It's good to see Michael De Dora toughening up. He says:
For the past couple of months, a number of prominent secularists – including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris – have [led] public protests of Pope Benedict XVI, even exploring the possibility of his arrest, for his involvement in the cover-up of sexual abuse. I have, for the most part, considered their campaign a distraction from more important issues, and more divisive than not.
No longer. I have changed my mind. That the public sees these protests as unimportant or divisive is not necessarily a problem with the protesters. Rather, it is a problem of lack of general appreciation of just how damning the evidence is for the claim that the Pope has acted immorally and illegally.
I'm not even concerned so much about the claims of illegality: whether or not the Pope has ever done anything that was illegal in the jurisdiction he was within a the time, or under international law, the moral case against him is overwhelming. I've long been something of a sceptic about the "arrest the pope" meme - that was never going to happen, even if Geoffrey Robertson's analysis of the legal position is correct - but whether or not talk about arresting the Pope was a good way to dramatise the issues, the protests against his publicly funded tour of the UK seem to me entirely proper and necessary. As far as I can see, the talk of arresting him died down somewhat once the demonstrations were underway, and the focus became the entire moral case against the Pope. De Dora documents this at some length, and he deserves congratulations for getting so much of it in one place. It's pleasing to see this sort of damning case laid out by someone who is not usually known for taking an aggressive approach to religion.
I'm not very worried if the protests are seen as being against the Catholic Church itself. Why shouldn't they be? Okay, there's something slightly questionable about this in the British context, given the long history of persecution of British and Irish Catholics. But for all that, the Catholic Church is an institution that well deserves vocal opposition. Many of the most horrendous statements and actions by the current pope simply give effect to established Catholic dogma, or take it to its logical conclusion. No one wants to bring back Oliver Cromwell or the 17th-century laws that made Catholics second-class citizens in the UK, but protests against the dogmas and policies of the Church strike me as perfectly appropriate, especially when large sums of public money are being used to give them a platform.
Michael, keep it up. Secular resistance to the Vatican's backward ideas will take political mobilisation, and I'm pleased to see you getting behind it, even if that was against your initial judgment.