Who’s protesting the Pope?

Earlier today I read an opinion piece in the Guardian by Martin Kimani, “an associate fellow at the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s College London” currently writing a book about the role of the Catholic church in the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, contrasting the Pope’s recent apology to the people of Ireland for failing to tackle priests who were sexually abusing children with the institution’s silence over the Church’s role not only in the Genocide itself, but also in supporting the Habyarimana government which orchestrated it and promoting the racial “Hutu power” ideology for forty years previously. The story has been widely told among Muslims that the Muslim minority in Rwanda protected Tutsis from being massacred while priests and nuns aided and participated in the slaughter, leading to thousands of people becoming Muslims in the years that followed. In Ireland, where the church is equally discredited, the ‘conversion’ tends to be out of religion altogether.

Later on, I read a guest post on Harry’s Place by the “Protest the Pope Campaign”, which accused the Pope of personally acting to cover up various cases of sexual abuse by priests as a bishop and as a cardinal. This group held a protest outside Westminster Cathedral in London at 12 noon yesterday (Palm Sunday), and claimed that their protest was met by “jeers and support” by the attendees, although “most expressed no opinion either way”. They included a picture of their rally, which showed how tiny it was and who it really represented: “London for a Secular Europe”, the National Secular Society, and OutRage. Click through to their home page, and you can find their list of supporters, which include a rag-bag of the usual anti-religious suspects, including the “Council of ex-Muslims of Britain” and the Iranian exile contingent (One Law for All). The Southall Black Sisters are the nearest thing they have to a group representing abuse survivors.

While I don’t much care for the idea of the Pope being granted a state visit, the honour implicit in it really went away when George Bush jr was given one a few years ago. This campaign would have more credibility if it was supported by groups which really were set up to represent survivors of sexual abuse, not groups whose sole purpose is to bash religion, of whatever sort. I would happily protest against a Papal state visit if it were not dominated by these people. The whole purpose of Harry’s Place is to police the left for ideologically incorrect associations and to police religious organisations for utterances or associations they find distasteful. Secularists in general like finding examples of cruelty in religious institutions (see my review of “Does God Hate Women?” last year for a classic example) but they conveniently forget that cruelty happens everywhere.

It’s true that there was terrible abuse in Catholic-run orphanages and other institutions in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the mid-20th century, but there have been plenty of scandals involving non-religious state care in this country: people (particularly women) kept locked up for no real reason for decades after suffering post-natal depression, for example. The Irish symphisiotomy scandal had much to do with the Catholic hospitals’ anti-contraception ethos, but it was not Catholic hospitals who sterilised supposedly feeble-minded women in the USA and Sweden in the mid-20th century. The reality is that this kind of behaviour thrives when there is unchecked power and no accountability, and it exists in many secular institutions (particularly the medical profession) as well as religious ones.

Oh, and here’s something you won’t read on Harry’s Place: Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the London-based Islam Channel, who had been arrested in South Africa on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice posted by the Tunisian government, was released after said government failed to produce any evidence for their claims. Harry’s Place has dropped the notice into an entry any time they wanted to smear the channel (like here), and the fact that it comes from a dictatorial government notorious for torture apparently doesn’t matter to them.

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