Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked, the Humanist magazine, severely criticises Geoffrey Robertson’s book, The Case of the Pope, as seriously flawed and illiberal.
Brendan O’Neill highlights the fact that Robertson attempts to make the case for the state curtailing the freedom of religion of Catholics.
First, Robertson presents a classic anti-Catholic caricature of us being ‘mindless automatons’ who will do any evil act at the command of our priests. This vile example of our dehumanisation by our enemies goes back to the days of Elizabeth the First.
This is what Mr O’Neill writes about this slur from Robertson:
‘There’s the old line about Catholics being brainwashed by their priests; they are ‘indoctrinated from their childhood’ until they develop such ‘emotional and psychological respect’ for their priests that they’ll do anything the men in dog collars ask. There’s the idea that Third World Catholics in particular are prone to turning priestly propaganda into real acts of violence, a bit like attack dogs. We’re told that ‘in Brazil and other Catholic countries’ there have been ‘macho muggings’ of gays, possibly brought about by Benedict’s decision to ‘unleash the full force of [the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality]’. The priest speaks and the people act, because, as one expert quoted by Robertson puts it, ‘priests take the place of Jesus Christ and are to be obeyed at all costs, and never questioned or criticised’. They’re easily brainwashed, these Caflicks.’
Having dehumanised all Roman Catholic in the world, but particularly those in Africa and Latin America, the next stage of Robertson’s argument to curtail our religious freedom is to present Pope Benedict as being ‘so dangerous’ that the state must ban his entry into the UK.
Brendan O’Neill writes:
‘Then there is the argument that some Catholic views are so out there, so off the wall, that when they are spouted by Benedict, who exercises great influence over his flock, they become dangerous and might therefore have to be censored. Robertson argues that while it is wrong to censor ordinary individuals who make religious anti-gay comments in public, ‘Pope Benedict XVI is no voice in the wilderness’ – ‘were he to repeat in a public sermon [in Britain] his oft-stated view that homosexuality is “evil” and gays are all people with defective personalities, he would be using the full force of his spiritual office to vilify a section of the population protected by equality legislation and public order law’. In such circumstances, ‘the Home Office could not… permit his entry’, decrees Robertson.’
Pope Benedict has never said that homosexuality is evil or that all gay people have defective personalities. The Catholic Church’s statements about homosexuality are more nuanced than than this crude caricature. The Catholic Church has held that homosexual acts are sinful for 2,000 years, just as she has held that adulterous acts are sinful, and the act of fornication is sinful. Robertson is advocating the state acting against the religious beliefs of its citizens.
The point is that Geoffrey Robertson, the human rights lawyer, is arguing for the censorship and curtailment of the religious freedom of a significant section of the UK population. Brendan O’Neill writes:
‘However much Robertson tries to dress this up in the language of equality and protecting certain sections of the population from harm, it still amounts to suggesting that the state ought sometimes to interfere with and restrict people’s freedom of religion. In the Catholic case in particular – where Robertson and others seriously believe that Catholic kids are turned into priest-respecting automatons and the pope has a special hold over every Catholic’s heart and mind – the state might have to curb religious speech in the interests of preventing public disorder. And macho muggings.’
Brendan O’Neill concludes that Geoffrey Robertson and his supporters are promoting a new version of imperialistic intolerance:
‘The great irony is that the human-rights lobby today plays a role that is not too dissimilar from the Catholic Church’s role of yesteryear. Robertson quotes a nineteenth-century historian who said that the then Vatican was attempting to ‘establish a power which would be the most formidable enemy of liberty… throughout the world’. In short, the Vatican had global ambitions; it longed to make everyone submit to its religious ethos and worldview and to assert its moral authority across the nations. Ring a bell?’