict XVI this week.
Broadcast at 08:55 on Wednesday 15th September 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Paul Stainton asks the questions.

PS: Thousands of worshippers are expected to turn out for Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK tomorrow. However there’s been some controversy surrounding the trip. Should he be here? Should we be paying for the trip? Do we agree with his stance on birth controls, stem cell research, what about all the child abuse scandals? There’s a letter in the Guardian this morning. Steven Fry and a host of others have written a letter to the Guardian saying he shouldn’t be coming, we shouldn’t be welcoming him. Let’s get into it, and find out what we think here in Peterborough. Joining me now, Father David Jennings from the St Peter and All Souls Church on Geneva Street. Morning.
FDJ: Good morning to you.
PS: And Simon Bryden-Brook from Catholic Voices for Reform is with us as well. Morning Simon.
SBB: Good morning.
PS: Father David first of all, before we get into this, compassion for George Michael this morning. Surely you’re joining our campaign, aren’t you?
FDJ: I’m waiting. (LAUGHS)
PS: Even Father David can’t feel it within his soul.
FDJ: Four weeks might do him good.
PS: Some new songs perhaps, yes. But in all seriousness, this is a major trip, which is costing the taxpayer here a lot of money. It’s a full state visit, between ten and twelve million pounds it’s costing. And a lot of people unhappy that he’s coming, because of all the things I’ve just mentioned. What do you say to those people this morning? What do you say to Steven Fry, and the people who have signed this letter?
FDJ: I think we’ve got to seperate two things. The fact that her Majesty’s Government has invited the Pope as a head of state to come on a visit, we should honour and respect that. I think the second issue is there are a number of issues which have to be addressed, and I think there should be an opportunity at some point, perhaps not now, but at some point, to address the issues and concerns of people over some of the issues that you’ve raised there.
PS: Simon? What’s your stance on this visit?
SBB: Well, I agree that, as Father David is saying, there are isues that need to be faced in the Catholic Church. But I would go much wider and far beyond the ones that you have raised. I think in public perception, most people in this country feel that the Pope represents some rather medieval views. I mean, we don’t .. he doesn’t agree apparently with stoning adulterous women, or that gay men should be executed, or that gypsies should be discriminated against, but he does appear to believe that women are not created fully in the image of God, and so can’t preside at mass. He also believes that gay people should be discriminated against, because they’re created by God perverted, or intrinsically disordered. This sort of view seems to most people, and many Catholics, in my view completely and utterly medieval and unacceptable in the third millennium.
PS: Father David, is he a medieval Pope?
FDJ: I don’t think so. I think he has to live the gospel of truth as he sees it, and sometimes that might be unpopular, especially in a very modern society. I think sometimes what we say doesn’t get always conveyed exactly as it’s meant, and sometimes we use words which have particular meanings which can be clearly misunderstood.
PS: I was watching a Peter Tatchell documentary this week where he quoted from the Pope, when he said that condom use supports the spread of HIV. And those were the Pope’s words. How can that be in a caring sharing society? And they featured a lady in the Phillipines working on a rubbish dump for four dollars a day, with ten children, scared witless that they couldn’t use birth control because the Bishop said it was evil. Are we not a caring sharing Pope, and a compassionate Pope?
FDJ: I think we are a caring, sharing Church, with a caring, sharing Pope, who has to teach the doctrines of the Church. Now I think it’s about that compassion, that element, isn’t it, that often we don’t perceive.
PS: Can the Pope though not interpret those doctrines? He doesn’t have to stick to the doctrines that have been laid down. He could be a reformist Pope, couldn’t he?
FDJ: I think he has to. But the Church always teaches what it believes to be revealed by God, doesn’t it? And that comes with Scripture, through teaching, through a lived experience. the three of them all mirror each other. And when they don’t, then there’s something at odds. Simon was mentioning about women not being equal. The Church has never said that women are not equal. But they have different functions. And in the history of the Church, for example the ordination of women, has never been part of the Church’s understanding of it’s mission. It doesn’t mean women don’t have a high place in the life and mission of the Church. Come to my parish. Women play a very important role in the life of my parish. They are certainly not unequal and lesser. That’s just not true at all.
PS: Yes. Simon, is he out of step, the Pope, with the society that we are today?
SBB: Yes. I would say so. And I would make this point. Although he attacks secularism, which he sees as forces within modern society, Western society, which undermine the Gospel, in actual fact I believe that it is the secular values of the human person, human rights, which need to be respected by the Roman Catholic Church today. And can I make a second point? And that is that our present Pope seems to believe, and allows other people to continue to believe, that he can’t make any mistakes, that Papal infallibility means that the Pope is always right. I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe it’s the teaching of the Catholic Church or ever has been.
FDJ: But you and I know that the Pope only speaks infallibly on matters of faith and morals. So I think that’s a very wide statement, and not true.
SBB: Father if you’d watched Peter Tatchell’s programme you would have seen that there are millions of uneducated Catholics who believe that everything that the Pope says is always right.
FDJ: Well that might be true, but that’s about education, isn’t it?
SBB: It is.
FDJ: It’s not about keeping people in the dark. It’s about educating people.
SBB: But the Pope being a little bit more responsible, a little bit more honest in my view.
FDJ: But the Pope is a man of eighty three. You know, he’s come through different experience in his life, and his own experiences. He’s gone through a liberal phase. we’ve seen it as part of his history. And in a sense he’s reacted to that, but not in a way which rejects it, but a way that actually tries to measure his view of liberalism, that actually can threaten and undermine human value. It’s a way of seeing things, rather than .. it’s the way you approach things, isn’t it?
PS: Are you disappointed though, that he’s not been a more liberal Pope, that he’s not relaxed stem cell research, relaxed contraception, investigated the child abuse claims a little bit more deeply? And there’s one Bishop, isn’t there, who’s a holocaust denier, that he’s kept within the Church. All these issues, don’t they undermine the Pope?
FDJ: I think there are always going to be individuals whose views might well range from one extreme to another. And I suppose the role of the Pope is in a sense to bring them all to task, and say look, this is what the Church believes. You might hold that view, but that’s not consistent with the teaching of the Church. He is a conservative, small c, conservative Pope. And he’s not a John Paul the Second.
PS: Which shows by the ticket sales. (LAUGHTER)
FDJ: Well it shows by a number of things. One that it’s a state visit, and the security is high. They want to protect him, and nobody wants anything to happen to the Pope. We call ourselves a tolerant society, and I think we’ve got to allow people with different views and different opinions to be as welcome as those with opinions that we ourselves hold. And I think he’s invited here because the Government is seeing him, a man of intense integrity, and who speaks a large voice to the world. And perhaps in England we don’t undertand that fully, but he has a sphere of influence which can be for the good. For example Gordon Brown’s visit to him about the reduction of poverty, are powerful motives in the world and the Pope would speak eloquently with Gordon Brown, and that’s why the invitation I suspect came. So it’s a recognition of his role in the world. That he’s also a religious figure, well it’s all to do with that Lateran Treaty, and all that sort of thing. But he’s come to do both, and I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would welcome him. As a priest of the Catholic Church, of course he’s our Leader in the Faith, and we would want to do all that we can to make his visit here as positive a one as possible.
PS: We could talk about this all day. It’s a fascinating discussion.
SBB: Well I shall certainly be listening to what he has to say. But I’m bound to say I wish that David were our Pope, rather than the present Professor of Theology.
PS: (LAUGHS) It’s Simon Bryden-Brook from Catholic Voices for Reform, and Father David Jennings, who almost spat his coffee on his lap. Almost. Welcome anytime. Thank you gentlemen.