Prominent atheist campaigners Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have common cause with the Orange Order: Protesting against the Pope.
Dawkins was the subject of a splashy headline in this week’s Sunday Times: Richard Dawkins calls for arrest of Pope Benedict XVI. The article said Dawkins,
is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.
Dawkins and Hitchens, the atheist author, have approached human rights lawyers about making a case against the Pope for his role in the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. Further information on their campaign has been reported today by the BBC.
On his own website, Dawkins writes,
Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.
What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain.
Dawkins’ site also contains a link to a petition of protest against the visit, directed to the Prime Minister. Do you think many Orangemen will visit Dawkins’ site to sign it?
On the 24th of March, the Orange Order had issued its own statement of protest against the Pope’s visit. The Orange Order doesn’t go as far as Dawkins, really, limiting its remarks to commentary appropriate to Reformation era debates of what the Pope stands for:
While we recognise the civil and religious rights of all, we cannot welcome or agree with the visit of the Pope to this country.
The Pope claims himself to be the vicar of Christ on earth, a title which assumes supreme and universal supremacy both in honour and jurisdiction over all – church, state, the world. Any who would welcome him are in danger of appearing to acknowledge his primacy and universal supremacy in all of these matters.
That the Pope is facing opposition from atheists and Orange Protestants may only serve to confirm the Vatican’s own suspicions about smear campaigns and conspiracy-style attacks from all sides, which it sees as efforts to ‘discredit’ the church.
Of course, the Vatican’s perspective conveniently ignores the issue of who should be held to account for the very real sins committed by representatives of the institutional Catholic Church.
But even the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott, has said
the anti-Pope campaign could be seen as a mischievous attempt to create an "air of criminality" around the Pope.
"The controversy over alleged Papal involvement in the cover-up of child sex abuse is providing atheists with a stick with which to beat religion.”
This raises the question: is it helpful for the most strident protests against the Pope’s visit to be coming from what many consider the radical atheist and Protestant margins of society?
Do these calls for arrest and protest say more about the protesters than they do about what a papal visit to the United Kingdom would really mean – for victims of clerical sex abuse, for Catholics, and for citizens of all religions and none?