The Defenders of the Faiths ; Whatever Your View of the Pope, You Cannot Ignore His Conviction That the Human Soul Is More Valuable Than Any System or Political Power Base, Says A N WILSON

By Wilson, A N | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), April 3, 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Defenders of the Faiths ; Whatever Your View of the Pope, You Cannot Ignore His Conviction That the Human Soul Is More Valuable Than Any System or Political Power Base, Says A N WILSON


Wilson, A N, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


The death of a Pope is, for Catholics, a moment of personal loss, as the death of a sovereign is for a nation. But for the rest of us it is also a solemn moment, forcing upon the consciousness the sheer survival power of that mighty institution, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Papacy at its heart. This is one of the most extraordinary of all historical phenomena. The historian Elizabeth Longford, herself a Catholic, was once discussing with me the difficulty of conducting research in the archives at Windsor Castle. It was understandable that the Royal Family guarded the privacy of those still alive, or recently dead. But, when it came to the marital secrets of George IV, or Queen Victoria, surely enough time had elapsed for scholars to be allowed free access?

Yet, any fact unearthed about the Royal Family has to be vetted by the guardians of royal secrets, before it can be published. I remarked that it made an odd contrast with the Vatican, where scholars have been given completely free access to archives which could quite possibly be very damaging to the historical reputation of say, Pius XII, the wartime Pope. Ah, said Elizabeth Longford, that is perfectly true. But then, you see, the Popes have been promised that the gates of hell cannot prevail against them, whereas the House of Windsor has been given no such reassurance.

Elizabeth Longford belonged to that large body of people, of all races and of all levels of intelligence, who did accept the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. To those of us outside the fold, these claims seem quite literally beyond belief. That God himself walked the Earth in human form, died and rose from the dead, is itself hard enough to imagine. But that, before the Ascension he instituted and founded the church, with St Peter at its head, to guard the faith and morals of the human race until the Last Judgement is a claim which makes the head spin.

Quite apart from the claims made by the church over the centuries, not only about the historical figure of Jesus, but about the Virgin Mary his mother, about the Eucharist, about the after- life - limbo, purgatory, heaven and hell, or about how to reduce your time spent in these putative states - there is the very simple historical fact that no proof has ever been offered that St Peter ever went to Rome, let alone that he was its first bishop. All old sources link him with the patriarchate of Antioch.

No matter. This is not a moment to be rehearsing the obvious - namely why so many million Europeans do not believe in the Catholic religion. Nor is it a moment for asking, given the extraordinarily improbable claims made by that church, how it should be able to claim moral authority over the sexual lives of its members. This is truly the most bizarre, and to many of us the most distasteful, aspect of what might be deemed the Vatican power game: its belief that it can control human beings by telling them what is legitimate in the bedroom.

Such intrusions into the lives of the poor - decreeing that it is sinful for them to limit the numbers of their families - are as distasteful as the chicanery which allows some, but not all, divorced Catholics to say that their marriages, often of long duration, had never been "true" marriages in the first instance and so are null and void. This is the sort of mumbo- jumbo which has led many in the West to abandon not merely Catholicism but any religious belief whatsoever.

In the pontificate of John Paul II, for all the tireless intellectual energy that he has devoted to the defence of the faith, for all his personal dynamism, and for all his undoubted sanctity, the rigorous insistence by the Pope upon a conservative understanding of the Catholic religion has failed to stem the tide of apostasy.

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The Defenders of the Faiths ; Whatever Your View of the Pope, You Cannot Ignore His Conviction That the Human Soul Is More Valuable Than Any System or Political Power Base, Says A N WILSON
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