Government responds to petition against ‘homophobic’ Pope’s visit
Peter Tatchell has complained that a government response to his petition against the Pope’s visit to the UK has “ignored all the issues”.
The gay rights activist is leading a campaign against the Pope’s September visit, accusing him of homophobia, opposing women’s rights and helping to cover up child abuse.
More than 12,000 people signed the petition, which asked the prime minister to “disassociate the British government from the Pope’s intolerant views” and make assurances that the visit will not be funded by the taxpayer.
The trip is just eight weeks away and is expected to be hit by protests.
In a response to the petition, Downing Street said the Pope had a “global reach” and was a “valuable” government partner in tackling foreign and development issues.
It said: “As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship, there are issues on which we disagree. The Holy See is clear on our positions on these issues.
“However, we believe that Pope Benedict’s visit will provide an opportunity to strengthen and build on our relationship with the Holy See in areas where we share interests and goals, and to discuss those issues on which our positions differ.”
The response added that as a state visit, some costs of the four-day trip would be borne by the taxpayer.
It said policing costs would be met by the taxpayer and non-policing costs would be shared between the taxpayer and the Catholic Church, although it could not confirm how much the taxpayer will have to stump up.
The prime minister’s special representative for the visit, Lord Patten, recently said the taxpayer’s share of the costs of the visit had risen to £12 million, excluding security.
The last papal visit to the UK, that of Jean Paul in 1982, almost bankrupted the Catholic Church.
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Tatchell complained that Downing Street had agreed to keep the petition open until October but had “unilaterally declared it closed on June 6th”.
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He added: “The government’s response ignores all of the issues raised in the petition apart from the cost of the visit.
“It has nothing to say about concerns expressed on women’s reproductive rights, gay equality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.
“In particular, it ignores the Pope’s collusion with anti-Semitism by his rehabilitation of Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson and his plan to make a saint of Hitler’s Pope Pius XII.
“Amazingly, there is not a word in the government’s response about the child sex abuse scandal and the Pope’s role in its cover up.”
Mr Tatchell urged people who did not agree with the visit to join the Protest the Pope coalition, which he said would be holding a large demonstration in London on Saturday September 18th, during the visit.
He is currently filming a Channel 4 documentary about the Pope which he said would be screened before or during the trip.