Pope Benedict XVI heads to the UK amid protests

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Benedict XVI travelling (USA, 2008)
Image: Shealah Craighead / White House.

The Roman Catholic Pontiff is visiting the United Kingdom for the first time since 1982, when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was in Britain. The Catholic Church has been preparing an official visit of Benedict XVI for some time, with the visit starting tomorrow. The initial plans were made last September; the visit was only announced on March 16, 2010 when it was officially confirmed by the Vatican. The tour extends through Sunday, and includes stops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Birmingham, at the latter of which the Pope is going to celebrate the Beatification of Cardinal Newman.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by Sir John Everett Millais

When Pope Benedict departs from Rome Ciampino Airport at 8:10 am, he will first head to Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, to meet Queen Elizabeth. After he has presided over several celebrations in Scotland, including an open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park, he will fly to London.

On Friday and Saturday the papal delegation and its leader will remain in the British capital to meet several religious authorities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, leader of the Church of England. Furthermore Benedict XVI will receive courtesy calls from Prime Minister David Cameron as well as the leader of the Opposition Harriet Harman and other political and institutional personalities.

On the last day, Sunday, the Pope will travel by helicopter to Cofton Park, Birmingham, for the Beatification of Cardinal Newman (1801–1890), a priest in the Church of England who converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Newman was defined as "man of conscience" by the Pope in his speech for the centenary of Newman’s death, in 1990.

The first recent source of conflict between British policies and Vatican positions emerged in February in the form of the Equality Bill, aimed at preventing discrimination against heterosexual, homosexual, and transsexual people.

Richard Dawkins
Image: Marty Stone.

In the same period, the National Secular Society launched an online petition called "Make the Pope Pay". At the deadline of the petition, June 6th, 2010, it counted 12,340 signatures.

On April 11th Richard Dawkins, with Christopher Hitchens's support, interviewed by The Sunday Times, said that they were trying to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope – on the occasion of his visit to UK – over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

David Miliband, Foreign Secretary until May 11th, 2010
Image: Shelley and Alan Heckman.

A further incident happened at the end of April 2010 when a British Foreign Office internal memo (attached to an official document which listed brainstormed ideas for the Pope's tour) suggested many sarcastic ideas for Benedict XVI. This included launching a condom brand marked "Benedict", or, during his visit in UK, inaugurating an abortion clinic, blessing a homosexual couple, or ordaining women as priests. The Ministry immediately apologized and explained that the document was only brainstorming that didn't represent the political positions of the Foreign Office. The Vatican answered via Benedict XVI's spokesman the Rev. F. Lombardi who said "[a]s far as the Vatican is concerned, the case is closed. There never was the slightest doubt about the trip."

In the United Kingdom in July, many of the people opposing the Pope's State visit gathered thanks to a new web site named Protest The Pope, which intends to organize protests against the visit. The events suggested and organized by the site include marches, protests, and cultural events.

Protest The Pope plans the biggest march for Saturday in London, when the Catholic Pontiff will stay in the capital for his tour. The march will start at 1:30 pm from Hyde Park (Piccadilly side) toward Piccadilly Circus, then to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Downing Street.

The British Government is expected to spend for public safety and public policy in general more than £12 million (14 million). £1.5 million (€2.2 million) alone is for the evening at Hyde Park.