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Why I oppose the pope's visit

By Peter Tatchell, Special to CNN
  • Peter Tatchell says the pope should not receive a state visit
  • Says Pope Benedict XVI is out of step with modern Britain
  • Tatchell: Pope's view on contraception "condemns poor parents to large families"

Editor's note: Australian-born British human rights activist Peter Tatchell campaigns for human rights, democracy, lesbian and gay freedom and global justice. He is a co-organizer of the Protest the Pope campaign, which opposes the UK state visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

London, England (CNN) -- As a democrat, I defend the right of Pope Benedict XVI to visit Britain and to express his opinions. But people who disagree with him also have a right to protest against his often harsh, intolerant views.

The Protest the Pope campaign is calling on the British government to disassociate itself from the pope's opposition to women's rights, gay equality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. On these and many other issues, Benedict is out of step with the majority of British people, including most Catholics.

We do not believe that the pope should be honored with a state visit, given his role in the cover up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. Even today, he is refusing to hand the Vatican's secret sex abuse files to the police in countries worldwide. He is protecting the abusers. This makes him complicit with sex crimes against children. Such a person does not deserve the honor of a state visit.

We also object to part of his visit being funded by the taxpayer. The British public never funds visits by the Grand Mufti of Mecca or the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Why should the pope's visit get privileged financial support?

On many important social issues, the pope rejects equality and human rights.

Pope Benedict opposes women's ordination. Women are deemed unfit to be priests. This is an insult to the whole female sex. The implication of the pope's teaching is that women have no moral capacity for spiritual leadership as clergy. This is pure patriarchy and misogyny.

The pope says artificial contraception is a sin. He condemns poor parents in developing countries to have large families that they can't care for adequately. In some countries, priests promote scare stories that contraception makes women sick and will kill them.

Benedict XVI opposes IVF fertility treatment. He wants to deny childless couples the chance of parenthood. This is odd. The Catholic Church says having children is God's will yet it rejects giving the option of parenthood to infertile couples.

The pope rejects potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research, which could help find cures for fatal illnesses like motor neurone disease -- saving lives and improving people's quality of life. Surely this research is fulfilling Christian values and ideals?

Benedict XVI has denounced the use of condoms, even to stop the spread of HIV. A husband with HIV must not use a condom to protect his wife from infection, according to Papal doctrine. He has also claimed that condoms "increase" the rate of HIV infection. His dishonest teachings discourage a proven way to reduce HIV transmission; thereby putting millions of lives at risk.

The pope has colluded with the Vatican's promotion of the lie that condoms spread HIV because latex is porous (sic) to the virus. This is an outrageous falsehood and has been condemned as untrue and irresponsible by scientists and medical professionals. Yet Benedict has never withdrawn or repudiated the Vatican nonsense that condoms have tiny holes through which HIV can pass.

In 1986 and 1992, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he authored a Vatican document that condemned the homosexuality as an "objective disorder" and the mere fact of being gay as a "strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil" -- even if a gay person never has sex. Rejecting the concept of gay human rights, the document asserted that there is no "right" to laws protecting homosexual people against discrimination, suggesting that the civil liberties of lesbians and gay men can be "legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct."

The pope has attacked same-sex marriages as "evil" and vilified supporters of gay equality as "gravely immoral." He has also denounced homosexual equality as a "deviant trend" and condemned same-sex love as being "without any social value." He even threatened to excommunicate Catholic legislators who voted for gay rights laws.

While condemning loving, consenting adult same-sex relations, the pontiff played a role in shielding Catholic clergy guilty of child sex abuse from prosecution.

In 2001, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to all Catholic Bishops, which ordered "Papal secrecy" concerning allegations of child sex abuse. He instructed the Bishops to report all such cases to him in Rome, so the idea that he did not know about sex abuse by priests is nonsense. His letter did not tell Bishops to report the abusers to the police.

The esteemed Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, said the pope bears co-responsibility for the cover-up and that Benedict has failed to apologize for his own personal shortcomings during the child sex abuse scandal.

For more than two decades, as a Cardinal and as a Pope, Joseph Ratzinger has attempted to reverse the liberalizing trends of the Second Vatican Council -- pushing the whole church back to a more orthodox, conservative agenda. He's strengthening the hierarchy and autocracy of the Vatican and the Papacy.

This has prompted a grassroots Catholic revolt -- the "We are Church" movement -- which seeks a more democratic, transparent, accountable Church. It asserts that the people are the Church, not the pope.

The Pope has condemned liberation theology, as espoused by Catholic theologians such as Gustavo Gutierriz and Leonardo Boff, and he has opposed the worker priest movement. He preaches social justice but attacks those clergy who advocate political action to reform society and make it more just.

Last year, Pope Benedict rescinded the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson who, in 2008, denied key elements of the Holocaust; claiming that a maximum of 300,000 Jews died in concentration camps and that none were gassed by the Nazis. Williamson remains a part of the Catholic church, with the Pope's blessing, despite the furore over his holocaust denial.

Benedict has also paved the way for eventual sainthood of Pope, Pius XII, despite the war-time pontiff's failure to speak out publicly, either during or after the Holocaust, against the Nazi mass murder of six million Jews and millions of others, including Russian, Polish, disabled, gay and Roma people -- and many more.

Pius XII was no saint. The fact that Pope Benedict wants to makes him a saint shows how far he has strayed from the moral and ethical values of most Catholics and most of humanity.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Tatchell.

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