Popegate – time to downgrade the Holy See?

by | Apr 26, 2010

From the Telegraph, contrasting reactions to Popegate – the FCO memo that ridiculed Pope Benedict XVI. Damian Thompson – “editor of Telegraph Blogs and a journalist specialising in religion”:

The Foreign Office’s sick attack on the Pope: what did you expect?… My reaction is to say to the Bishops of England and Wales:

NOW do you finally understand what sort of snide, cheap and ignorant prejudice has flourished under this Government and its civil servants – wall-to-wall secularists for whom the Roman Catholic Church is at best an antiquated irrelevance and at worst a sick joke? […]

Oh, sure, the Foreign Office says: “This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or Foreign Office policy or views” – and, of course, most of these proposals wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

But reflect the attitudes of Brown’s government and its politically correct employees is precisely what the document does.

Tim Collard – former diplomat and, apparently, “an active member of the Labour Party”:

Predictably, the usual suspects have blown it up into an international incident. I regret to say that our blogmeister Damian Thompson has made himself look a bit of a Charlie, heading his posting “The Foreign Office’s sick attack on the Pope: what did you expect?”

No, the FCO is not institutionally secularist, Satanist or whatever: it just contains a lot of people who like taking the mickey. Chuck it, Thompson!

Perhaps, we should ask why British diplomats are having to spend their time prepping for the visit of a head of state who (i) leads a religion rather than a state (diplomatic relations are with the Holy See, not Vatican City); (ii) exerts a disproportionate influence on international organisations, especially whenever abortion, contraception or HIV/AIDS is on the agenda (denouncing the latter as a ‘true pathology of the spirit” at the General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in 2001, opposing emergency contraception for women raped in Kosovo).

According to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the principal agent of Papal diplomacy is the Pope himself, part of whose global role is to “contest systems or ideas that corrode the dignity of the person.” In practice, this means using international fora to oppose:

Delegations from certain Western countries who wish… to impose models of life that were actually the result of the propaganda of certain minorities within their societies… It will always be the duty of the Holy See to prevent the lowering of personal and social moral standards and to contribute to raising them.

No other religion enjoys the diplomatic privileges accorded to the Holy See=, with its status is yet another example of how Europe’s historical dominance skews the international system.

Maybe some brave soul in the FCO should set to work on a memo suggesting that it is time to start treating the Catholic Church like any other religious organisation…


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

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