Answering the Pope

With the BBC transforming itself, over the past few days, into the Benedict Broadcasting Corporation, dissenting voices have seemed as marginalised as Ratzinger has repeatedly claimed Christianity to be in modern Britain. I even heard one newsreader express astonishment at the numbers turning out to the Protest the Pope rally on Saturday. The visit is inevitably being hailed a tremendous success, even though to judge from the pictures of Cofton Park this morning - where the pontiff was beatifying John Henry Newman - there were plenty of empty seats. If the extent and reverence of the coverage is the criterion, though (and this papal visit, for all the mass masses and Popemobile processions, has primarily been a media event) it could hardly be accounted anything else.

Something of a paradox, this. For several years now, coverage of the Roman Catholic Church in the British media, including (and even primarily) the BBC, has been as dominated by the child-abuse scandal, gay adoption and condoms as any anti-pope protester could have wished for. Ratzinger might well have been expecting to be arriving in enemy territory (although, as said on the plane coming over, almost every country he visits in Europe likes to think of itself as the most irreligious and pope-unfriendly.) The forelock-tugging tendency at the BBC, though, always notable whenever there's a royal wedding or jubilee, was equally in evidence this week. The only consolation lies in the knowledge that once Benedict XVI is back in Rome normal hostilities will be resumed.

For now, though, it seems you have to turn elsewhere to get the other side of the story. You may not have heard, for example, that the estimated 10,000 protesters at Saturday's rally - widely dismissed as derisory compared with the pro-pope crowds - constituted the largest numbers ever brought together against Ratzinger on any of his foreign trips. Here's Richard Dawkins on Saturday with an eloquent riposte to the Pope's absurd linkage of atheism and the crimes of Nazi Germany and declaring Ratzinger "an enemy of humanity." After all those papal homilies, it's a breath of fresh air.

More pope-baiting speeches here.

That's Popeweek over. Next week, I will be mainly talking about Nick Clegg.


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