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Malcolm Tucker would have been proud. Jesus would not.

[ The supplement is not available online, but this article has been reproduced here in full with the Sunday Herald's permission.]

That was quite a performance by Pope Benedict. Geoffrey Robertson’s new book, The Case Of The Pope, may have shown that the Vatican does not meet the objective criteria of a state and that Joseph Ratzinger is therefore not really the head of one – but that didn’t stop him displaying an almost Machiavellian mastery of political dirty tricks.

It was no secret before his visit that the Vatican and the UK Government were desperate to prevent the protests about child rape cover-ups from overshadowing the papal vist. How better than to heap abuse upon the protestors, and to claim that attitudes like theirs had been responsible for the worst atrocities in 20th century history? The Pope duly delivered: "As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society ..."

How he must have hoped demonstrators would be stung into silence on the subject of child rape and his own role in covering it up, and would be deflected into far less damaging protests about the calumny he had poured on them. Malcolm Tucker, The Thick Of It’s conniving spin-doctor, would be proud of you, Your Holiness. Jesus, on the other hand, would not.

The Jesus you purport to follow – the Jesus who warned against trying to serve the two masters of God and mammon; the Jesus who said “but whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea”; the Jesus who, according to the story you re-enacted in your Bellahouston Park Mass, not only did not wriggle and squirm and deflect in a cowardly effort to save his own skin but actively sacrificed it on behalf of others – would want nothing to do with you.

Ratzinger’s antics on Thursday, together with the fawning response of the British establishment (special mention to the BBC, which surpassed itself in nauseating sycophancy), provided the perfect illustration of why it is religious, not secular, power that poses the real threat to the “authentic liberty and respect” the Pope referred to in his homily.

“Authentic”, in Ratzinger’s mouth, acquires a taint, a nasty aftertaste of divisiveness and exclusion, as in his reference to “authentic human rights” at Holyrood Palace earlier in the day.

It’s Ratzspeak for "not the kind of human rights you secularists espouse; not the kind of rights that apply to all humans, regardless of whether they are male or female, gay or straight, religious or non-religious, rich or poor, sick or well, and accord them equal respect and equal freedom to self-determination within the confines of the law”. Ratzinger’s “authentic human rights” do not extend to women who wish to control their fertility or become priests, or to gays who wish to have their relationships given equal status in law, or to millions of Africans who wish to protect themselves and their partners from the real risk of Aids.

Not for Ratzinger the “inauthentic” human rights that would see children raised in a loving same-sex family rather than in the barren and institutionalised setting of a children’s home; not for him, either, the “inauthentic” human rights that would permit stem cell research, which could release future generations from the scourge of debilitating and dehumanising diseases, and certainly not for him the “inauthentic” human rights that would allow the terminally ill to choose – if such were their wish – a dignified release from agony and helplessness. No, Ratzinger’s “authentic human rights” mean no rights at all, unless the body and sexuality you were born with and your choices in life happen to coincide with what he calls “absolute morality”: which in this case means simply the values of a tribe of Bronze Age desert camel drovers.

This is the danger when religion wields power in the real world, for religion prizes obedience to dogma above justice and equality for real human beings. It is worth bearing this in mind when Popes compare atheists to Nazis while demanding greater religious influence on public policy.

For religion it is a virtue to subjugate earthly, human concerns to “spiritual” and doctrinal ones. For religion the only world that truly matters is the one we enter after we die. This world, and this life, are important only as preparation for the “authentic” life to come. It follows, to the religious, that our primary preoccupation should be obedience to whatever dogma our religion tells us is required in order to gain entry to that other, better life – no matter what the cost, to ourselves or to others, in this one.

When people are persuaded that real human suffering counts for less than the religious concepts of sin and purity, then greater human suffering is the inevitable result.

This is precisely what has defined the Vatican’s response to the child sex abuse scandals The moment we grasp that Vatican law is not interested in the earthly concept of crime, but is concerned solely with the religious concept of sin, all the pieces of this bizarre and disgraceful puzzle immediately fall into place: the focus on saving the rapist priests rather than caring for their child victims; the insistence – repeated by the Pope recently – that penance is punishment enough and that the solution lies, not in prosecution and imprisonment, but in prayer, fasting and religious retreats; the criminal naivety of putting “penitent” paedophiles into other parishes – often many times over – where they abused and molested and raped and destroyed children’s lives, again and again and again.

And all this under the leadership and direction of the man now being feted by our queen, our politicians and our media. The man who, according to a spokesman for the Roman Catholic church, is here to “dispense moral guidance”. The man who presumes to exploit his guest status in our country to claim that it is secularism that leads to injustice and suffering.

This is not moral guidance, Herr Ratzinger. This is moral sabotage.



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