Faith & Reason: As the Pope Ails, the Forces of Darkness Are Marshalling in Rome ; Attitudes Are Hardening on Islam, Church Dissenters, Liturgy and Even the Language of Human Rights as the Vatican Prepares for Regime Change
Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
JUST BEFORE Christmas the American pop star Lauryn Hill caused a stir at a Vatican Christmas concert. Before she sang she read out a statement telling church officials to "repent" over the sexual abuse of children by priests. Italy's most powerful cardinal, Camillo Ruini, the papal vicar of Rome, walked out. It was an act of "great rudeness," a sidekick bishop said. Ms Hill's riposte is unrecorded.
The gap between how the Vatican sees the world, and how things look to the rest of us, is becoming increasingly wide. There was another example of it this week after the President of Germany suggested that if Muslim headscarves are to be banned in schools then crucifixes - and nun's and monk's habits - would have to go too. The Vatican waded swiftly into the debate.
Headscarves were "political" but Christian symbols were an established part of European culture, said the German cardinal, Karl Lehmann, in remarks sanctioned by the Vatican. Moreover many considered the headscarf to be a symbol of female oppression, whereas Christian symbols and habits "have not the slightest trace of political propaganda about them". In Rome, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the church's doctrinal watchdog, agreed.
To all this several objections might be raised. The Catholic Church may see the cross as an unambiguous symbol of ultimate self- sacrifice. But others see it very differently, as Red Cross officials operating under constant threat in Iraq will confirm. The truth is that, though the Crusades and the Inquisition might be history so far as Rome is concerned - and Pope John Paul II has even issued limited apologies for them - they still burn fiercely in the minds of many for whom, to borrow the words of Rowan Williams, the cross represents "the language of the powerful, the excuse for oppression, the alibi for atrocity".
Nor is it to be unquestioningly accepted that the headscarf is a symbol of oppression. Speak to Muslim women, especially to white converts or to young British Muslim women who have re-embraced their faith after a secular Western upbringing, and you hear a different story. They do not see the headscarf, as French law does, as an "ostentatious" religious symbol that "constitute[s] an act of pressure, provocation, proselytism or propaganda". Rather they say the hijab frees them from the pressures of fashion or of being viewed by men primarily in a sexual manner.
"You can come and go as a person, not a woman," one young Muslima told me. "I became a happier person, filled with this huge confidence." Far from being a symbol of repression they see it as one of liberation. As another said:
It says to people, deal with my intellect, not my body. …