The Catholic Church is right to be afraid of secularism – it will stop the Vatican’s power-seeking in its tracks

Secularism was the subject of a ferocious attack from Catholic interests over Easter – and despite their own attack-dog tactics, they have the cheek to label secularism “aggressive.”

First off the mark was Lord Patten of Barnes – who describes himself as a ‘cradle Catholic’ and who was drafted in by the Government last year to rescue the pope’s visit to the UK. Patten gave a lecture in a Catholic Church in which he said: “Some of the arguments put forward by secularists against the Pope’s visit were lacking in intellectualism and were extraordinarily mean-spirited. I’m surprised the atheists didn’t have better arguments [against the Pope’s visit].”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, who led the protest against the state-funding of the Pope’s visit responded: “There is nothing mean-spirited about asking a man who has repeatedly covered up the child abuse committed by his employees to explain himself.

“There is nothing intellectually lacking for a secularist to ask a religious leader not to expect the state to pay for his proselytising – especially when that state is deep in debt and when services for the poor and vulnerable are being cut. In the circumstances, the amount of money spent by the Government and local authorities on that visit was obscene. And despite the flim-flam from the Church about it being a big success, it was, in fact, a disaster. The country was almost wholly indifferent to the pope’s presence here, despite the overkill on TV arranged by Mark Thompson, the Roman Catholic director general of the BBC.”

Lord Patten said that those who reject religious belief were hypocritical to portray religious people as being narrow-minded given the level of aggression they themselves have displayed to Christians. “It is curious that atheists have proved to be so intolerant of those who have a faith,” he said. “Their books would be a lot shorter if they couldn’t refer to the Spanish Inquisition, but it is them who tend to have a level of Castillian intolerance about them.”

Terry Sanderson said: “Lord Patten doesn’t seem to know the difference between atheism and secularism – but, hey, we’re the ones lacking intellectual rigour.

“Lord Patten seems to think that the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Spanish Inquisition can be forgotten because it doesn’t fit the church’s present-day propaganda about itself. The Vatican is a dab hand at re-writing history. But that is not the only argument we have with them – far from it. Our campaign asked questions about: the ban on condoms in the fight against AIDS, poverty and sustainable world population; the undermining of women’s rights; the oppression of homosexuals; the Church’s interference in democracy (by threatening Catholics in public service with excommunication if they do not back the Vatican’s hard line policies, even those not in the interests of the relevant public); and the manipulative way in which money is extracted from poverty-stricken nations through so-called concordats.

“Indeed, we could fill a book with questions that the Vatican would prefer were never asked. In fact you can read this very book: (Double Cross: Code of the Catholic Church by David Ranan) by ordering it from the NSS website.

Lord Patten also said in his speech that people looked down on him intellectually for having religious belief. “It makes people think I’m peculiar and lack intellectual fibres because I don’t have any doubts about my faith, but I’d be terrified to have doubts,” he said.

Terrified to have doubts? Isn’t that nearer the territory of the fanatic than someone claiming the intellectual high ground? Or does it simply indicate that he daren’t question his faith in case he finds it wholly lacking? And besides, Mr Patten’s own life – married to a divorcee and therefore banned from taking communion – is hardly played by the rules of the Church he so vigorously (one might say aggressively) defends.

Lord Patten is about to become chairman of the BBC Trust, an organisation that is supposed to represent the licence-payer when they wish to question or challenge the Corporation. One wonders whether he will be able to be completely impartial when the subject of religion is raised.

What, for instance, would have been the outcome if he had been in charge during the Jerry Springer – the Opera controversy? And how will he react when the next push comes from the churches for ever-more airtime?

Next up is the highly aggressive leader of Scotland’s Catholics, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who went for secularism’s jugular in an Easter sermon in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Herald called it “one of the most vehement attacks” on the secularisation of society and those who, apparently, want to “take God from the public sphere.”

Again, the term “aggressive secularists” was wheeled out (an obvious attempt to hammer it into public consciousness following the pope’s use of the term as soon as he stepped off the plane in Scotland last September).

The Cardinal then launched into the formulaic attack on the equality legislation which prevents discrimination against homosexuals – something he argues he has a right to engage in.

He said: “Recently, various Christians in our society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle. You have only to ask a couple with regard to their bed and breakfast business; certain relationship counsellors; and people who had valiantly fostered children for many years of their particular experiences – and I am sure they are not exaggerating them.”

Well, if Cardinal O’Brien took five minutes to follow these cases up he would discover that yes, indeed, the complainants are exaggerating them and in some instances outright lying about them. But this was not about the truth, this was about reinforcing the idea that Christians are being “persecuted” or “marginalised” or “sidelined”. God’s voice is being silenced, apparently.

But if the church is so powerless, how come it just needed to snap its fingers (behind closed doors) to make the Government withdraw its proposal to amend the Act of Settlement to stop the discrimination against Catholics taking the throne?

Cardinal Winning said that “at this present time Christians must be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country”. But it was another Christian church — the Church of England — that reported scuppered the bid to give Catholics equality in Britain, not the aggressive secularists. (But a prominent blogger has speculated that the Church was taking the rap for the royal family – pointing out that neither Prince Charles nor his sons were involved in any of the papal visit. Obviously the Queen, as head of state, had no alternative. And the Church of England Newspaper is reporting that it was, in fact, the Prime Minister of Canada who put the tin hat on the idea, saying Canada didn’t want to have a debate about the monarchy.)

The Cardinal’s message was not received with overwhelming enthusiasm by the political establishment in Scotland. Labour leader Iain Gray described Cardinal O’Brien’s words as a “powerful Easter reminder of the role that faith has played in Scotland’s past and present” but called for an equal platform for all faiths and none.

An aide to First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The Catholic Church and all of Scotland’s faith groups play a vital role in Scotland’s national life, and the Cardinal advocates Christian beliefs on that basis, as he is entitled.”

An aide to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said: “All faiths and those who don’t follow a faith should be respected equally. Discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated in a modern Scotland.”

So the ranting and raving Cardinal has not made the impression he had hoped.

Then, south of the border, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, suggested in his homily that those who don’t believe what he believes are more likely to kill their loved ones (presumably he is referring to assisted suicide). He said: “Without that faith, life would be shaped only by the meaning I can give it. Without such faith we can become afraid of living. Indeed, in pain and loneliness, or in even the prospect of pain and loneliness, life, for some, loses its purpose and killing oneself or a loved one becomes a beguiling temptation.”

Once again we see the Catholic Church insulting those who refuse to be part of it, and arrogantly asserting its moral superiority when many would argue that it is one of the most immoral organisations in the world.

Taken together, we have an all-out assault on secularism by the Catholic Church. It is understandable. The Vatican is a totalitarian organisation and tolerates nothing that stands in the way of its power-seeking. Secularism certainly does that.

See also:

Pope visit to Spain faces resistance as Vatican siphons money out of the ailing economy

Secularism isn’t the bogeyman Cardinal O’Brien makes out

Did the Church or the Palace block changes to Act of Settlement?