Pope Benedict XVI has begun his state visit to the UK with attacks on atheism and secularism. In his opening address to the Queen at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on 16 September, the Pope referred to “a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society” and then went on to urge the UK to guard against “aggressive forms of secularism”. In response, IHEU member organizations in Britain denounced the Pope’s attempt to equate atheism with Nazism and argued that secularism is the best guarantee for human rights for all.
The UK gay Humanist charity, the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) robustly rejected the Pope’s claim that the Nazis were atheists. “This is rubbish,” said PTT secretary George Broadhead. “Hitler himself was born, and remained all his life, a Catholic. The church never excommunicated him. In 1933, he signed a concordat with the Vatican. The church agreed to keep priests and religion out of politics while Hitler, among other things, granted complete freedom to confessional schools throughout the country – a notable victory for German Catholics.
“The Vatican even asked God to bless the new German Reich! It ordered all German bishops to swear allegiance to the Nazi regime with an oath that ended, ‘In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interest of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it’.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, also slammed the Pope’s opening address: “The Pope is hardly off the plane before he launches his first attack on secularism (or the ‘new aggressive form of secularism’) as a threat to the power that he feels should be his alone to wield.
“The secular identity of the British people is not something to criticise, but to celebrate. We have rejected dogmatic religion devoid of compassion. In its place we have embraced and included gay people and given them the right to full equality, given women the right to control their own fertility, given scientists a free hand to seek cures for horrific diseases by the use of stem-cell research.
“Mass attendance has declined by a half in the last twenty years – showing that Catholics too are voting with their feet. The vast majority disregard the Pope’s dogma. Recent polls show just 5% of Catholics reject contraception in all circumstances.”
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and IHEU vice president, added: “The notion that it is non-religious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal.”
Protest the Pope
Meanwhile, at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 17 September 2010, Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists, a local group in the English Midlands, unanimously approved a resolution on the ‘Protest the Pope’ campaign. The resolution reads: “This AGM supports the peaceful protests of the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society as part of the ‘Protest the Pope’ campaign against Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to the UK and against the Pope’s pronouncements on issues of great importance to Humanists: abortion, assisted suicide, contraception and AIDS prevention, gay rights, inter alia.”