Friday, September 17, 2010

Northern leaders turned down papal invitation

Northern leaders turned down papal invitation


NORTHERN IRELAND’S First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness did not accept invitations to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in Edinburgh in an effort to avoid causing difficulties for either of them, both men confirmed last night.

Up to now, because of their opposing political and religious allegiances, there was an unspoken protocol whereby Mr Robinson and before him, former DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley, would deal with British royal business, while papal matters would be left to Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness.

The invitation posed particular difficulties for Mr Robinson, who would have attended the Holyroodhouse reception with the pope and Queen Elizabeth, while his predecessor-in-office, Ian Paisley, was in the city protesting at Pope Benedict’s state visit.

Meanwhile, the German cardinal who caused a diplomatic flurry just hours before the pope’s visit has refused to apologise for describing the UK as an “aggressively atheistic society” and for saying that Heathrow airport looks like something from the Third World.

Leading British clerics, led by the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had issued several calls for an apology for the “intemperate remarks” of Cardinal Walter Kasper, a confidante of the pope.

Standing by the comments, the cardinal’s spokesman claimed that he had merely highlighted the UK’s ethnic make-up: “Kasper meant to say there are people there from all around the world and you could be in Mumbai, Kinshasa, Islamabad or Nairobi,” said Msgr Oliver Lahl.

“It was not a negative connotation, it was the opposite of racism. He meant the UK is no longer a mono-ethnic or mono-religious state, and can be a positive example for Europe,” said Msgr Lahl.

The cardinal is particularly standing by his charge that the Catholic Church in the UK faces an “aggressive new atheism”, particularly from writers such as Richard Dawkins, whose work is not simply academic and whose books sell out, said Msgr Lahl.

“Christianity is no longer protected like other religions in the UK and it is easier for journalists and writers to attack Christians. Atheism is returning after 20 years off the radar with a very aggressive agenda,” he said.

Pope Benedict will today meet with the global head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, following months of tensions between the Vatican and the Anglicans over the future of conservative priests in the Anglican Church.

The two men met briefly yesterday at a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh, but they will be joined by some of their bishops for this evening’s meeting in Lambeth Palace in London.

Last October, the Vatican caused dismay among many Anglicans when it offered to recruit Anglican priests unhappy with the direction their church was taking, without them having to give up Anglican traditions, including the right for clergy to be married.

The second day of the pope’s visit will concentrate in London, beginning with a speech to 3,000 students and teachers at St Mary’s University in Twickenham outside London to celebrate Catholic education.

The highlight of his trip will be tonight’s Westminster Hall speech to political and civic leaders, which is expected to focus strongly on the need for a religious influence in society at large and the need for religious organizations to play a vocational role in society.


God forbid that their presence at the historic visit of our Holy Father to the UK would cause any undue difficulties for the First and Deputy First Ministers of the N.I. Assembly. If Catholicism is synonymous with Republicanism and Protestantism is synonymous with Unionism as we have been taught for so many years, I fear that we still have a very long and rocky road to travel before we see a true “shared society” in the North of Ireland.

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