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Papal aggression

Pope Benedict's view on equality and dissent will cause shock and outrage ahead of his visit

Just when it seemed that Roman Catholicism was a normal and natural part of the English religious scene, Pope Benedict has to come out with a statement that raises every residual Protestant hackle in the country. Authoritarian, tactless, and without the muscle to back it up, he says that

"In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate."

This sounds exactly like the papacy of Ian Paisley's darkest imaginings, totalitarian in its ambitions and utterly dismissive of disagreement. "It is the truth revealed through scripture and tradition and articulated by the church's magisterium that sets us free." writes Benedict. Presumably the other things that anyone else might mistake for truth, whether they are Anglicans, Muslims, or post-Christian simply bind us in error.

It is difficult to think of anything which could more effectively enrage and energise the opponents of his visit. English atheism descends very clearly from protestantism, and tends to regard Catholicism as the purest and most evil religion. Its noisiest current spokesman, Richard Dawkins, once said in Dublin that "Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place."

But at the same time, the Pope's remarks are clearly prompted in part by a sense that the secularist forces are mounting an aggressive campaign that the Catholic church must resist, as last week's battles over the equality bill in the House of Lords made clear.
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