Before and After the Papal Visit: A Balance

As Damian Thompson and Ed West of the Daily Telegraph already noted, the Protest the Pope Action has achieved almost nothing. And now the media speak generally about the success of the Papal Visit. It is interesting to see how some wide sighted commentators already foresaw this success, like Peter Hoskin from The Spectator, who wrote on the first day of Papal visit:

The arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Britain has provoked protests that […] far exceed those that greet the state visits of blood-drenched dictators. That is because the Pope is seen to represent — in ascending order of secular distaste — religion, Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the conservative wing of Catholicism. Fair enough: Benedict does represent all of these things. He opposes atheism, regarding it as a desperately sad alienation of man from his creator. He embraces Christianity in what he regards as its most definitive, classical and pure form: that Church that he leads. […] To that extent he is conservative.

But, if the protestors know where Benedict XVI stands on issues of sexual morality, they have a very shaky grasp of his precise relationship to these issues. We keep hearing — for example, in Peter Tatchell’s ignorant Channel 4 documentary — that the Church’s opposition to condoms, gay sex and women priests is the product of the Pope’s ultra-reactionary style of Catholicism, whereas these teachings were actually set in stone by his predecessors. Paradoxically, however, Benedict’s critics very rarely focus on those ideas that genuinely do bear his personal stamp.

Joseph Ratzinger is the most important theologian to become Pope for centuries. His work would be studied in universities even if he had never been made a bishop. Yet this fact goes unrecognised by almost everyone who has commented on his visit. The only public figure who, to his credit, consistently draws attention to Benedict’s significance as a Christian thinker is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Rowan Williams does not, of course, agree with the Pope about papal infallibility or female ordination; but he does recognise the subtle imagination with which Benedict addresses Christianity’s role in the shaping of Western civilisation.

[…] He (Pope Benedict) is also surprisingly non-polemical in the way he envisages the sweep of history, seeing it not so much as the battle of good and evil as the struggle between love and the in-ability to love.

The message that both the tolerance and the traditional family structures of Western civilisation are primarily expressions of love is one that should appeal not only to all Christians but also to thoughtful non-believers. Yet it is being drowned out by the mendacious caricature of the Pope as a former Nazi apologist for child abuse. Also, and this is perhaps an even greater source for regret, there has been little attempt to explain what is truly distinctive about Benedict by the Roman Catholic Church in Britain. […] Pope Benedict must therefore speak for himself if he wishes to convey what is, in essence, a radically optimistic vision of the future of Christianity. We hope that he is given a chance to do so.

In spite of all this, it was exactly the personal stamp of our Pontiff that won the heart of millions of people, and it was exactly his understanding of Christianity which won him support and turned many people into his friends. His conservatism is not turning people away from the Gospel, like many liberals would like to claim, instead, it is what makes the Catholic Church strong and that what makes the Church stand firmly like a rock undaunted ‘Mid the raging storms of time, like Ross Douthat from The New York Times analyses:

Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism’s neck. If it weren’t for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.

And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But as Newsweek noted earlier this year, there’s no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy’s fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)

And yes, the church’s exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don’t go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism’s rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That’s what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they’ve dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy’s purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.

Catholics do not — should not, must not — look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism’s greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See — including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism’s inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.

On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain’s politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that’s consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.

This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham — because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive.

God bless our Shepherd, God bless us all.

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32 Responses to Before and After the Papal Visit: A Balance

  1. Brother Burrito says:

    Bravo, Teresa!

    Great post. This deserves to be read in every household in the UK, if not the world!

    Every soul in creation must learn that the Pope is the signpost to the Cross of Christ, and from thence onward, to Eternal Life.

    God love us all!

    (My happiness is incontainable!)


  2. shieldsheafson says:

    A good and succinct article from Peter Hoskin.

    Let’s hope our English Bishops read it!


  3. kathleen says:

    It was a memorable visit, and all of us who could be present at any of the events feel truly privileged. Pope Benedict XVI gave us plenty of food for thought in his homilies, his gentle kindness and warmth, and his firm faithfulness to doctrine.
    The “Benedict bounce” as the DT has called the current interest in Catholicism now, will bear much fruit.
    God Bless our Holy Father.


