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English Catholic columnists predict long-term impact of papal visit

Catholic World News - September 15, 2010

Two of England’s more perceptive Catholic columnists have offered different reflections on the likely outcome of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom.

Damian Thompson fears that the Pope will not receive adequate support from the local hierarchy. The title of his post tells the story: “This Pope is a great man, badly served by bishops unfamiliar with his writings.” Regarding the English bishops in particular, he says:

Most of them didn’t want him to become Pope. Their chief source of information about him was the Tablet, which spent 20 years misrepresenting his activities at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Furthermore, Thompson warns, the Pope faces formidable opposition: “Britain is the most irreligious country that Benedict has visited as Pope.”

Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph columnist sees a reservoir of support for the Pontiff among committed Catholics, and wonders how—in the absence of support from the bishops—that support can be mobilized.

Does the Pope realise how much support there is for him in the only truly dynamic parts of the Catholic Church in Britain? And, if not, how can we let him know?

At the Catholic Herald, William Oddie sees signs that it is already being mobilized. He cites the work of Catholic Voices, a group organized to help provide reliable Catholic commentary during the papal visit. Catholic Voices is likely to remain as a force in public discussions after the Pope leaves, Oddie believes.

Oddie emphatically agrees with Catholic Voices that public-opinion polls now appearing in the British media have exaggerated the opposition to the Pope, and to Church teachings, among practicing Catholics. The results of those polls would be quite different, he says, if the same questions were put to practicing Catholics—who constitute “less than a fifth of the total number of self-described Catholics.”

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