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Reg Empey: Orange Order needs to be cautious over Pope protests

The Orange Order has been warned to be cautious over calls to protest against the forthcoming Papal visit to Britain.

Sir Reg Empey, who himself is an Orangeman, has described the planned protest as unwise and said it would put the Queen in a very difficult position.

In a statement issued last week, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland urged UK citizens, particularly its members, to demonstrate against Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the UK later this year.

The Pope is due to take part in a series of engagements in England, Wales and Scotland during September. It will mark the first official visit to the UK by a Pope since John Paul II in 1982. The trip does not include Northern Ireland.

However the Orange Order said it could not welcome Pope Benedict to Great Britain for “biblical reasons”.

“The head of a church is entitled to participate in a pastoral visit to the members of that church,” Sir Reg told the BBC’s Inside Politics programme yesterday.

“The danger for some Orange brethren is that they need to be careful of the position the Queen is in as a head of state.

“The Pope can only come to the UK on her invitation and I think great care will have to be taken on how people deal with that.”

The statement issued by the Grand Orange Lodge also expressed opposition to any potential papal visit to Northern Ireland, but called on its own members “to refrain from any uncharitable acts or sentiments against our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen”.

It read: “While we recognise the civil and religious rights of all, we cannot welcome or agree with the visit of the Pope to this country.”

The statement also claimed that “the teaching of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is at total variance with the Biblical message that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone”.

Sinn Fein has accused the Orange Order of being aligned with the “far right” organisations such as the British National Party.

And a former leading member of the Orange Order said the plans to protest had actually rescued the Catholic Church from the controversy surrounding the child sex abuse scandal.

Presbyterian Minister the Rev Brian Kennaway said the Orange statement would “go down in history as the time the Orange Order rescued the Pope”.

He said: “There is already a swell of opinion against the Papacy, now they (the Orange Order) are highlighting something that is perceived to be purely sectarian and they are taking the heat off the Catholic Church.”

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