  4. omvendt says:

    A magnificent triumph for Benedict and the Church!

    Thank God for this wonderful pope!


  5. toadspittle says:

    Don’t know who else we’d thank.


  6. golden chersonnese says:

    Teresa says:
    He (Pope Benedict) is also surprisingly non-polemical in the way he envisages the sweep of history, seeing it not so much as the battle of good and evil as the struggle between love and the in-ability to love.

    Teresa, very interesting.

    Would you happen to know what this might be the product of, to put it crudely?

    Is it St Augustine or our old mate Scheler?

    “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).


  7. omvendt says:


    You are a child growing older.


  8. toadspittle says:

    omvendt says, profoundly:

    “Tōad, You are a child growing older.”

    Nowhere else to grow, really, is there?
    And, anyway, aren’t we all?

    But, maybe they do things differently on the planet Omvendt.
    Maybe they grow younger there.

    That would explain a few things. But not many.


  9. omvendt says:


    Think Harold Wilson’s opinion of Tony Benn: “He immatures with age.”

    You getting the picture?

    I know you’re not exactly the brightest crayon in the box, so I hope you find my additional comment helpful.


  10. firenze05 says:

    I was at the Birmingham Mass and was completely overwhelmed by the reverence shown . The silence after Holy Communion was distributed was wonderful, I was able to say my thanksgiving without interruption. How different from my own parish.
    Anyway, it was the best of days and one I will remember for a long long time. I hope and pray God spares the Holy Father for years to come as we need him.


  11. Brother Burrito says:

    Consider this a newsflash:

    Benedict Carter has uncovered an astonishing series of videos showing stigmata actually forming, in front of a news camera team, and with blood samples being taken. This is VERY worth watching:

    I’ve just reached the end of part one. See you there!


  12. Frere Rabit says:

    While it was an interesting news event, watching David Cameron seeing off the Holy Father with warm words of approval, let’s not jump to any great conclusions about a meeting of minds, or see Cameron’s words as an endorsement of Catholic values.

    Watch the Cameron speech again on the Papal Visit website and please notice the language: he uses the word ‘faith’ time and again, in exactly the loose sense employed by the Prince of Wales who made the hopeless point some years ago about wanting to be a ‘defender of faiths’ rather than the Henrician Defender of the Faith, and I think that any interpretation that goes beyond Cameron using the occasion to bolster his own moral credibility – rather than endorsing Catholic values – could only be expressed by those carried away on the wave of fleeting emotion that has characterised this rather empty and expensive charade. Call me a sceptical rabit, if you like. It was nice to watch a bit of Papal flag-waving in Birmingham, but the crowds were a fraction of the numbers who turned up to ‘rock against racism’ in Hackney thirty years ago, or who turn out regularly to watch Man United play at home. Yes it was good for the Holy Father to visit England, marvelous for Westminster Abbey to come alive again for a set piece occasion, for the first time since Diana’s funeral; but the emotion and the media hype can mislead us into thinking something substantial happened. It did not. Sorry.

    – A dissenting rabit


  13. Mimi says:

    Boo to the nay-sayers!!

    On a slightly different note, did any of my fellow Trekkies notice that our wonderful Holy Father sounds exactly like T’Pau from the episode “Amok Time”? 🙂

    Most endearing!


  14. shane says:

    Good post. Do read Spiked Online’s coverage of the event, in particular Brendan O’Neill. It’s a Marxist humanist organ but its comments on the abuse scandal have set things in perspective.

    The associated Institute of Ideas is hosting a very interesting discussion soon on anti-Catholic bias which I’m thinking of attending …


  15. Mimi says:

    Toad, re growing up, your exchange with Omvendt made me laugh! When my brother was an annoying young teenager, my mother would often say sharply, “Grow up!”
    And he invariably drove her crazy with an insolent “Well, I can hardly grow down!”
    It was generally about then that the large wooden spoon would appear in her hand . . .


  16. Brother Burrito says:

    Poor Rabit,

    You do seem to be suffering from a bout of skepticaemia!

