As the media frenzy over this weeks visit to Great Britain by the Pope continues, further protests have emerged. By far the highest profile protest is organised around the Protest The Pope website and includes organisation like the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association, Atheism UK and Outrage as well as prominent atheist supporters like Richard Dawkings, Peter Tatchell & Christopher Hitchens. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell hosts `The Trouble with the Pope` which airs on Channel 4 at 8pm, Monday 13 September and which has been condemned by the Bishop of Paisley. Rallies are to be held on Thur 16th Sep, Edinburgh – Fri 17th Sep, Twickenham – Sat 18th Sept, London. The main issues seemingly being human / gay rights, contraception use, the child abuse scandals and the cost to the taxpayer of a State visit.
The Taxpayers Alliance has also criticised the cost of the Papal visit in times of heavy cuts to public services with recent surveys suggesting 77% of people opposed to a state funded visit.
At least three Catholic groups are also leading campaigns. Catholic Women’s Ordination has paid £15,000 to carry the message “Pope Benedict – Ordain Women Now!” for a month on buses along routes the Pope is set to visit! Newly formed Catholic Voices for Reform is a counter to the Catholic Voices website and supports the likes of Soho’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholic community and various other reforms to the Catholic Church. Dr Margaret Kennedy from Minster and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS – strictly speaking non-denominational not RC) is urging Pope Benedict XVI to sanction an inquiry into abuses by British clergy. They also held a conference on the 11th September entitled `We speak, you listen: Survivors speak and offer messages to Pope Benedict`.
The Protestant Churches have been much slower off the mark. A growing list now includes the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster (including it`s Scottish congregations), The Protestant Truth Society, Evangelical Protestant Society, Christian Watch, The Free Church of Scotland (cont), Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The latter have released a new book entitled `Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom`. Many of these organisation are participating in the new Papal Protest website to co-ordinate activities, witness and prayer meetings.
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland passed an official protest at its recent synod.
In a statement it said it finds “offensive that this visit results from an invitation to the Pope as Head of State, giving him that recognition and pretended legitimacy which he claims in opposition to the principles of the Reformation.”
“We deny that he is the head of the Christian Church or that he has any civil power which should receive recognition by any State, particularly one which has renounced his pretended jurisdiction.”
“We find it particularly offensive that this visit will commence in Edinburgh where, 450 years ago, under the brave and godly leadership of John Knox and our other Reformers, the jurisdiction of the pope was forever abolished.”
They also described the Papacy as “deceitful and unrighteous”, highlighting recent global exposure of child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, and suggesting the Pope was invlolved in a cover-up.
The Rev Professor Donald Macleod, who retired last month as principal of the Free Church College on The Mound, a leading Free Church of Scotland theologian suggests we should celebrate Knox, not the Pope and accused the Scottish Government of “airbrushing” the Protestant Reformation out of history while celebrating the visit by the Pope.
In his weekly column in the West Highland Free Press, Professor Macleod said: “On the face of things the forthcoming papal visit to Britain should be an unqualified publicity triumph, offering a heady mixture of theatre, religion and politics.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the event was deliberately timed to clash with the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation.
“Ironically the spoiling tactic has turned out to be entirely unnecessary. Our SNP Government has no intention whatever of acknowledging Scotland’s debt to the Reformation, and even less of honouring John Knox, the greatest of all our nation-builders, but now safely airbrushed out of our history.
“That he saved us from national economic ruin, laid the foundation of our national system of education and fired us with an aversion to tyranny, now counts for nothing. Our Government is in Knox-denial.
“Why does secular, humanist Scotland so warmly entertain Catholicism, with all its authoritarianism, and yet register terror at the mere mention of the religion of Knox?
The parade to welcome the Pope to Scotland is now due to include a John Knox character as well as Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, William Wallace, St Andrew, Robert the Bruce, Eric Liddell, St Ninian, St Margaret, St Columba and Alexander Fleming.
A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “It is a sign of a healthy nation that diversity within the Christian community is something to be celebrated as opposed to a source of division and struggle.
“It is a gift to those of us of a Protestant persuasion that by including this figure, the Catholic Church is contributing to the celebrations of the Reformation.”
A 60-strong delegation consisting of ministers and elders from Ian Paisley`s Free Presbyterian Church will travel to Scotland (from Northern Ireland) this week to protest against the Pope’s visit. Lord Bannside (as Rev Dr Ian Paisley is now known) will be in attendance:
“We will be having a meeting in the place where the church of Scotland was formed (Magdalen Chapel, Edinburgh) and was presided over by John Knox. That building will be at our disposal.
“We will unfurl a banner and have a public meeeting outside that building in the Grassmarket.
