Today, the Guardian offers its take on the visit with an editorial headed "Papal Visit: Bad tripper, good trip", in which it argues that, for all the Church's failings – some of which are exacerbated by the conservatism of Pope Benedict XVI – hosting its leader in a state visit makes perfect sense. It's a matter of realpolitik, but it's also matter of dealing with an organisation which can play significant positive role in the world:
"As a matter of fact the pope is a head of state, one that conducts diplomatic relations with 178 capitals around the world. As a matter of what foreign-affairs wonks label soft power, he is a force that cannot be ignored. The spiritual leader of a billion people around the world is, for better or worse, somebody with clout. The Catholic church flexed malign muscle within our own politics a few years ago by forcing Labour ministers to drop a scheme that would have encouraged a measure of religious mixing in faith schools. But it has been a force for good, too, in securing the writing-down of poor countries' debt, and is increasingly a useful voice on climate change. London is right to recognise that the pope is in a better position to protect the Brazilian rainforest than the Foreign Office."Also in today's Guardian, Madeleine Bunting, who left Catholicism earlier this year, elaborates on this theme, saying:
"While it has failed on many fronts to engage with social change – the position of women or a reappraisal of its attitudes to sexuality – in other areas it has been strikingly successful. The papacy has been a powerful critic of the arms trade, war, global inequality. Above all, the church has mounted a powerful intellectual critique of capitalism for more than a century, challenging its inequality and instrumentalisation of human beings as a means to achieve profit."It is a common defence of the Catholic Church that its good deeds far outweigh the bad – at last week's Protest the Pope debate, the Catholic speakers both asserted that the Church is "the greatest force for good in the world", and therefore we should welcome the Pope to these shores.
It's an interesting debate. I think only the most hardline opponents of the Church would argue that nothing good has ever been done in its name, so the issue for most of us is whether its historical record and, more importantly, its present day sins – for example child abuse cover-ups, homophobia, attitude towards women, condom policy – outweigh the good.
At which point, if we do decide that the bad outweighs the good, we must decide how we should handle the Vatican and the Church. Do we freeze it out completely, or do we attempt dialogue in the hope that it can change? In which case, is a Papal Visit an opportunity for dialogue, or an honour too far for a leader with so many questions to answer?
I'll let you debate that one...
PS: After hitting you with yet another batch of serious words regarding the Papal Visit, I'll leave you with something lighter – it's Catholic electro-pop trio Ooberfüse with their official "youth anthem" for the Papal Visit, "Heart's Cry". Best line? "Lying dying in the gutter like Teresa of Calcutta, feel the love y'all."