British toleration guaranteed Benedict a good show

As the wall to wall coverage subsides, I’d guess that not much will change as a result of the Pope’s visit. The secular and religious events were just about pitch perfect if like me, you enjoy that sort of thing. The faithful seemed to turn out in greater numbers to proclaim that Catholicism had not collapsed on account of the abuse scandals, which in any case affected Britain less severely than many other countries.  The kids cheered and whooped just as their parents did after waiting for hours for JP2. These days, it would be different in Ireland.

Protestants – or Anglicans anyway – watching the Masses can again observe the close similarities between the liturgies. Just when you’re asking yourself what’s the difference, along come the little rituals over which hundreds burned and died , the Real Presence, the intercession of Mary and a long list of saints, the ” miracles” wrought by Newman and the supposed relics of his hair and blood. Strange if you will, but worth fighting over or even refusing to shake hands?

Basic courtesy meant Dawkins and Co never stood a chance. Once again, the media pack got it wrong. The love of Jesus not creationism was  the Pope’s ” heart to heart.”message and that is an impossible target to hit. And while the contraceptive ban can be deplored as an opener to Aids, it has to be remembered that most Catholics now live in the same Third World.

Secular morality may be less of a piece, but it still seems more understanding of human nature than the Vatican’s. The gulf over sexuality male and female seems unbridgeable and lies at the heart of the evasion over the abuse cover-up. To blame  secular influences for society’s ills ( including presumably clerical abuse)  is no less defamatory now than it was before the Pope repeated it several times during his visit.

The Church of England and the British state quietly understand this.  Harmony between the churches is not the same as unison and over social issues on the ground – care for the elderly for example is still attainable. But Catholic expansionism  still lives. What other message can be taken from the emphasis given to the  beatification of Newman the former Anglican?

The locals got off lightly. Nobody noticed. Even Paisley enjoyed only a 20 second cutaway singing a quite pleasant chorus. For all that this was billed as a state visit to the UK , it really applied to Great Britain apart from the handshakes minus the Moderator in Westminster Abbey.

The Pope’s visit it showed a people at ease with religion and not greatly challenged by it.

If Benedict ever follows in the footsteps of Patrick, everyone involved will face a far sterner test.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London