And you probably knew that it wasn't going to be exactly a love-in all the way. Tempers were up on both sides. He for his part had a few stern things to say to us about how we have turned into puerile idiot exhibitionists, and we... well, we had some rude placards and umbrellas with rubber johnnies hanging off them to wave at him.
Love-fifteen to us I think.
.The commentary has been, to say the least, hot-tempered. Tanya Gold, a breathtakingly witless Guardian columnist who makes larky unfunny videos like this in startling illustration of what a once serious journal of record now feels, doubtless correctly, will divert its readership, was especially forthright. No pootling little accusations for her:
But what about the Church of Dawkins? Weren't they going to have him arrested or something? That's what they were all saying. They even drafted in 'prominent human rights lawyer' Geoffrey Robertson, who nobly offered to take time off from his usual work - defending pornographers, the Brighton bombers and even The Guardian - to take on the heroic work. He even turned his findings into a book that for all I know you might still be able to buy in remainder shops alongside that one about Lord Lucan being found alive in the jungle.
But his belligerence had hardly abated when he took to the stage in London for this miserable performance. And though his latest tragic idea is to issue a DVD of the protest (the tears well in my eyes as I type, and they're not from laughing), he has written elsewhere of his disappointment that his speech was severely truncated due to time constraints. The original draft is even worse; here are some despicable highlights:
.Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect...
Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity. He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped and whose minds he has encouraged to be infected with guilt. It is embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell: and most concerned with saving the long-term reputation of the church itself.
He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.
He is an enemy of women – barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties. What other employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of sex, when filling a job that manifestly doesn’t require physical strength or some other quality that only males might be thought to have?
He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty that sits ill with the obscene riches of the Vatican..
All this plus all the usual stuff about whether Hitler was an atheist or a Catholic, and whether atheism should be considered a factor in the crimes of Stalin (any more than his moustache! Brilliant!!!) and the doctrine of original sin and the concept of Hell - oh how wicked, how evil, how disgusting etc. Unlike my opponents, I really do get tired of saying the same things over and over again, so responding to this sort of stuff every time they open their yaps is something of a chore, but I suppose I must.
.The bravery! It fair near takes your breath away.
As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he investigated American cases of child abuse without fear or favour, publicly expressing his revulsion at what he termed the "filth" of it. He has created new systems of visible accountability that are designed not to sidestep civil prosecution but the opposite, to ensure that allegations go straight to the police rather than via any church body. He has been relentless in his pursuit of the criminals.
.And so we move on to Aids. Tanya Gold sees it all pretty simply:
The fundamental logical absurdity of this claim has been exposed many times, but for some reason it just doesn't sink in. The following very simple argument does not originate with me, but demands repeating.
In the light of this collosal refusal to think sensibly, there seems little point in adding that the church is the largest provider of Aids care in Africa.
Thus, in his lecture to the Italian Senate, Ratzinger, echoing the opening sequence in Kenneth Clark's TV series, Civilisation, reminded his audience that Christian monasticism saved European culture when it was in grave danger of losing hold of its classical and biblical heritage. In remote places such as Iona and Lindisfarne, the monks of St Benedict, he recalled, were the agents of a rebirth of culture, and did so precisely as "a force prior to and superior to political authority" (which, in the Dark Ages, had largely disappeared from the scene). Moreover, Ratzinger proposed, it was Christianity itself that initially suggested and defended that "separation" of religious and political authority (or, in the vulgate, the "separation of Church and state") so prized by modern secularists: in the first instance, when the late-fifth-century Pope Gelasius I drew a crisp distinction between priestly and political authority. Later, in the 11th century, when Pope Gregory VII defended the liberty of the Church against the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV's attempts to turn the Church into a department of the state by controlling the appointment of bishops. Remove Gelasius I and Gregory VII, Ratzinger suggested, the rich social pluralism of European life in the first centuries of the second millennium would have been much less likely to develop — and, to bring the point home in terms of Britain, there would have been no Magna Carta and all that flowed from there. It was the Church, in other words, that made the first arguments for the "separation of Church and state", not the philosophes of the continental Enlightenment.
Which, as Ratzinger surveys contemporary European high culture, brings us to yet another irony: the inability of the rationalism proclaimed by the Enlightenment to sustain Europe's confidence in reason. As the late John Paul II saw it, and as Benedict XVI sees it, "Europe" is a civilisational enterprise and not simply a zone of mutual economic advantage. That civilisational project rests on three legs, which might be labelled "Jerusalem", "Athens", and "Rome": biblical religion, which taught Europe that the human person, as child of a benevolent Creator, is endowed with inalienable dignity and value; Greek rationality, which taught Europe that there are truths embedded in the world and in us, truths we can grasp by reason; and Roman jurisprudence, which taught Europe that the rule of law is superior to the rule of brute force. If Jerusalem goes — as it has in much of post-Enlightenment European high culture — Athens gets wobbly: as is plain in the sandbox of post-modernism, where there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as the truth. And if both Jerusalem and Athens go, then Rome — the rule-of-law — is in grave trouble: as is plain when coercive state power is used throughout Europe and within European states to enforce regimes of moral relativism and to punish the politically incorrect.
Says Ratzinger: "There is a clear comparison between today's situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already subsisting on models that were destined to fail. Its vital energy had been depleted."
Even if some of his demeaning new allies have not the courage to see this nor the wit to comprehend, Dawkins must do. What will it take to get him to see reason again? If it's a short sharp lesson in the fickleness and superficiality of the mob then fine: I fear that may be coming, and it would be nice to think that some good will come of it.