In what seems to be a one-way initiative, the Vatican has set up a new project to reach out to atheists – but prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will not be allowed to take part.
The initiative, says the Independent, is “an attempt to improve the church’s relationship with non-believers.”
The paper continues: “The Vatican hopes to stage a series of debates in Paris next year. But militant non-believers hoping for a chance to set senior church figures straight about the existence of God are set to be disappointed: the church has warned that atheists with high public profiles such as Richard Dawkins [The God Delusion] and Christopher Hitchens [God is Not Great] will not be invited.”
The new foundation will be known as “The Courtyard of the Gentiles”, and is being set up by the Pontifical Council for Culture, a Vatican department that sets out to foster better relations with non-Catholics.
Relations have not been so good in recent years, because, among other things, of a speech by Pope Benedict that Muslims took offence to, and the ongoing worldwide scandal over alleged cover-ups by the Pope of priestly sex abuse of children.
The Pope is due to visit Britain in September, a sojourn that has become a controversial one, leading to demonstrations, because of the apparent cover-ups when he was a cardinal and because of the huge cost to the UK taxpayer.
If the visit were a pastoral one rather than a state one, this cost would be met by the Catholic Church, but it could cost Britain up to £20 million, plus the expense of security, which will come from existing police funds.
And a recent suggestion by the Pope’s second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that child abuse and paedophilia were connected with homosexuality brought condemnation, not only from those of other faiths and none, but even from fellow Catholics in the UK.
Crimes against humanity
Recently, Dawkins and Hitchens put their weight behind a plan to have the Pope arrested when he gets to Britain and charged under international law with crimes against humanity.
The ban on Dawkins and Hitchens is referred to in an interview in the National Catholic Register, in which Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, makes it clear he will not be willing to give a platform to certain prominent atheists.
He said the foundation would be interested only in “noble atheism or agnosticism, not the polemical kind – so not those atheists such as [Piergiorgio] Odifreddi in Italy, [Michel] Onfray in France, [Christopher] Hitchens and [Richard] Dawkins.”
Such atheists, he added, view the truth only with “irony and sarcasm” and tend to “read religious texts like fundamentalists.”
Prominent atheists and other campaigners will be wondering what the Catholic Church fears from the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens, who both consider themselves freethinkers.
Meanwhile, a newspaper has been detailing some of the vetting procedures to ensure that suspected child abusers don’t get accepted into the priesthood. And it seems that even some celibate candidates will be rejected – mainly if they’re gay.
Among the questions asked of would-be priests are: “When was the last time you had sex?”; “What kind of sexual experiences have you had?”; “Do you like pornography?”; “Do you like children?”; “Do you like children more than you like people your own age?”
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