An audience with the Pope
If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit, what would you say to him? Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Claire Rayner, Ben Goldacre and many more take part in our Pope quiz. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman
Official welcome on behalf of British atheists
Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist: "Mr Ratzinger, as head of the world’s second most evil religion you are not welcome. True, your church recently “pardoned” Galileo (four centuries late), and eventually revoked its historic anti-Semitism. But the equally long-established misogyny remains. On almost all issues concerned with sex, contraception, population and reproduction your stance is illiberal, inhumane and immoral, and your propaganda claim that condoms don’t protect against AIDS is scientifically inaccurate and murderously cynical. In criminally shielding child-raping priests from justice you have placed the welfare of your church ahead of your victims. Go home to your tinpot Mussolini-concocted principality, and don’t come back."
Claire Rayner, broadcaster and campaigner: "I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him."
Great minds think . . . clink
Francis Wheen, journalist and broadcaster: "You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. In short, sonny – you’re nicked."
Johann Hari, journalist: "I am placing you under arrest for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and for your central role in the systematic cover-up of the rape of children across five continents. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not say now something you may later rely on in court. Wait there - I’ve called for a police officer to take you down to the cells."
Stay or go?
Conor Gearty, professor of law: "I am a Roman Catholic. I believe in Jesus as the risen Christ, and am proud of the force for good that many Catholics have been down the ages. My question for the Pope would be, do I fit in his Church? I believe in a Church that is comfortable with other believers and also happy to be among those with no belief at all. I cannot believe that we can know for sure that God planned for his word to come through Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church alone. I believe that the primary mission of the Church the Pope leads is to manifest God’s presence in its action for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. I can see the past logic of a male celibate clergy but would disregard it now in favour of a Church that is comfortable about the sexuality and gender of all its members, from top to bottom. So do I fit? Obviously my views are not acceptable today, but does he regard it as even thinkable that they might succeed tomorrow? In short: should I stay or should I go?"
Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic studies: "Your Holiness, I hope your experience of the variety and vitality of British Catholicism will help you to understand the challenges we liberal Catholics face in maintaining a dialogue between our Catholic faith and secular society. On the one hand, we are under relentless pressure from atheists who see the Church as misogynistic, homophobic and mired in scandal. On the other hand, conservative Catholics accuse us of betraying the Church because we are willing to debate questions such as women’s ordination, priestly celibacy and homosexuality. As a Catholic committed both to my faith and to the egalitarian values of modern society, particularly regarding the role of women, I do not believe that my only choices are to shut up or get out. What would you do, in my situation?"
Some modest questions
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner: "If God is kind, perfect, wise, infallible and master of the universe, why do his creations include devastating tsunamis and earthquakes and people born with terrible deformities? If God is just, why does he allow the good and godly to suffer? If God is all-knowing, why do the faithful have to pray to inform him of their needs? If God is great, why does he need to be worshipped and idolised, and why does he need to be protected by laws against blasphemy? If God is all-powerful, how it is possible to break his laws, resist his will and cause him offence? If God is love and infinitely good, why do religionists speak of God’s wrath and fear him? And why does God condemn sinners to hell, which is a place of torment and suffering? If God is fair, why does he punish people who are born with genetic traits and bad parents that predispose them to doing wrong?"
Graham Wilmer, survivor of childhood sexual abuse at a Catholic school: "Your Grace – I stand before you as a survivor of sexual abuse in my childhood, at the hands of members of your Church. My story has been told before, but my struggle for justice goes on, as does the struggle for the hundreds of other survivors who sought my help after my story was published. Despite the recommendations of the Nolan Review and the Cumberlege Commission, we are still meeting hostility, obfuscation and denial from your bishops and safeguarding officers, as we seek the reconciliation and healing we need to enable us to move on. What we lack is the support of an independent commission, with the credibility and experience to act as a forum for all victims of child abuse in the UK; a place where victims can disclose the harm done to them without fear, shame or prejudice, have their experiences recognised and accepted, and seek and obtain the therapeutic support they need to recover. I have laid out the rationale for such a commission on a website: The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation for victims of sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. You have the power to enable such a commission to be created. All that is needed is a single sentence of support from you, no more, no less. I ask you, therefore, to help me help those who still suffer in silence and in darkness, so they may be guided through their turmoil and be, once more, free to achieve their potential, as they were once, briefly, in childhood, before your priests laid waste to their futures."
