By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, AUG. 29, 2010 (Zenit.org).- As the date for Benedict XVI’s mid-September trip to Scotland and England draws closer, the anti-religious hostility is becoming more intense.
Peter Tatchell, a well-known critic of the Catholic Church, penned an opinion article published Aug. 13 in the Independent newspaper. “Most Catholics oppose many of his teachings,” he claimed in regard to the Pope.
In his role as a spokesperson for the Protest the Pope Campaign, Tatchell then went on with a long laundry-list of Church teachings, which he described as harsh and extreme.
Tatchell has also been chosen by the television station Channel 4 to front a 60-minute program on the Pope, which will be broadcast around the time of the papal visit, the Telegraph newspaper reported on June 4.
It won’t be the only television special critical of the Catholic Church. The BBC is working on an hour-long documentary on the clerical abuse scandals, the Guardian newspaper reported Aug. 3.
Along with the unsurprising opposition to the visit from the Orange Order of Ireland and Protestant preacher Ian Paisley, the British government also got caught up in an embarrassing instance of anti-Catholic prejudice.
The Foreign Office had to issue an official apology after a government paper on the visit became public, the Sunday Times reported on April 25. A document that was part of a briefing packet sent to government officials suggested that the Pope should sack “dodgy bishops,” apologize for the Spanish Armada, and open an abortion clinic.
The attacks have not gone unanswered. Although not official representatives of the Church, a group of Catholic speakers was set up under the name of Catholic Voices. Under the leadership of Jack Valero, who is a director of Opus Dei in the United Kingdom, the team of speakers are offering themselves to defend the Church’s teachings.
Support is also coming from secular sources. Self-declared atheist Padraig Reidy criticized the extreme nature of the anti-Catholic rhetoric in an article published by the Observer newspaper on Aug. 22.
On July 28, Kevin Rooney, also an atheist, writing for the online site Spiked, described the attacks on the Church as “illiberal, censorious and ignorant.”
Rooney, who grew up as a socialist republican in Belfast, said that not only do the critics oppose the teachings of the Church, but they also want to prevent it from speaking out at all. Moreover, he noted, any accusations made against the Church are immediately taken as being true, without any need for proof.
“As with the right to free speech, it seems the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty does not extend to the Catholic Church,” he observed.
The problems faced by the Church are far from being limited to verbal hostility. A raft of laws on so-called hate crimes and anti-discrimination create a continual series of legal challenges for Christians in the United Kingdom.
According to a booklet just published on this topic by Jon Gower Davies, there are more than 35 Acts of Parliament, 52 Statutory Instruments, 13 Codes of Practice, three Codes of Guidance, and 16 European Commission Directives that bear on discrimination.
In “A New Inquisition: religious persecution in Britain today,” (Civitas) he outlined a number of recent cases where Christians have suffered from these laws.
The latest example of this was the loss by Leeds-based Catholic Care in a High Court appeal on the issue of whether they could continue to deny placing adopted children with same-sex couples.
The origin of the case was a 2007 sexual orientation regulation, which outlawed adoption agencies from such “discrimination.”
According to an article published Aug. 19 by the Telegraph newspaper, Catholic Care is the last remaining Catholic adoption agency to resist the regulations. Since the law came into effect in January 2009, the other 11 Catholic adoption agencies have had to either shut down or sever their ties with the Church.
There have been numerous other cases in past months where Christians have faced legal battles.
— A foster carer won her struggle to continue fostering children, after she had been banned by Gateshead Council. The ban was due to the fact that a girl aged 16 that she was caring for decided to convert from Islam to Christianity. The carer, who remained anonymous in order to protect the identity of the girl, had fostered more than 45 other children. Although the matter was righted in the end, the woman suffered considerable financial losses due to the ban. (The Christian Institute, July 11)
— A Christian preacher was arrested for publicly saying that homosexuality is a sin. Dale McAlpine was locked up in a cell for seven hours and subsequently charged with “causing harassment, alarm or distress” (The Telegraph, May 2). After widespread protests the charges were dropped. (The Christian Post, May 18)
— A Christian relationship counselor was denied the opportunity to go to the Court of Appeal regarding his dismissal by Relate Avon after he admitted he could not advise same-sex couples because of his beliefs. Gary McFarlane lost his claim of unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal and at a subsequent tribunal appeals hearing. (Christian Today, April 29)
— Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse, lost a claim for discrimination after she was moved to desk duties following her refusal to remove a crucifix on a necklace. Even though John Hollow, the chairman of the employment tribunal panel, admitted that Chaplin had worn the crucifix for 30 years as a nurse, he said that wearing it was not a requirement of the Christian faith. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, mentioned the case in his Easter sermon. He said there was a ”strange mixture of contempt and fear” toward Christianity. (The Telegraph, April 6)
Earlier this year the situation reached the point where the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, together with six other Anglican bishops, wrote a letter to the Sunday Telegraph complaining that Christians in Britain are being persecuted and treated with disrespect.
As an article on the letter in the March 28 edition of the Sunday Telegraph explained, the bishops argued that, while believers of other religions are shown sensitive treatment, Christians are punished.
“There have been numerous dismissals of practicing Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilized country,” the letter declaimed.
Right to be heard
The notoriety of restrictions on Christians reached the point where the Pope publicly intervened. During his speech on Feb. 1 to the bishops of England and Wales, present in Rome for their five-yearly visit, he commented on the topic.
Benedict XVI observed that their country was noted for its equality of opportunity to all members of society. He then urged the bishops to stand up when legislation infringed on the freedom of religious communities.
“In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended,” the Pope said.
“Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others — on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth,” he added.
Given the Pope’s concern over this matter, and the continuing cases of Christian persecution, we may well expect him to speak out on it during his visit next month.