Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Church must offer more than words

This week’s visit to Britain was heralded as possibly the most testing made yet by Pope Benedict, given the ongoing hurt felt by many over clerical abuse and the Catholic Church’s inadequate response to it.

The Pope’s hard-line views on other issues such as gay marriages, celibacy, abortion, and contraception also made him a ready target for protestors.

But at the end of the first day, the organisers can feel that the focus has shifted from possible protest to a much wider and more fundamental debate — what importance do the British people put on faith and organised religion? In his opening remarks in Scotland, the Pope warned against the aggressive forms of secularism which were responsible for eroding traditional values.

Britain is seen as a secular society, but the turnout for the Papal visit in Scotland showed that Catholicism remains strong. Indeed, some suggest that the recent flood of immigrants from places like Poland make it one of the fastest growing Christian faiths in the Britain. The Papal remarks may well ignite more discussion on its place in |society, especially given that David Cameron’s Big Society project lauds many of the values that the Pope espouses.

It is widely accepted that New Labour tried to |remain agnostic as far as possible — Tony Blair waited until leaving office before acknowledging his own change of denomination — but the new Government may well have more in common with faith groups than critics of the Pope’s stance on moral issues recognise.

On the question of clerical child abuse, the Pope went further than before by calling it a perversion, and admitting that the Church was not sufficiently vigilant against paedophiles, but it still seems |unable to grasp the full depth of pain the issue has caused. While his words are welcome, there still needs to be some significant action to redress the wrongs caused to the most vulnerable among the Church’s flock.

Only then can the Catholic hierarchy begin to |reclaim any of its lost authority.

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