Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Benedict XVI Demonstrates Humble Courage in Secular Britain

I agree wholeheartedly with Stephen Glover in this article entitled: "If only the Archbishop of Canterbury dared to speak with a fraction of Benedict's authority." He writes:
Only a few days ago we were being assured by many voices on the BBC that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain might well turn out to be a damp squib. It was widely predicted that few would turn out to see him.

Some even suggested that protests against the heinous crimes of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church might so dominate and disfigure his visit that there would be no room for the Pope to talk about anything else, or for us to listen.

In the event, the crowds were larger than had been forecast, if not as big as they were when the charismatic Pope John Paul II came to this country 28 years ago. Particularly noticeable were the many enthusiastic young people among an estimated 80,000 congregation at a prayer vigil in Hyde Park in London on Saturday evening.

As for the protests about child abuse, they did not overwhelm the visit. Pope Benedict effectively admitted the guilt of the Roman Catholic Church. At a mass in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon, he moved some members of the congregation to tears when he appeared to liken the victims' suffering to Christ's sacrifice on the cross. He spoke of the 'shame and humiliation' brought to the Church by the scandal.

This was a much more successful visit than the Roman Catholic hierarchy had dared to hope.

But I have a feeling it was more than that. In a manner wholly unlike our home-grown clerics, the Pope spoke to the soul of our country, affirming eternal moral verities which our own political and religious leaders normally prefer to avoid.

In essence, he has been asking us to examine what kind of country we want this to be. He warned Britain not to lose sight of its Christian heritage in its 'multi-cultural' and 'aggressively secular' modern society.

Politicians should not try to 'silence' religion by discouraging public celebration of its most important festivals, notably Christmas. Nor should they enact legislation which forces Christians to act against their consciences.

He reminded us that 'Britain stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God', and reflected how it was 'deeply moving to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives'. The excesses of secularism and the perils of 'atheist extremism' were themes to which he returned again and again.

They will resonate with Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and with many non-Christians of other faiths, and perhaps those with none. . . . Pope Benedict's declarations over the past few days have been remarkable and, in modern Britain, virtually unprecedented.

They were delivered in the calmest, meekest, least ranting way possible, and yet they carried a great authority that largely comes, I think, from the Pope's sense of holiness and evident goodness, as well as from the dignity of his office.

Even hard-hearted cynics and sceptics could not fail but listen. Most extraordinary of all, here was a religious leader prepared to confront the modern secular world - and modern secular Britain - with the timeless values of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

These values, said Pope Benedict in his final address yesterday, had been traduced by abusive priests who had seriously undermined the moral credibility of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is almost a shock to hear a religious leader speak in so blunt a way, so inured are we to our own religious leaders, particularly Church of England bishops, accommodating themselves to secular values.

. . . wouldn't it be wonderful if Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, dared to speak with a fraction of the authority of the Pope? The tragedy is that Dr Williams and Anglican bishops probably agree with almost everything Pope Benedict said about the dangers of secularism - and yet they do not have the courage, or whatever it takes, to say it.

And whereas the Pope speaks clearly in English, which is his third or fourth language, Dr Williams often speaks opaquely or in riddles in the language that is his own.

In his concluding address, Pope Benedict said that he had discovered 'how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the good news of Jesus Christ'. He is right. And yet how often our national Church - the Church of England - fails to proclaim this good news.
The only point I'd quibble with is whether in fact Archbishop Williams and the other Anglican bishops do believe in what Pope Benedict is saying. They believe in some of it, but not likely all of it. Many Anglican bishops have given up on so much of traditional Christian orthodoxy in order to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the age that this lack of faith renders them mute in the face of modern skepticism.

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