More than 50 public figures from the world of science, entertainment and literature have signed a letter criticizing the decision by the UK government to invite Pope Benedict XVI on a state visit, which begins Thursday.
Among them are writer, entertainer and wit Stephen Fry, Discworld author Terry Pratchett, biologist and God Delusion author Richard Dawkins, comedian, writer and director Stewart Lee, writer Ken Follett and His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman.
Their letter, in today’s Guardian, begins: “We, the undersigned, share the view that Pope Ratzinger should not be given the honour of a state visit to this country. We believe that the pope, as a citizen of Europe and the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK, is of course free to enter and tour our country.”
The letter goes on to say why it should not be a state visit (that of his predecessor, John Paul II, in 1982 was a pastoral visit and didn’t put a burden on the taxpayer).
The letter recognizes that the Pope, a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger, is technically a head of state, but goes on to say that the state that is the Vatican has been responsible for:
– Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.
– Promoting segregated education.
– Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women.
– Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
– Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
The letter concludes:
The state of which the pope is head has also resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties (“concordats”) with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states. In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.
Today’s Guardian points out in its own story about the letter: “The barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC argues that Britain is wrong to afford the pope a state visit because the sovereignty of the Vatican and Holy See are based on a 1929 Lateran treaty, which was signed by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.”
The full list of signatories is: Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Susan Blackmore, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Ed Byrne, Baroness Blackstone, Ken Follett, Professor AC Grayling, Stewart Lee, Baroness Massey, Claire Rayner, Adele Anderson, John Austin MP, Lord Avebury, Sian Berry, Professor Simon Blackburn, Sir David Blatherwick, Sir Tom Blundell, Dr Helena Cronin, Dylan Evans, Hermione Eyre, Lord Foulkes, Professor Chris French, Natalie Haynes, Johann Hari, Jon Holmes, Lord Hughes, Robin Ince, Dr Michael Irwin, Professor Steve Jones, Sir Harold Kroto, Professor John Lee, Zoe Margolis, Jonathan Meades, Sir Jonathan Miller, Diane Munday, Maryam Namazie, David Nobbs, Professor Richard Norman, Lord O’Neill, Simon Price, Paul Rose, Martin Rowson, Michael Rubenstein, Joan Smith, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Professor Raymond Tallis, Lord Taverne, Peter Tatchell, Baroness Turner, Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton QC FBA, Ann Marie Waters, Professor Wolpert, Jane Wynne Willson.
Meanwhile, there was a claim yesterday that secularists were conducting a “New Atheist witch hunt” against Ratzinger
The rebuke came from Claire Fox, director and founder of the UK think tank the Institute of Ideas, speaking at the launch of a series of debates on religion as part of the organization’s annual festival.
Fox said: “There are many reasons to criticize religious leaders, and plenty are coming from within the church itself, but secularists really should take the opportunity to remind themselves of the Enlightenment values they claim to stand for – such as tolerance, freedom of thought and conscience and a human being as a rational subject – rather than focusing on what they hate about the church and, by extension, Catholics.”