After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Pope Benedict (aka Joseph Ratzinger) is essentially the Marmite of public figures at the moment – people either love him, or hate him; overall, there seem to be very few with a moderate opinion of him.

With his planned visit to the UK imminent, tensions between both sides (the lovers and the haters) have reached a fever pitch. There are planned protests alongside planned vigils, as much supportive merchandise as there is anti-Pope merchandise, and more than one person planning to attempt a citizens arrest upon his arrival in the UK. If nothing else, the visit promises to be an interesting one.

One bone of contention is with the organisation of the events. People planning to attend are being told that they must give a donation of £20. This is apparently to cover the costs associated with his visit, and to help cover a shortfall in church funds. They hope to raise £7,000,000 to cover all of the costs associated with the visit, and helpfully break down these planned expenditures on the website. Apparently, they will be spending the money as follows:

In total the expected costs now associated with these events is £5.2m. Direct costs associated with three smaller pastoral events also fall to the Church – these are likely to be £600k in total. Then in addition to that, there are costs involved in planning and preparing for the visit, with our own website and communications work (£650k), and fundraising (£200k) Finally the Bishops are developing a range of catechetical and evangelisation materials to anticipate and follow through on the likely increased interest and attention that the Visit will generate in the Catholic Church. (£350k).

Having performed some basic math, I am left with some questions; as far as I can see, 7 million is rather a lot more than 5.2 million. And indeed, adding up all of the figures presented gives a total of 3.6 million, not 5.2 – so where exactly is all that extra “donation” money going to go? Finally, as stated on the official visit website, the UK government are actually paying most of the associated visit costs themselves, including security costs, which leads me to wonder at what the rest of the 7 million is being allocated for. (And, on a less serious note, I also wonder exactly how many Pope t-shirts are they making, if their merchandising costs are 350,000!). I think that, given the rather mandatory nature of the “donation”, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to explain, even roughly, how this extra money will be put to use, especially considering just how much money it is. Perhaps they could use some of the leftover money to pay compensation to the victims of sexual abuse, whom they were previously too poor to compensate.

This, of course, leads us on to the major sticking point about this visit – the issue of child sex abuse within the church. It is no longer news that, for a long time, children were systematically sexually and physically abused within the church, by priests and carers. The fact has been well established, and proven. Unfortunately, most of this proof has been obtained without the help of the church, or Pope Benedict, due to his continued refusal to cooperate in any way with any investigations into the abuses.

Many say that Pope Benedict is being unfairly targeted as the head of an organisation where abuse was endemic, and that he cannot be blamed for things that happened before he was in a position of leadership. I respectfully disagree. Prior to becoming Pope, Joseph Ratzinger held the position of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this position, he was responsible for defending and reaffirming doctrine , and teaching on important topics, such as homosexuality, inter-religious dialogue, etc. In addition to this, however, the Congregation also has jurisdiction over other matters, such as clerical sexual misconduct, serving as a sort of “court” to deal with priests accused of misconduct.

Ratzinger held his position as Prefect of the Congregation from 1981 until 2005, a time during which child sexual abuse was rampant within the church. There is evidence to suggest that details pertaining to a large number of cases were reviewed by Ratzinger, and that they were ignored – the priests moved to a different parish, those involved sworn to secrecy, and no charges brought. For example, as recently as April of this year, a letter was discovered in which it appears that, in 1985, while Prefect, Ratzinger refused to laicize (to de-priest, so to speak) Father Kiesle, a priest accused of molesting several boys in California. Not only was Kiesle not defrocked or laicized, but he was not reported to the police, and no further action was taken, despite admissions by the priest that he had abused the boys.

There have been several documents leaked which purport to show Ratzinger’s involvement in the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church. Sadly, the only way these documents can come to light is when they are leaked, because to date, Ratzinger has refused to cooperate with any investigations. No documentation has been provided to investigating authorities, and when Ratzinger was personally accused of covering up the abuse of three Texan boys, rather than take the stand, he demanded (and received) diplomatic immunity, preventing his prosecution.

In short, it would certainly appear that Ratzinger does not want thorough investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse, a position which seems to be supported by the Crimen Sollicitationis document, in which those involved in trials are sworn to secrecy within the church, under threat of excommunication. This document remained in force until 2001 (when it was replaced by new, still inadequate, rules), yet Ratzinger still holds to church secrecy about the abuses.

At this point, I can only refer to the old adage – an honest man has nothing to hide. Surely it is in the best interests of all involved for there to be full disclosure of all documentation, all actions taken or not taken, and all parties involved? And surely, if Ratzinger was not involved, as his supporters claim, then he would have no problem disclosing the information and letting an investigation proceed unhampered? Regardless of their position within the church, no man is above the law of the land, and there is no land in which child sexual abuse is lawful. As such, it is both his legal, and moral duty to disclose the information, and see to it that a proper and thorough investigation is carried out, and that those who were in the wrong are brought to justice.

The issue of child sex abuse within the church is not one that can be ignored, or swept under the carpet. Regardless of how obstructive the church are, the truth will out. I believe, therefore, that it would be in the best interests of everyone involved to simply allow the investigation to proceed, and help where they can. Even if it is not something that they feel morally obliged to do, it is something that they are legally obliged to do.

With all of the above in mind, I’m afraid to say that I cannot, in good conscience, support a visit by the Pope to the UK, or to anywhere. In my opinion, if the church wants to reaffirm the faith of the congregation, it should not be looking to do so by spending money, and begging for money to spend, on organising visits. It should, instead, be focusing on investigating the problems that have emerged, on making amends to those who were wronged, and on proving that they are examples of the truly faithful to which they hope we aspire. The people involved should be honest about their wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and accept their penance, whatever it may be. After all, is that not what they ask of us?