    Papa has tilled the soil, and now we must follow through with the sowing of the seed.

    It’s a simple life, this ‘agricultural’ one, innit, but demands much patience.

    A watched ‘stat’ never climbs.


  17. golden chersonnese says:

    Just so, brother burrito, Jesus started with a plebby group of 12 and a few hundred groupies.


  18. toadspittle says:

    what did you make of the stigmata movie? I watched it. Very thought-provoking. Maybe worth a separate post from you?

    golden chersonnese,
    Wasn’t one a tax collector? (Or am I getting mixed up with the Rat Pack?)
    First time I’ve heard anyone be snobby about apostles!


  19. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    Interested in ‘plebs,’ being one myself, I got this rather oddly-written item off the web.
    Seems Judas was possibly a merchant banker. (That rhyming slang then, Damian?) Pity some of his descendants don’t follow his remorseful example to the letter.
    But then, today’s bankers wouldn’t know remorse from a hole in their assets.

    Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen.
    James and his brother John were sons of Zebedee who was himself a fisherman, and who they would have carried on with that trade after their father.
    Matthew (also known as Levi) was a tax collector for the Roman occupiers.
    Simon the Zealot was a political activist, although that was not his ‘profession’ as such.
    It is believed that Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus) was possibly involved in monetary matters (an early type of ‘banker’ or ‘accountant’) as he was the purse-keeper for the disciples.
    As for the other five, the other Judas, the other James, Philip, Batholemew (also known as Thaddaeus) and Thomas no-one knows as their jobs are not mentioned in the Bible and there is insufficient evidence to speculate as to what they might have been.

    I suspect that Simon the Zealot (lovely name! Look great in italic script on the tank of his Harley!) was a NeoCon, and ‘the other five’ had private means, “Mummy’s trust fund, you know.”

    So much for plebs.


  20. Brother Burrito says:


    I was ‘blown away’ by that movie. I have started to research around it, because I believe it to be very important.

    It is so important, that I humbly admit that I need everyone’s help here to get to the bottom of the matter.

    Would all the blog’s staffers, and all the readers please visit these websites:


    Click to access Web_Book_Menu.pdf

    The latter is a catalogue of hyperlinks to all of Catalina Rivas’ writings in English, available for free. There is much reading to do, and I have only just started. Her local Bishop has given his imprimatur to these writings.

    I have not yet found what the Vatican has to say about these phenomena. Perhaps a knowledgeable person can help out with this too.

    May this blog become a major site for discussion on this topic. Again, I plead for our invisible visitors to overcome their shyness and come forward with their comments. Following the Pope’s visit, we have all been given the GO signal to evangelize at will. Open fire!

    Finally, big thanks to Benedict Carter for bringing this to our attention.


  21. kathleen says:

    Sorry, a little off topic after the very interesting references and comments above, but just wanted to share this little anecdote with you all……

    One of my sisters works at the cancer hospital just next door to the Papal Nuncio in Wimbledon where the Holy Father was staying whilst he was in London. There was great disruption and high security there naturally. We had all been to see the HF at Hyde Park prayer vigil on Saturday evening, but she was also able to zip in and out from work on a couple of occasions to wave and cheer him when he returned from some of the events. However she was not on duty when afterwards, and much to everyone’s surprise, Cardinal ? – can’t remember his name offhand – came into the hospital with a large box of Benedict XVI’s specially blessed rosaries to thank all the staff there for their patience and friendliness. All those present (most of whom were not Catholic of course) gladly grabbed a rosary as a souvenir until there were none left when my poor sister and another Catholic workmate of hers came back to work! “Never mind”, they good humouredly said, “perhaps having a blessed rosary in the non-Catholics’ hands just might awaken some of them to the Catholic Faith”!!


  22. Brother Burrito says:

    It is surely a sign that Kathleen’s sister does not need a blessed rosary, her Faith needing none such.

    I am sure she doesn’t feel slighted, but rather blessed by the generosity of God,

    Who works in the most unimaginable of ways, always.


