Alex Massie

Hello Pope!

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And welcome to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Of all the pointless activities in all the world you'd think telling the Pope he's wrong must rank pretty highly. So I don't think there's much point in standing outside Bellahouston Park today shouting "There is no God you know" at the 70,000 Roman Catholics attending the Papal Mass. Nor do I think there's much to be said for wasting time and energy complaining, in effect, that the Pope has the effrontery to be, well, the Pope.

But it seems that there's no exhausting the appetite for being outraged these days. This week it's the Pope's visit but last week it was Tony Blair's memoirs and next week it will be something new and boring again.

I'm not on the Pope's team and, for that matter, hold a scepticism about the Catholic Church (as an institution and a powerful one at that) that long pre-dates* the current Pope-bashing. But even as one condemns the church's cover-up of child abuse one also ought to be able to recognise that it has done much good too and provided great joy and solace for millions of people around the world. That's not nothing.

A Papal visit was bound to be used as a reason to rake over the still warm embers of the child abuse scandals. But the tone - especially on the BBC and Channel 4 - of much of the coverage has gone rather further. "The Pope arrives in Britain in 48 hours. Who cares?" sneered Jeremy Paxman the other day, oblivious to the fact that he was answering his own question.

But if you don't care - and really, there's little reason for non-Catholics to care about a visit that does not in any meaningful sense have anything to do with them far less merit being self-righteously "offended" by - then why go on about it? I'll say this for Iain Paisley: at least his disagreements with the Papacy are rooted in theology, not any sense of metropolitan superiority.

Don't care about the Pope? Fine. But once the point is made - and the Church's short-comings are hardly secret (or unappreciated by most Catholics) - then there's something to be said for having the grace to pipe-down and let the believers enjoy the visit without the accompanying whispered suggestion that by thinking there's more to the Catholic church than its scandals they are themselves helping cover-up those scandals.

So I think Catholics - whether practising or not - have some legitmate grounds for feeling put upon by much of the coverage. Not because there aren't grounds for criticising the Church but because, really, the level of manufactured outrage surrounding this fleeting appearance on these shores is entirely out of proportion to the reality of a visit from the leader of a minority faith.

In any case, there's something ridiculous about unbelievers working themselves into a lather over the fact that, however stubbornly, other people do believe. Live and let live.

*Brought on by a combination of living in Ireland for some years and, I guess, a certain residual lapsed-presbyterian mistrust of a kind that my Church of Scotland minister forbears might find entirely too wishy-washy. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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