Philip Pullman, author: "I would like to ask the Pope to imagine that he was taken back in time to Jerusalem in the last week of Jesus’s life, with the power to save him from the crucifixion that was rapidly approaching – perhaps by magically transporting Jesus to a distant city such as Athens or Baghdad. Would he use that power, with all its consequences for the future of the Church, or not? And if he wouldn’t, if he would just stand back and let the crucifixion happen, how does that make him any different from Judas?"
Carrie Quinlan, writer and comedian: "I’d ask the Pope what he’ll say when Jesus comes back. How he’s going to explain to someone who spent his life railing against hypocrisy and abuse of power what the Church has done and continues to do in his name? I’d ask how he’d explain to the man he purports to serve how a message of love got turned into one of homophobia, sexism and oppression. How an example of enlightenment was twisted into something that demands obedience and tells desperate people that it’s better to die in poverty and ignorance than use a condom. How he’s going to explain to a sandal-shod carpenter that Rome’s wealth and extravagance is based on what he taught. I don’t believe Jesus is divine, but I think he was a dude, and if he does show up, he’s going to be furious."
Christina Martin, comedian: "So how does this work? You sing some of your hits interspersed with chat and anecdotes...? Oh no, sorry, I’m thinking of those ITV An Audience With... shows. I’d like to ask which Pope from history you most aspire to emulate. Pope Benedict IX, who sold the papacy twice; Pope Urban VI, who complained if he didn’t hear enough screaming when his cardinals were tortured; Pope John XV, who split the Church’s finances amongst his relatives; or Pope Stephen VI, who dug up his predecessor, tried him and then threw him in a river...?"
Francis Beckett, journalist and author: "Your Holiness, I understand, of course, that God gave us free will, and therefore all the dreadful things that we do – torture, mass murder, famine – are nothing to do with Him. He’s all-good as well as all-powerful.But then, what’s the point of praying to Him about these matters? He’s not going to intervene. Come to that, is there any point in praying to Him about anything? Suppose two people have a life-threatening illness. Does God think: I’ll save the one who has Catholic friends, who pray for him, and the other can die – that’ll teach the unbelieving bugger? If He doesn’t think that, what’s the point of praying to Him? Your friend’s just as likely to die as if you’d stayed off your knees. Suppose they both die. The first chap’s friends pray for him to go to heaven, and the second chap’s friends don’t.Does that make God more likely to send the first chap to Heaven, and the second to Hell to fry for ever? If not – if prayers don’t make a difference – why do Catholics pray? The second question of the Catholic catechism, taught at canepoint to Catholics of my generation, said: “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.” Is that it? Were we put here just to feed God’s massive ego? Do we pray to Him because he’s all-powerful and unpredictable, like Stalin, and God knows what He might do to us if we don’t?"
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science columnist: "We don’t disagree on any facts. There is no piece of scientific information that will change your mind. We both know that AIDS kills two million people a year, and 35 million people are HIV positive. We both know that if you tell people to stop using condoms, they are more likely to get HIV, develop AIDS and die. I don’t expect you to ever change your mind, but I’d like you to know how transparent this situation is, and how cold your morality feels."
Nick Doody, comedian: "Hello, er, do I call you Popey? Mr Pope? Herr Ratzinger? Ratzinger – sounds like an anti-rodent spray. Anyway, you’re probably wondering what this is. It’s a condom – don’t panic, my intentions are honourable. Now, just relax as I roll it over your head... Don’t be silly, of course you can breathe. After all, a molecule of oxygen is far smaller than, say, the HIV virus, and if, as you claim, that can get through, you should be in no danger at all. Why are you struggling? Have a little faith! Ah, now you’ve gone blue. And still. Perhaps I’d better leave... I bet this isn’t how you thought you’d be found."
Richard Wilson, writer: "At its best, the Church has been a compassionate advocate for the most vulnerable. But in recent years it has actively sided with human rights abusers against their victims – most strikingly in Africa. In Rwanda, priests who connived in the 1994 genocide were spirited abroad and shielded from justice. In Uganda, while staying silent on the criminalisation of homosexuality, the Church has staunchly opposed moves to prosecute the murderous warlord Joseph Kony. Misplaced calls for “reconciliation” are demeaning and do nothing to deter future crimes. I would urge the Vatican to clean up its record on victims’ rights."
Josie Long, comedian: "Why are women so intrinsically disgusting? Why can’t we just sort it out?"
Ralph Steadman, cartoonist: "If He – the Pope, that is – honours me with an audience I am going to have to come clean and tell the Pope – NOPE!!"