Stop political ‘cheap shots’ against Pope of the people

Stop political ‘cheap shots’ against Pope of the people

About six months before Benedict XVI was due to visit Britain in 2010, a rather unfortunate memo from the foreign office was obtained by The Sunday Telegraph newspaper. The fruit of a brainstorming session amongst officials, the paper was called ‘The ideal visit would see…’ and included suggestions that the Pope’s visit could be marked by the launch of ‘Benedict condoms’ and that the Pontiff could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a same-sex marriage during his State visit.

A rather red-faced Prime Minister David Cameron hastily apologised over what the government described as a “foolish” document and UK Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Campbell was dispatched to the Apostolic Palace to mend fences.

The Vatican was entirely gracious about the incident and in turn the British government threw its full weight behind the visit seeing it as a remarkable opportunity to welcome arguably the most-recognised moral leader in the world.


Despite negative media coverage in the run-up to the trip, Britons by and large agreed. The British Establishment saw the Benedict visit as an opportunity to work closely with the Vatican on issues of mutual concern such as disarmament, climate change, human development, the Northern Irish peace process and the role of faith in public discourse.

Mr Cameron later described the visit as an “incredibly moving four days”.

“Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be. As you, your Holiness, have said, faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation – and we are proud of that,” Mr Cameron said.

“You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing,” he added.

What, I wonder, will be Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s parting words to Pope Francis when he leaves Ireland? Will Mr Varadkar acknowledge that Francis has made him sit up and think? The omens are not promising. At a recent press briefing, Mr Varadkar vowed to confront the Pope about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Evidently Francis will have a lot to listen to. Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has pledged she’ll challenge the Pope on the ordination of women while culture minister Josepha Madigan says she’ll tell Francis that celibacy should be optional.

In my 16 years writing about the Church and the Vatican – five of them spent in Rome and accompanying the Pope on overseas trips – I can’t think of a Papal visit that has been so marked by an atmosphere where politicians think it is their right and duty to challenge the Pope on what are internal matters for the Church.

The Pope – who doesn’t speak English – will likely listen politely to what the politicians say to him in Dublin Castle. He doesn’t much care for politicians or their ideas about what the Church should teach its own members. He’ll be keen on getting out of the event as quickly as possible and spending time with ordinary people – what he has often described as “God’s holy faithful people”.

It’s a pity that Irish politicians don’t have the wisdom and breadth of vision that their British counterparts sometimes have. It’s a pity too that they seem determined to use the Papal visit as an opportunity to take cheap shots against the Church and score points against one of the most charismatic and popular men in the world.

As a small country that aspires to global reach, it’s disappointing that our leaders can’t seize the opportunity and try to work hand-in-hand with a real global moral crusader like Pope Francis on issues we claim to be concerned about as a State like climate change and tackling global inequality.

Politicians should get over their negative stereotypes, stop playing to the gallery and realise that an ally like Pope Francis is more important that whipping up a mob on Twitter or gaining a few more likes on Facebook.