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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Bigot-rustling is the Pope’s latest insult to Rowan Williams

By Terry Sanderson

Of course, in a strictly secularist sense, the NSS should not concern itself with the internal machinations of religious organisations. If the Pope wishes to stab the Archbishop of Canterbury in the back (in a wholly ecumenical sense, of course) then that’s nothing to do with us. If the Pope wants to change the rules of his club so that he can steal personnel from the opposition, that’s his business. Let them slug it out, betray each other, lie and steal from each other. Or, as Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper put it “The Vatican’s welcome ... is a Trojan horse. It appears to enhance Christian goodwill while inflaming the doctrinal battles between and within the two churches.” As long as they don’t try to involve the state in their hostilities, they can rip each other to shreds as far as we are concerned.

But wait a minute. The state is involved in this. We have an Established Church, the head of which is also the head of the State. So when the Roman Rat plays such a comprehensively dirty trick on Rowan Williams, we all have to consider whether there are constitutional implications.

Since the Holy See is at once both the government of the Catholic Church and also of the State of the Vatican City, any bishops who sit in the House of Lords who decided to opt for Rome would owe allegiance to the Holy See, which, when wearing one of its hats, is a foreign government.

In other words, because there’s an established church at this end and a church-state at the other, the constitutional implications could be enormous. If half of the Church of England is going to end up under the Vatican umbrella, then can it really remain “by law established”?

After all, the Church of England was created with the sole purpose of thwarting the authority of the Pope. Now that the Pope has moved his tanks on to the lawn of Lambeth Palace, it is time for the whole constitutional arrangement to be urgently rethought.

The Church of England must now be disestablished – and soon. If it is not, there could be a constitutional crisis that may bring the whole shambolic house of cards tumbling down.  This week’s events have left it in tatters under the leadership of a man who is clearly incapable of the job.

In his anxiety to keep the “Anglican Communion” intact, Rowan Williams abandoned his own humane, liberal instincts and threw in his lot with the worst elements of bigotry within his flock. They have now rewarded him by conniving with the “Holy Father” to pile on the humiliation. The fact that the Vatican didn’t tell the Archbishop about its plans until a week before they were announced indicates just how irrelevant they consider him to be. Or, as one commentator put it: “The faces of many Church of England bishops have turned as purple as their cassocks.”

But let’s step away from this nasty piece of Machiavellian cunning and take a look at the bigger picture.

The Catholic Church in Britain is dying on its feet. And rightly so. The Church of England is already on life support, but it continues to twitch. Both institutions provide a playground for some of the most gruesome and horrible people you could ever wish to meet (particularly if you are a child).

They argue endlessly and violently over which bell to ring and which language to say their prayers in. They spend their lives bowing down to the bones of a dead girl and pretending that a biscuit is actual flesh and that wine is really (that is, literally) blood. They swan about in their ridiculous costumes, which were originally designed to intimidate simpletons, a trick that still seems to work among politicians.

The Catholic priesthood claims to disown its own erotic nature in order to remain “pure” – and yet endless court cases show many of the “fathers” to have been wallowing in a pit of unimaginable sexual depravity. They concoct elaborate lies to sustain their “teachings” (“There are tiny holes in condoms through which HIV can pass”), they care little for the death, destruction and suffering their senseless dogmas create in the developing world. They are more concerned about the damage the child abuse crisis has done to the Church than about what it has done to the people they tortured. As Matthew Parris said in The Times: “The more reactionaries Pope Benedict can gather around himself and his Church, the faster the whole thing will sink under the weight of its own weirdness.”

And yet, throughout history, the Vatican has managed to convince those in highest authority that it is entitled to unique and unquestioned respect. Politicians and diplomats bow down to these monsters and let them get away with murder (quite literally sometimes). Whatever corruption the Vatican is involved in (and it has been involved in every conceivable immorality in its time) no-one in high secular authority (the UN, for instance) dare point the finger and ask for an explanation.

Through forming alliances with some of the worst dictators and tyrants the world has ever seen, the Vatican has managed to gain for itself a small patch of land where no international law can intrude, where no inspections take place, where no questions have to be answered. And from that protected base it stretches its poisonous tentacles around the world.

We need to ensure that the bigots and reactionaries that infest those few acres in Rome do not get a grip on Britain. We can begin by disestablishing the now-defunct Church of England and establishing a secular constitution that will put an end to the Vatican’s political ambitions once and for all.

See also:

Oliver Kamm on Divisions of the Pope

And the Daily Mash puts the whole thing in perspective

Published Fri, 23 Oct 2009