  23. joyfulpapist says:

    BB, my husband and I heard the Australian lawyer Ron Tesoriero and the journalist Mike Willisee, and saw their DVD, at a Eucharistic Conference earlier this year. At that time, they were hinting at further revelations regarding scientific tests that were being done on blood from a Eucharitic miracle in Argentina, other Eucharistic miracles, the Shroud of Turin, the Sudarium of Oviedo and a vial of “the blood of Christ” taken at the time of the crucifixion now in Bruge, Belgium.

    Regarding the Eucharistic miracle in Argentina, look at this:


  24. toadspittle says:

    “(God) Who works in the most unimaginable of ways, always.”

    Says Burro.


    Expressions like that one, and, “God works in mysterious ways,” are, I find, normally accompanied by sad and puzzled head-shaking at some hideous new disaster, such as the Haiti earthquake, a tsunami, or a new Mel Gibson film.


  25. mmvc says:

    May Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest, mystic and stigmatist, pray for us on this his Feast day and always!


  26. Brother Burrito says:

    This is all fascinating stuff, thanks JP.

    My work is piling up!


  27. Frere Rabit says:

    Baldrick: The way I see it is this. There must have been a time when the Pope’s visit hadn’t been started and everyone was rubbishing the plans. And now, we’re in a time when the Pope’s visit has finished and everyone is congratulating each other on it being a success. So what I want to know is, how did we get from the previous case of affairs to the present case of affairs?

    Blackadder: You mean, did the Pope triumph regardless of the twits around him?

    Baldrick: Yeah.

    Blackadder: Well it wouldn’t be difficult in a country full of peasants like you, would it?


  28. toadspittle says:

    Burro, re : ‘Stigmata: The Movie.’

    Here’s a little parable to start us off. Jesus liked parables and so do we, don’t we? This parable is paraphrased (can’t find the original text) from Damon Runyon, the ‘Guys and Dolls’, writer.

    The words are those of Sky Masterton, a professional gambler:

    “The day I left home for good, my Pappy gave me one piece of advice; ‘Son,’ he said, ‘One day you are gonna meet a man in a bar, and he’s gonna pick up a deck of cards, and he’s gonna offer to bet you fifty bucks he can make the Jack of Spades jump up out of the pack and squirt cider in your eye.

    Son, don’t take that bet.

    ‘Cos if you do – sure as God made suckers by the dozen – you are gonna end up fifty bucks short with an eye full of cider.’ “

    That said, I’ve seen the film once. Will watch it again, more carefully. And make notes.


  29. toadspittle says:


    Re your video from Argentina. I think I already told you we (in Spain) have at least one identical ‘Host Becomes Flesh’ miracle in O Cebrero, not far from us. Middle ages, of course. The chalice is on show.


    God works in mysterious ways.
    Maybe He can assure that the Argentinian man’s new book will be a best-seller.


  30. joyfulpapist says:

    Toad, with due apologies to all for linking to my own blog (but quoting the whole thing would be even more outrageous), in this I briefly talk about why God might perform signs and wonders, with several illustrations. Here’s an excerpt:

    The other main reason for divine intervention is as a sign that God is acting in the world – Jesus himself said this about many of the miracles he performed. Again, the sign is for those who already believe or who are disposed to believe. Those who are disposed to disbelief will not believe ‘even if someone were to come back from the dead’ (biblical ref). So the sign is not to convince anyone of the existence of God, but rather to say to believers, this event – this message – is from God.

    There are several reasonably famous miracles that are clearly intended as signs, and that have investigated and written about both by those who believe and those who don’t. I’ll briefly talk about the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano, the tilma of our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. I by no means wish to imply that these are the only signs and wonders we know of, or that a sign needs to be addressed to a mass audience. Most believers I know can think of an incident or two that they regard as God shouting to get their attention.


  31. joyfulpapist says:

    As I commented to you in the thread on that post, if these events are true signs and wonders, my reasoning seems to me to be sound. If they are human inventions, the reasons might be anything from folly, to tourism.


  32. Brother Burrito says:

    To take a secular miracle as example:

    The Loch Ness monster has worked wonders for highland tourism!


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