“this overrated medieval entity”

At the OpenDemocracy site, Fred Halliday argues that the recent visit to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI “was as redolent with dangerous (if unstated) meaning as it was overblown in media coverage.” In a provocative and wide-ranging argument Halliday places the contentious speech to the Representatives of Science in September in the context of Benedict’s long-running “campaign against the evils of secularism and Enlightenment.” and goes on to round the article off with a hard-hitting criticism of “the acceptance and use by the world as a whole of another extraordinary imposture” before calling for an end to the Vatican’s influence in global politics.Halliday begins his article with a criticism of the management of a complacent media

The concealment starts with media management. Against expectations, there were no massive demonstrations against the visit, far less an attempted assassination: instead, the 12 million people of Istanbul, who evinced little or no interest in the pope, were forced by their compliant state to walk hours to their places of work, while the world was treated by a complacent media to the message of peace and understanding supposedly promoted by his presence on their soil. That the Vatican refused any requests for interviews with the pope by Turkish papers indicates where its priorities lay.

And he identifies and criticises a much wider political project behind the visit, all but obscured by the mananged media message

The flexibility of principle is notable, and much of the outside world has failed to register it. The pope’s real interest is not reconciliation with the Muslim world but the reinvigorated unity of Christians and the long-declared war against secularism and the legacy of the Enlightenment. At the same time he wants to recruit official Islam, be it senior clerics or moderate Islamist leaderships like the current Turkish government, in his campaign against the evils of secularism and Enlightenment.

Such tactical concerns underpin the choice of source in the notorious Regensburg speech, which quoted the Byzantine ruler Manuel II Palaeologus (1350-1425) denouncing Mohammed as bringing to the world only “the evil and the inhuman”. A similar citation could easily have been drawn from a Christian writer of the period: Francis of Assisi, Nicolas de Cusa or the Catalan scholar of Islam, Raimon Llull. What is significant is the political nature of the choice: a crude appeal to the hurt memory of Orthodox Christians about the late days of their empire, before the Ottoman Turks overran Constantinople in 1453.

But the ideological twists and turns involved in the papal visit to Turkey are less important than the Vatican’s wider political project. Few, after all, ask: on what democratically or legally constituted authority do such potentates traverse the world at great public expense and inconvenience, to hold forth on matters of contemporary international politics? After all, the many issues in play these days between the Muslim world and the west – from oil prices to migration, from Iraq to Palestine – are not matters of theology, of faith, of the divine but of politics. Clerical figures have no more qualification to sermonise on these issues than politicians would to rule on the oneness of God, or where to hold hands in prayer.

The claim by clergy on politics, in short, is a fraud. What Joseph Ratzinger is engaged in, abetted by the complicity of those promoting a United Nations-sponsored “dialogue of civilisations”, is a form of ideological land-grab. Nowhere is this clearer than in relations between Europe and the middle east.

In the final section he focuses again on that fraudulent claim and challenges the Vatican’s influence itself

In recent years, under Ratzinger, and for years under his predecessor Karol Wojtyla, this overrated medieval entity has been allowed to play a role in formulating UN policy on matters of major import, notably birth control and use of condoms; it has also, in league with a peculiar and sexually repressive coalition of states (including the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) promoted policies that, if carried through, will lead to the unnecessary deaths of millions of people. For those looking for such an entity, this is indeed an “axis of evil”.

The only solution to the pernicious and devious antics of Benedict XVI, his acolytes and allies, is to do even more than to challenge the claim of clergy and their leaders to take up political and social positions – it is to place in question the very legitimacy of the Vatican itself. The time has long past when this carbuncle had any right to be treated as a state and given the protection, for its diplomatic, ideological and money-laundering activities that it still enjoys. It would indeed be an excellent goal for reformers of global governance, and for proponents of global civil society, to set the eradication of the Vatican as one of their goals for their years to come.

If this cannot be done by international agreement between states, then other means of attaining this most desirable goal may be considered. The time may come when a mass mobilisation of secular and anti-clerical forces, drawn from across the world, is brought to Rome and simply occupies this anachronistic and pernicious entity; and in doing so abolishes the political and diplomatic authority of popes and cardinals, and turns the Vatican, its wealth and buildings, over to an international, secular, distributive society. It might be a change from demonstrating against the World Trade Organisation, and would target an organisation that has done far more harm on the global stage.

What’s perhaps most fascinating, to me at any rate, is a familiar theme, invoked back on 5th April 2005 by Fintan O’Toole, of the legacy of the long-dead Emperor Constantine

Then, though, Fintan O’Toole asked the question of the church

The question now is whether the church can finally ditch Constantine and get back to Christ. Can it lay the ghost of the Roman imperium and become something other than a male gerontocracy?

Or will the next Pope continue to sit enthroned, with a beautiful crown and gorgeous robes, on the grave of a dead empire?

Interestingly that legacy marks the opening lines of this BBC report

Ceremonial soldiers in white helmets marched into place beside a red carpet at Ankara airport as Pope Benedict’s plane arrived from Rome.

But what Fintan O’Toole didn’t know then, and no-one could have known for certain, when he stated..

The great resonance of John Paul’s death beyond the Catholic world is precisely because it brings a historical era to a close.

He is the last global figure to be shaped by that awful time when much of Europe responded to the loss of familiar empires by attempting to construct new ones, viler and more savage.

..was that the successor to John Paul, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, would have been shaped during that very same awful time.

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