On Saturday 11th Sep, the Free Presbyterian Church took out a half page ad in the News Letter and published a booklet to explain their reasons behind the protest:
Papal Visit: Roman Catholicism examined by Scripture
At the weekend, the Reverend Ron Johnson challenged other Protestant church leaders to join their protest.
“We’re simply re-stating the creeds of the historical Protestant churches”, the current Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church told UTV.
“Really every Protestant church in Northern Ireland ought to be supporting our stand. Sadly I know all ministers will not – but they’re going against their ordination vows.”
The Free Presbyterian Moderator criticised the decision by the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church to accept an invitation to attend a service involving the Pope. He told BBC NI Sunday Sequence : ” I was going to say it shocks me, but I suppose it doesn’t. I think it is very sad that he would go to such a thing. The Pope claims that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a false church. He claims that we should recognise him as the head of all Christians. And surely the Westminster Confession that Mr Hamilton signed is totally opposed to the teachings of Rome. Both can’t be right: either Romanism is right or the New Testament is right.”
At Sunday Services the Free Presbyterian Churches conducted a series of sermons about the errors of Roman Catholicism or on the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformed Presbyterian church Of Ireland issued a statement saying:
“We must express our dismay and sorrow at the proposed visit of Benedict XVI to the UK.
We regard his claim to be the `Vicar of Christ on earth` as false and eternally ruinous to those who are deceived by it and who put their trust in it. We hold no ill will to the Roman Catholic community. On the contrary, we desire their highest and everlasting good in being brought to faith in the `one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2 v5). Only in this way can any of us go to heaven instead of hell.
We consider this proposed visit to be a further instance of the United Kingdom turning from the true Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe the Lord will continue to be against the nation until there is a general turning from our current love of false religions, unbelief and wrong morals to seek God`s forgiveness through Christ.
It is the prayer of our church that God would bring about that change by his Holy Spirit”.
Whilst the Rev Ron Johnstone, Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster moderator and Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order) said:
“We publicly disassociate ourselves from and condemn those church leaders who will welcome and meet him.
He also criticised the “false doctrines of the papacy” and added, “By their actions they not only give credence to his spurious claims — but are betraying the very creeds they once professed to believe, teach and defend. As reformed evangelical Protestants we totally reject the arrogant and, more importantly, unscriptural titles and claims of the Pope. Those claims, historically viewed as blasphemous by Protestant churches, mean that his visit can not be construed as simply pastoral”.
Speaking of the planned protests, Rev Johnstone said: “We intend, in the coming weeks, to highlight the contrast between the teaching of scripture and the false doctrines of the papacy. Our supreme aim and overriding concern is to exalt the only King and head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ.We will therefore, at this time, call all people to a personal faith in the Saviour as the only mediator between God and men”.
The Orange statement claimed the teaching of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is at “total variance with the Biblical message that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone”.
It went on: “We therefore call on all the citizens of the United Kingdom, and especially members of the Loyal Orange Institution, to demonstrate their opposition to the Pope’s visit to England and Scotland, and to oppose any future invitation to visit Northern Ireland.
“At the same time, we call on all members of the Loyal Orange Institution to refrain from any uncharitable acts or sentiments against our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen.
“Furthermore, we urge all members of the Institution to examine their own relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, to make sure that they have a saving faith in him.”
Grand Master of the Scottish Orange Order is quoted as saying:
“The Pope is no friend or supporter of the religious, democratic and libertarian principles that the Order believes in, so we don’t regard his visit as a particularly welcome development.
“That said, we are conscious of our civic duty to be respectful of the sincerely held views of others. This isn’t our party, so we intend to keep our noses out of it.
“We shall be concentrating our energies instead on marking the 450th Anniversary of the Scottish Reformation.”
It has since emerged that the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland may hold a small token silent witness which would likely take place at one end of Princes Street and will carry a banner commemorating the Scottish Reformation, whilst the Independent Orange Order in Scotland will hand in a petition to the Scottish Parliament on the day of the visit (Holyrood Palace where the Pope will meet the Queen is nearby).
The Issue: Future of Christian Churches in Ireland – UTV Video Tuesday 14th September on UTV. Broadcast on the eve of the Pope’s visit to Glasgow, the programme will feature Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop Ken Clarke, Reverend Lesley Carroll, Pastor Lindsay Allen and Baroness Nuala O’Loan exchanging views and taking questions from an invited audience at the Navan Centre in Armagh. also with contributions from Cardinal Brady, Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Primate, Reverend Paul Kingston, President of the Methodist Church and Reverend Stafford Carson, Former Presbyterian Moderator.
The Pope`s British Divisions – BBC Radio 4 – iplayer
The Trouble with the Pope – Channel 4 Video
What sort of Pope is Benedict XVI? – BBC Video
Papal visit debate – Revelation TV