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Pope confirms travel plans in blunt speech to British bishops

February 01, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI confirmed plans for his visit to Great Britain in September-- and offered some unusually blunt reflections on the situation facing the Church there-- in a February 1 address to a group of visiting British bishops.

The Pope told the bishops, who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, that he looked forward to his trip to their country. Although he did not mention specific dates, informed Catholic sources in London have confirmed that the trip will take place in September.

The Pontiff went on to say that the Church leadership in England and Wales "needs to speak with a united voice." His words appeared to be a reference to the friction within the episcopal conference, and the willingness of some British prelates to countenance open dissent from Catholic teaching. In an even more evident reference to that problem, the Pope went on to say:

In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.

Later in his address the Pope prodded the English bishops to be prepared to receive Anglicans entering the Catholic Church under the terms of the new apostolic constitution. In the past many English bishops have resisted pleas from Anglicans looking for corporate reunion with the Holy See. The Holy Father tacitly acknowledged that resistance, saying: "I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church."

Pope Benedict voiced his strong support for the bishops of England and Wales in their stand against an "Equality Bill" that would have threatened sanctions against the Church for failing to ordain women as priests and for resisting same-sex marriage. " In some respects," the Pontiff said, the legislation-- which encountered defeat in the House of Lords-- "actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed." A headline in the Guardian reported that the Pope "condemns gay equality laws." The Times, with the flagrant bias that characterizes that paper's treatment of Catholic affairs, made the sensationalistic claim that the Pope had "attacked Britain's move towards equal rights in its secular democracy."

The Vatican traditionally does not formally announce plans for a papal trip until a few weeks before it occurs. But Pope Benedict has now, on several occasions, spoken openly about plans for foreign travel before the "official" announcement is made.


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