No Popery

Ratzo went down a storm in the USA a few months ago - Americans couldn't get enough of his red shoes which, we now learn, are entirely hand-made and not bog-standard Prada after all. But Aussies are made of sterner stuff. When the pontiff arrives in Sydney later in the month for "World Youth Day" an ad hoc group calling itself the No To Pope Coalition plan to give him a welcome he's unlikely to forget. If they manage to get anywhere near him.

"World Youth Day" is (or was) a biennial jamboree that was created to provide John Paul II with an opportunity to wave his arms about and demonstrate his unique rapport with the world's young people, while giving them stern lessons about the need to avoid premarital sex. He used to enjoy the occasions immensely. Ratzo, on the other hand, looked distinctly out of place when he was forced to fill in for his old boss (who was unable to attend, due to being dead) at the 2005 last bash in Cologne. And Sydney, with its liberal reputation and lively gay subculture, seems unlikely soil for his ultra-conservative message.

The "No To Pope Coalition", meanwhile, sounds like the sort of campaign Revd Ian Paisley might have been associated with before he got chummy with Martin McGuinness. Actually, it's made up of secularists, gay rights activists, and a smattering of less obvious Pope-bashers (the Raelians, a UFO cult that promotes human cloning, are affiliated). Last week they announced plans to march through Sydney, following the route traditionally taken by the gay Mardi Gras parade, handing out condoms to the assembled Catholic youth. Organiser Rachel Evans explained:

Pope Benedict's homophobic and antiquated ideas are profound. He has said same-sex marriage, abortion, and birth control are threats to world peace. Yet, without birth control and condoms we now have a situation in South Africa with 600-1000 people dying every day from AIDS. Currently, more South Africans go to a funeral than the hairdressers. These high HIV transmission rates are in large part caused by the Pope's anti-condom policy.

Their message is threefold: "The pope is wrong: Gays are great and condoms save lives."

How many of the young Catholics will take advantage of their largesse is impossible to predict, of course. No doubt the vast majority will be above all carnal temptations. They will have come to hear the Pope, after all, and World Youth Day is hardly Glastonbury. Still, you can't help but wonder. World Youth Day, which actually lasts almost a week, is expected to draw almost a quarter of a million "pilgrims" and assorted hangers-on; they can't all be expected to behave like monks and nuns. A report by industry analysts IBIS recently predicted that the event would help generate "strong growth for brothels, strip clubs and prostitutes" in the coming financial year.

Ed Butler, for IBIS, admitted that the "religious nature of the event is likely to have a dampening effect on growth rates, as many of the visitors may have moral anxieties relating to this particular industry's services." On the other hand, there are scores of young Catholics who admit to losing their virginity during previous World Youth Days.

The prospect of protest - even such a warm-hearted one as that intended by the No Pope people - has so alarmed the authorities that new powers have been put in place to limit access and criminalise "offensive" demonstrations. Fines of up to A$5500 have been threatened, and the law is so widely drawn as to potentially criminalise T-shirts - something that will be depressingly familiar to anyone who remembers the pro-hunting campaigners whose "Bollocks to Blair" T-shirts brought them the attention of British police. The powers will apply to 40 city locations, including museums, galleries, cinemas, parks, and venues where the Pope will appear. More than 500 schools and 35 train and bus stations have been listed as "declared areas" where people entering will be subject to car and baggage searches that require them to remove jackets, shoes and headwear if requested. Police have even asked anyone planning to protest to send them photographs of their banners and what they will be wearing so they can be approved. It gives the phrase "fashion police" an unfortunate new meaning. Anyone would think these Catholics were Scientologists.

The good news is that the draconian restrictions - described by one lawyer as "an unreasonable interference with people's freedom of speech and movement" - has already produced signs of a backlash. No To Pope have vowed to continue with their planned march. "We will protect our civil liberties, and help young people to protect their health, and no Pope or Premier will stop us" said Rachel Evans, who also noted that "only the most hardened right- wing conservatives" would describe the laws as fair. And according to Reuters, since news of the laws got about many previously uninterested Sydney residents now want to join in the protests. "Talkback radio is jammed with irate listeners and newspapers have been flooded with letters and emails from angry people". One such letter, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, ran as follows:

This is religious oppression. Despite being a contented heathen, I am driven by sheer outrage to take up the mantle and T-shirt of every other religion and march proudly through the streets of my secular city.

And an enterprising T-shirt seller has launched a competition to design the most wittily offensive garment.


WeepingCross said…
It's entirely unfair that you continue to produce this one picture of His Heiliness, when you must know full well that one can only wear pink, sorry, rose, on two occasions in the year, Laudate and Gaudete Sundays. There must be an equally fetching snap somewhere. And my rose set is far more outrageously girly than that.
At least his visit will give liturgically disadvantaged locals a rare sighting of a chasuble, as they are banned in Anglican churches in the Archdiocese of Sydney. I wonder if Archbishop Jensen will be joining the No Pope march?
valdemar said…
If there is hope, it may lies in the Aussies. They are less willing to put up with total bullshit than we are. And they're good at designing outrageous T-shirts, too.

As for the Popester's appearance, nothing short of bag on the head will make him acceptable. That is one sinister pontiff.

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