Monday, 2 November 2009

They're inviting the Pope.

A "consortium of university and religious leaders" is hoping to get Pope Benedict XVI to come to Durham as part of his planned visit to Britain. It would be the first ever visit by a Pope to the North-East, and is supported by local political leaders including Durham's MP and the County Council.

Let's file this under "things that they thought everyone would be joyously happy about because their definition of 'everyone' was lacking".

Here's the letter I wrote to my MP: [trigger warning]

You recently said, as published in the Northern Echo and elsewhere,

"The possibility of a papal visit to Durham and to Durham Cathedral, a site of unparalleled beauty, would be of tremendous benefit to the North East. I'm sure the people of Durham would feel great pride in welcoming Pope Benedict and the world's media. Durham is a very important ecumenical centre including our cathedral and the university and it would be wonderful if the Pope was able to visit. I have written to the Foreign Secretary to encourage him to promote Durham as a possible site for a Papal visit and I look forward to hearing more about the Pope's plans in the coming weeks and months."

Pope Benedict XVI, as you are aware, has strong views on a range of political and social issues. For example, he is strongly against the use of contraception (including claiming that the use of condoms in Africa has made the AIDS epidemic on that continent worse), strongly against abortion (including giving his support to the excommunication of the doctors who allowed a 9 year old rape victim to obtain an abortion for a pregnancy that would otherwise have killed her), has referred to homosexual relationships and transgender identities as being against nature, and disapproves of men or women who step outside their "traditional" gender roles.

Inviting him to visit Durham as a high-profile honoured guest gives the implicit support of Durham to his views. Durham has previously been supportive of the LGBT community, recently hosting an International Day Against Homophobia conference at County Hall. I find it very difficult to reconcile this stated support with extending an invitation to someone who actively promotes homophobia and transphobia.

The consequences of homophobia and transphobia can be extremely severe. There have been vigils across the UK within the last week to remember the victims of violence. This October, Ian Baynham in London and Andrea Waddell in Brighton lost their lives as a result of homophobic and transphobic hatred. To invite Pope Benedict to Durham is to condone the views that led to their deaths.

I would feel no pride in welcoming Pope Benedict, and I feel that whatever temporary media attention Durham benefits from as a result could never outweigh the message this would send about how important Durham really considers the lives of its LGBT citizens, women needing abortions, and other groups that he wishes to marginalise or punish.

I hope that you will consider the message that inviting the Pope to Durham would send, withdraw your support for this invitiation, and encourage the other groups involved in it to do likewise.