Anti-Catholic prejudice encouraged during Pope’s visit

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

I lost count how many times over the past few weeks I had to call on my yoga-based skill to calm myself down or how many times I wanted to throw my radio and television out the window as my anger levels rose listening to the media commentary preceding Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain. You would have thought the Pope represented a doctrine based on evil rather than one based on Christianity.

This media onslaught was an attempt to demonise the Pope; to hang him out to dry for all the ills of the Catholic Church - and there are many - the cover up of the appalling levels of child abuse, the attitude to women’s status in the Church, opposition to using condoms to combat the spread ofAids and the rights of gay people.

By the way, you will find many of these issues in family homes in any street in Ireland or Britain being handled correctly or badly and that is not to excuse the indefensible cover-up inside the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict was presented as if he was a latter-day crusader arriving in Britain on a mission to convert it from it all that is good in Protestantism to all that is bad in Catholicism.

In fact his mission was simple and in the minds of believers, Catholics and others, holy.

He was there to beatify the 19th century priest Cardinal John Henry Newman. While there he correctly raised issues which many progressive secular commentators and writers have been raising for decades, the destructive impact of prosperity and modern living on the human condition. And the need, as he sees it, for religious belief to help anchor a society in drift. The Pope was not an intruder. He was invited to Britain and the media should have afforded him the respect that a person of his background is entitled to.

He is the spiritual leader of a worldwide Church that has a membership of a billion people.

Some media described the Pope’s visit as “controversial”; others including a few self-appointed selective moralists based at that renowned bastion of impartiality and intellectual rigour - BBC Ormeau Avenue - gushed about the visit being a failure because so few people were expected to turn out for the visit and this was long before the Pope’s arrival.

I wonder how red-faced these same commentators were when they saw the tens of thousands of people who turned out to welcome Pope Benedict.

Against this background of Papal hostility it galled me to listen to journalists sheepishly interview lan Paisley while he peddled anti-Catholic prejudice, Prejudice used for decades by loyalists to maim and hurt Catholics.

The coverage of the visit by Sky News was fair, critical and informative yet RTE seemed to have difficulty even mentioning the occasion. For different reasons it was difficult for Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to turn out for the visit.

While it was disappointing that Martin McGuinness was unable to attend, his remark that it would be an honour for him to meet the Pope should he visit Ireland was what many Irish Catholics and republicans, particularly from the north, wanted to hear.

I grew up in a devoutly Catholic family at a time when Catholics in the north did not exist as far as the union-flag-flying Protestant unionist state was concerned.

This is long before John Hume, Gerry Adams, the Civil Rights Association and the IRA.

My parents gave me a political Catholic identity through their devotion to the Catholic Church in post-war Protestant Rathcoole.

I went to Mass every Sunday, wore a shamrock to Mass on St Patrick’s Day, visibly made my Communion and Confirmation and was a very public Catholic lad growing up.

In prison I read about the persecution of the Catholic people of this country by Protestant colonisers settled here by the English government.

That is indisputable historical fact and it was that deeply felt sense of historical and personal persecution, from my upbringing, that the anti-Catholic media jibes stirred in me and many other Irish Catholics.

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