Catholic Voices hold ‘secret’ dialogue with Humanists

In the latest issue of The New Humanist Paul Sims review of Pope Benedict’s visit was just another excuse to churn up the anti-Catholicism of the Protest the Pope movement. However, it ends with a totally surprising proposal of dialogue between humanists and Catholics. See post on this site ‘ New Humanist relentlessly mocks Papal visit to the UK, then incredibly proposes dialogue’ (

Now a post on Independent Catholic News provides some explanation of Paul Sim’s bizarre, unbelievable claim. Apparently last night, with some secrecy, Catholic Voices held a ‘dialogue’ with humanists, including Paul Sims, ‘news editor of the New Humanist magazine’.

‘The first of a series of ‘Catholic-Humanist dialogues’ took place last night between the Central London Humanist Group, part of the Protest the Pope coalition, and Catholic Voices, which was created to put the Church’s case during the papal visit. Some 14 Humanists and eight members of the Catholic Voices speakers’ team met in a room in Commonwealth Hall in Bloomsbury for two hours of discussions on contentious issues.’

‘Catholic Voices patron Fr Christopher Jamison and its coordinators, Austen Ivereigh and Jack Valero, put the Church’s case on Aids/condoms, faith schools, and same-sex adoption. A frank exchange of views then took place, aiming at clarifying areas of disagreement.’

Jack Valero said: “This has been an unexpected fruit of the papal visit – sitting round the table with people who were protesting the Pope to clarify where we agree and disagree. The atmosphere was respecful and attentive, but there was no attempt to suppress real differences. Everyone felt afterwards that they had learned from the experience.”

Austen Ivereigh said: “We are currently making plans to extend and expand the Catholic Voices project. After Tuesday night we think that this kind of exchange should be part of what we do in the future.”

Protect the Pope comment: Protect the Pope welcomes this excellent  initiative from Catholic Voices and encourages future dialogue as an important way of challenging the ignorance and prejudice about the Catholic faith and Catholics in our society. Well done Jack Valero and Austen Iveriegh.

However, Protect the Pope has a number of questions:

  • Who has appointed Catholic Voices to represent the Catholic Church in this dialogue?
  • How are they accountable to Catholics in this country about these dialogues?
  • How are Catholic Voices going to enable their fellow Catholics to have access to what is exactly said at these ‘dialogues’?

These questions are in no way intended to challenge the credibility of Catholic Voices in this dialogue, but are a genuine attempt to understand this important fruit of the papal visit.

12 comments to Catholic Voices hold ‘secret’ dialogue with Humanists

  • James H

    I think they were ‘appointed’ by the sheer fact that they were the only ones doing the talking. Nice to see, BUT… we ourselves, the people following this website, should keep the pressure on them to ‘stay on message’ (sorry for the management-speak, but it’s appropriate this time). We also need the Catholic Union to be in touch with them continuously.

  • [...] Protect the Pope – Catholic Voices hold ‘secret’ dialogue with humanists [...]

  • Nick, thanks for welcoming this initiative. There was nothing “secret” about it: after the 1 September “bearpit” debate in Conway Hall, both the Humanists (who organised the debate) and we were left feeling no real exchange or dialogue had taken place. So we agreed to hold a much smaller meeting, with a few of them and a few CVs. That’s it. That’s all.

    No one has “appointed” us to hold this dialogue. Nor are we accountable to anyone for it. And I have no idea, should we have another one (which I think we will), how we are “going to enable [our] fellow Catholics to have access to what is exactly said at these ‘dialogues’”. There are various possible fruits: perhaps a large, open, public debate again (this time without the madding crowd); perhaps a structured exchange in print or online — who knows? The important thing is that relationships were built the other night. From that all kinds of good things flow.

    You can’t surround something like this with “official”, “accountable”, “representative” and so on — you’ll just kill it off. This was a few Catholics meeting up with a few Humanists for something more than a chat (it was quite carefully planned and faciliated), because both sides felt there had been a failed encounter beforehand and wanted to put that right. But it was rather less than a summit, although both organisations can lay some claim to represent the thinking of their correligionists (if the humanists will excuse the term).

    As for James H, I have no idea what you mean by “staying on message”, nor what you mean by “pressure”. Sounds like the kind of McCarthyism deplored here: Like all Catholics, we’re accountable to the bishops (and in the case of CV to our trustees, patrons and funders); I can’t think of anyone else we’re accountable to, can you? Most church initiatives are judged by their fruits. We’re happy to be judged on ours.

    Incidentally, Hugh Twiston-Davies has a v good write-up at the Herald:

  • Karla

    Why 14 against 8? Why not a fair number?

    • Karolina

      Quality over quantity? :)

    • Toby

      I would say fewer people is actually an advantage. 14 different voices are likely to undermine one another’s arguments. We have only one doctrine to enunciate (they have as many as there are ideas, no doubt many conflicting) and so 8 different voices is probably more than sufficient.

    • Tim H

      Maybe different people on the humanist side addressed different issues (one who knew somthing about AIDS and a different one who knew something about apodoption) and the Catholics covered more issues each?

      Equal numbers of each would be an issue of fairness in a public debate, I don’t see why that is necessary here.

      This wasn’t a negotiation so I don’t see how anyone on either side needs to be an official representative of anyone just someone who understands their position sufficiently well to be able to explan it.

      Anyway, this is something I support.

  • I had exactly the same thought Karla!

  • Toby

    Please, please can we try and stop some of the labelling that is currently being employed in highly emotive fashion. It is really unhelpful to label people McCarthyists, Taliban Catholics etc. It seems to me that it is pretty clear what James H is understandably trying to say, i.e. “I want to ensure that the Catholicism represented at the meetings is true to the teaching of the Church”. I don’t think this is McCarthyism really.

    Also I’m not sure most people who hear the labels (or in fact those who use them) have a full grasp of the history behind them and so they are also unhelpful for that reason too. One other observation is that the labels attached to orthodoxy or firm committment (across all areas of life) seem to be far nastier than those at the other end of the spectrum. That seems to me to say something about society today and a relativist mentality having taken hold.

    Anyway this sounds like an excellent initiative and one which I really welcome. Several of my friends are members of CV and I have no doubt that they will continue to do an excellent job and (not that my judgment is the judgment that counts) I believe them to be very solid Catholics who will correctly represent The Faith, and stand up for it in a reasoned and engaging manner.

  • James H

    Hello, Austen

    Sorry if I came across like the Caliban. It’s just I’ve encountered stumped Catholics more often than informed ones, especially where life issues are concerned.

    It’s great you’re speaking to the opposition. Just make sure our side knows its way about.

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