The Pope has been in town this week. In fact, he’s been staying just around the corner in the Vatican ambassador’s house in Wimbledon. Many of my facebook friends have snapped him in his Pope Mobile as he did the rounds in the City, and even the kids at school have been talking about it. This morning, knowing that P was out at a course in Billingsgate for the day, I considered getting myself off to Hyde Park, or wherever, to see him. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
It isn’t this particular Pope I have a problem with. It isn’t necessarily that he has a dubious history, and has allowed Holocaust deniers back in the Vatican. It isn’t that he seems more concerned with kindness towards the perpetrators of horrific crimes against young people than he does with caring for those children themselves. It isn’t even his bigoted and out-dated attitudes towards sexuality and gender issues. It’s beyond the fact that his church’s insistence that God is anti-contraception contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS. Or that women are second-class citizens in the Roman Catholic Church. (Though all of those issues I feel passionate and, indeed, bitterly angry about).
No, it’s something else. A far worse crime than any of those, and one that he, alone, isn’t responsible for. It’s a problem with the entire idea of a pope at all. The idea that one man on earth can be looked to as an authority on God, that one person can be closer to God than any other. The belief that each of us needs someone to mediate between us and our creator – a belief that is the fundamental opposite of everything that Jesus taught. It’s a problem with the whole Roman Catholic Church. I saw a three-minute film between programmes the other night, that really brought it home. A woman who attributed the healthy child she gave birth to, despite doctors telling her it would suffer some unnamed disability, to a visit to the Pope and a Papal Blessing. Not God. Not God sending her a miracle. Not God intervening in her life with His love… The Pope.
And so, I couldn’t go along to see him because I couldn’t trust myself not to do something that might, in the end, have offended some people of real faith.