Wednesday 1 March 2017

Pope visit: Stephen Fry and Terry Pratchett join critics of Benedict XVI's trip

Andrew Hough

Pope Benedict XVI has faced criticism over the Vatican's record on controversial issues including child abuse
Pope Benedict XVI has faced criticism over the Vatican's record on controversial issues including child abuse

Stephen Fry, Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman, have joined more than 50 academics and authors signing a public letter saying Pope Benedict XVI should not be given a state visit during his upcoming tour of Britain.

The first-ever state papal visit to Britain should not occur due to the Vatican’s record on controversial issues including child abuse, birth control, rights for homosexuals and abortion, they say.

“We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican,” they wrote.

Fry, the comedian and broadcaster and authors, Pratchett and Pullman joined other signatories including Prof Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, evolutionist, Prof AC Grayling, the philosopher and Sir Tom Blundell, the pioneering biochemist.

While the Pope was free to visit and tour Britain due to his European citizenship and being “the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK”, they said he was nonetheless a head of state that was “responsible” for several controversial decisions.

According to their letter, to The Guardian newspaper, some of those decisions included:

- Failing to adequately address the child sex abuse crisis that engulfed the Catholic church.

- Denying abortion to “the most vulnerable women”.

- Opposing equal rights to homosexuals.

- Promoting “segregated” education

- Opposing birth control schemes, such as condom distribution, to poorer nations.

The papal plane touches down on Thursday morning in the most secular country Benedict XVI has ever visited, yet he will still be met with the full pomp and ceremony of a state visit.

David Cameron has hailed the Pope’s visit as “incredibly important and historic” while acknowledging that some people will disagree with Benedict XVI’s teachings.

The Prime Minister, speaking on Wednesday about the event in detail for the first time, said the four-day visit would provide a “unique opportunity” to celebrate the good works of religious groups.

It has emerged that Mr Cameron will miss the Pope’s address to political leaders past and present at Westminster Hall on Friday, because his father’s funeral is being held that day.

When the pope touches down at Edinburgh International Airport on Thursday, he will be greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh, in a break with tradition said to illustrate the importance with which the first-ever state papal visit to Britain is being taken.

Accompanied by a retinue of diplomats, secretaries and officials from the Holy See – known as the seguito – the papal entourage will travel to Holyroodhouse Palace, Edinburgh, where the Pope will be welcomed by the Queen.

Later on Friday during his visit to London, he will attend an event to celebrate Catholic education in Twickenham. More than 3,000 children will also attend with thousands more watching online from schools across the country.

Londoners will have a chance to see the Popemobile crossing a bridge over the Thames before Benedict addresses “civil society” – politicians past and present as well as religious leaders – at Westminster Hall.

Early on Saturday morning the Pope will receive the leaders of all three main political parties for short private audiences, before celebrating Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

That evening the Pope will hold a prayer vigil in Hyde Park, which is expected to be close to its 80,000 capacity despite tight security, and will leave the capital by helicopter early the next morning for the highlight of the trip.

Only after his departure will the exact financial cost of the visit be known – estimated at around €24m in total - as well as its impact on a public that has in recent years shown dwindling interest in religion.

Telegraph.co.uk

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