Sunday, September 19, 2010

Benedict in Britain

Benedict in Britain: personal triumph for the Pope, humiliation for secular fanatics

By Damian Thompson

There are so many things to say about this remarkably successful papal visit that I can’t fit them into one blog post. But if I had to produce an immediate response it would be delight that Pope Benedict is no longer a stranger to the British people. They know him now; their curiosity has been aroused by his powerful message and their hearts warmed by his perfect manners and grandfatherly little grin. David Cameron has just made this clear in his speech at the airport: we have heard you, he told the Pontiff, adding that “you have challenged the whole country to sit up and think”.

Consider the failure of the “Protest the Pope” stunt yesterday. On a sunny afternoon, in a city of 10 million people, a crowd of fewer than 10,000 protestors followed the anti-Catholic bandwagon. Richard Dawkins, Johann Hari, Stephen Fry et al may regard that as a good result, but if (at most) one Londoner in a thousand takes to the streets to register disapproval at the use of their taxes to host the Pope, then I’d say the secularists have misjudged the public mood, wouldn’t you? And look at what a thin demographic sliver of the population they represented: mostly white, middle-class, metropolitan. (Needless to say, none of them could be bothered to make the trek up to Birmingham: the Pope may be the atheists’ Antichrist, but you mustn’t let your principles get in the way of a lazy Sunday morning cappuccino.)

Compare the protestors to the Catholics in Hyde Park: old Polish ladies, tweedy gents from the shires, African hospital cleaners, self-consciously cool teenagers, Filipino checkout assistants and, as one of my friends put it, “some rather tarty-looking traveller women who’d obviously had a glass or two”. They don’t call it the Catholic Church for nothing: if not a universal cross-section of humanity, it was a damn sight closer to it than the humanist smugfest.

I’ve just watched Pope Benedict leaving Oscott College and being photographed with the police officers who guarded him. None of them made an attempt to arrest him. What incredible prats Dawkins, Hitchens and Roberston made of themselves with that plan, which was based on false reporting and wilful misunderstanding of the Pope’s involvement in child abuse cases. The British people certainly aren’t in a mood to let the Church off the hook on that subject, and nor should they; but they do now understand that Benedict XVI feels deep shame at those dreadful crimes, and from now on they will be less receptive to the lie that he covered them up.

As for the ridiculous Nazi slur, today they heard a German Pope congratulate us for fighting the evil ideology of Hitler. What more does he have to say? Nothing, I suspect: the papal visit has killed the myth of the “Nazi Pope” outside a tiny circle of professional Pope-baiters who from now on may find themselves marginalised even in secular liberal circles.

Remarkably, the success of Benedict’s visit has had an effect even among the ranks of his ideological opponents. Lots of liberals are quietly distancing themselves from the Romophobes (and I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephen Fry slightly regrets wading in). The truth is that after months of increasingly shrill rhetoric from Dawkins, Hitchens and Hari, the anti-Pope movement delivered nothing except a medium-sized bog standard demo.

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