It’s been awhile since we’ve heard the Rev. Ian Paisley rail publicly against the pope, identifying him as an ‘anti-Christ.’ But in an interview with the BBC World Service, Paisley reverted to ‘anti-Christ’ mode as he voiced his opposition to the pope’s state visit to the UK in September.
On his blog, BBC religion correspondent William Crawley says that Paisley’s comments,
will grab some headlines precisely because this is the kind of public rhetoric he has resisted in recent years.
Yes, Paisley has refrained from anti-Christ language up until now, showing remarkably more verbal restraint in his opposition to the pope’s visit than, say, atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins.
He’s also in the same camp as radical atheists Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, members of the LGBT community offended by the pope’s comments about the UK’s human rights policies, and taxpayers who wonder if the £8 million they are expected to fork out for the visit will be worth it.
Paisley: Friend of Catholic Abuse Victims?
In the interview, Paisley framed much of his opposition to the pope’s visit in terms of the way the Catholic Church has handled the abuse scandals in Ireland. Paisley said,
"We have had a terrible happening in Ireland with the priests and monks and nuns all taking part in acts of disgraceful behaviour with young people, and we haven’t seen the Catholic Church taking a strong stand on this.
A person, like some of the priests we’ve had, destroying the lives of young people and then going out and saying ‘I can forgive sins’, it’s only right that be called what it is. That is anti-Christ in teaching and in doctrine."
This is a much different approach than Paisley might have taken a generation ago, when his language would likely have been more like that used by the Evangelical Protestant Society in their July-September 2010 newsletter, the Ulster Bulwark:
‘It is important to raise our voice, and the visit presents us with opportunities to challenge the false spiritual and temporal claims of Rome and also to proclaim Christa as the only way of salvation. …
The pope is unique among world political and spiritual leaders in that he asserts that he is the temporal and spiritual ruler over all the earth. It is on the basis of such spurious claims that his visit must be opposed.’
I can understand the various perspectives of those who make up the motley crew behind the UK’s ‘no pope here’ campaign.
Their moral and/or religions sensibilities – for an impressive variety of reasons – are offended by the spectacle of the British state welcoming someone who they see as opposing all that they believe to be right and true.
But What do Abuse Victims Want?
That said, those – like Paisley – who are choosing to emphasise concerns about abuse victims as a reason for opposing the pope’s visit would do well to listen to what the victims want.
Back in April, it was reported that victims of abusing priests were seeking an audience with the pope on his visit to the UK. It’s not clear to me at this point if the pope has managed to fit the victims into his busy schedule. His itinerary was reported today to feature meeting the queen in Scotland and the Archbishop of Canterbury in London.
Meeting with abuse victims – if they go ahead – could go some way towards redeeming his visit to the UK. If his visit is all pomp and no apology, I can’t see it being of much benefit to the Catholic Church and its followers in Britain.