They started closing the roads around here last weekend, ahead of the Pope’s visit. He will meet Queen Elizabeth in Holyrood Palace this Wednesday before being whisked to Glasgow to say mass in a park, where his predecessor drew a crowd of 300,000 in 1982.
But this is a different pope and a very different age. In the 28 years since that event, the eyes of the world have been opened to the corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Catholic Church. On this occasion, tens of thousands of tickets for the Pope’s big outdoor event remain in the hands of their distributors and security services issue statements that protestors might be an issue.
Of course, they were on the occasion of the last visit as well, because religion here is not so much a faith as a brand worn by opposing sides and defended with fists rather than practiced with great vehemence.
Unfortunately, my accent tends to give some people the impression that I belong to the Pope’s flock, so there are certain places where it is best to keep my mouth shut for fear of infuriating the sectarian element.
A prominent protestor in 1982 has said that he will return this week.
He is Ian Paisley, a man who has made a career of bigotry and hate-mongering. This leaves those of us with a genuine grievance in a difficult position. I have been searching for a legitimate protest to attend against the visit of the pontiff but it is proving difficult to locate one.
Those of practically the same faith will voice their outrage when he visits, led by Paisley but for others who simply don’t want to see taxpayers’ money spent protecting or harbouring a man who heads what is a corrupt and, in the opinion of some, criminal organisation, there is little by way of an outlet.
The Pope is visiting Britain this week as a head of state as well as head of a church. Herein lies a very dangerous blurring of lines.
The Vatican ‘state’ was established in 1929 following the signing of the three Lateran accords by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri (on behalf of Pope Pious XI) and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.
The deal established Catholicism as the ruling religion in Italy and also brought the rest of the world a new player in geopolitics.
Thanks to this historical hangover, the Pope is granted diplomatic immunity in Britain today and as a result, the efforts of militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins to have him arrested have been thwarted. Certainly, there is no justification for judging Benedict automatically guilty of being complicit in the covering up of the sexual abuse of children during his years in Rome but more and more it is feeling like there might be a reason for him and many others to stand trial.
From the many reports produced on this topic, it is clear there was institutional cover-ups in the Catholic Church that sought to protect its priests and hierarchy from criminal prosecution.
The sexual abuse of children continued unchecked for years and was hidden by this organisation. Even as I type, fresh revelations have come to light about a similar pattern in the Belgian Catholic Church. What state in the world could wish to get away with such activity?
The Republic of Ireland is essentially broke. Budget deficits are running high and services are being cut all the time. Despite this, there are a lot of people in the country paying double tax. They pay the State, as all adults are expected to do, and then they receive another bill through their letterbox. This one is from the Catholic Church.
It is common to hear people complain about the amount of tax they have to pay which funds schools, teachers and various other services and yet few are vocal when it comes to swelling the coffers of their local diocese.
What this money is used for has only become clear in recent years. Some of course goes to pay priests and maintain buildings but some has been used to pay off the victims of sexual predators hiding behind a collar and the name of faith. From its dioceses across the world, tourism and printing, the Vatican as a state makes a very healthy living.
The CIA handbook for this year estimates revenue at $355.5 million.
The Vatican also enjoys observer status on a number of extremely high-profile international organisations. It is an observer at the World Trade Organisation, despite the fact it is has no official GDP. Similarly, it was one of the signatories of the Rome Statute of the International Court. As of July 1, it was one of 37 countries internationally which had signed but not ratified the treaty.
I do not wish this to seem like an attack on people’s faith in their god. I disagree with them regarding the existence of such a being but if they wish to worship that entity privately, while having no negative effect on the wider society, then let them.
The Catholic Church as an organisation however, and the Pope as leader of it, are a problem.
While the religious position adopted by the Pope might not be militant, it is political, and that is simply not acceptable. The Catholic Church wants it both ways.
When there is a case to be answered they hide behind the face of a major world faith, demanding deference and respect, yet when they wish to exert political influence they do so without a second thought.
Benedict must decide if he is politician or pontiff, the two must no longer be considered compatible.