« Jewish rights group opposes Ground Zero mosque | Main | Police: Robber just moved on to another store »

July 31, 2010

In apparent first, faithful must pay to see pope

Pilgrims will have to pay as much as 25 pounds ($39) to attend one of the two public events in England to be led by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in September, the Associated Press reports.

The charges — believed to be a first for a papal event — are for a prayer vigil in London's Hyde Park on Sept. 18 and the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham on Sept. 19.

Benedict's four-day visit to England and Scotland has been controversial almost from the start, with thousands of Britons signing a petition earlier this year against the pope's presence in the wake of outrage over sex crimes against children committed by Catholic priests.

Critics have also complained about the cost. Chris Patten, the official coordinating the event, has said the taxpayers' tab for the visit to Britain could be as much as 12 million pounds, not counting extra policing costs.

The previous government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited the pope — a decision the austerity-minded new coalition government has not sought to change, despite some public unease.

In Rome, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday that the Vatican understands that the faithful will be asked to make a "contribution" toward the visit but are not being charged a fee as such. Lombardi said he understood that those who cannot pay will be not be required to do so.

Lombardi noted that people are not charged to see the pope at the Vatican, in Italy or anywhere in the world. Even during the pope's 2008 high-security visit to the United States, tickets were given out free of charge via church parishes.

Benedict's Sept. 16-19 visit marks the first time a pope has traveled to Britain since Pope John Paul visited in 1982. During the trip, Benedict will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and will preside over the beatification of Newman — an important 19th century Anglican convert to Catholicism.

Church officials in England, who announced some details of the charges earlier this month, say those who wish to attend the events in London or Birmingham must join a parish group, and those groups will travel to the event by bus. Church officials say no one will be allowed to travel to the event on their own.

The church is charging 25 pounds for transportation to the Newman beatification in Birmingham, where 70,000 tickets are available. In Hyde Park, where up to 130,000 people may attend the vigil, the charge will be 10 pounds.

The church's communications' office sought to explain the cost by saying it was because the pilgrims would be "journeying" to see the pope, just as ancient pilgrims did, and would be provided with a "pilgrim pack" that includes a metro ticket.

"Those attending the gatherings are not just 'ticket' holders, nor guests nor visitors; they are gathering as a representative body of the faithful from across the U.K. and thus are more akin to the ancient notion of pilgrims journeying to a spiritual experience in the same way that the Vatican entitles all papal visits as an 'Apostolic Journey,'" the Catholic Communications Network said Wednesday in a statement responding to inquiries from The Associated Press.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a longtime Vatican watcher, said papal visits to the developed world are immensely expensive for the local church, especially when the local government doesn't pick up the full tab.

He cited the costs of everything from renting stadiums to portable toilets to hotels for Vatican officials and insurance.

"In Third World countries, life is simpler: no insurance," he said in an e-mail. "Just find an open field, throw a rug over a wooden platform."

He recalled that when Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1987, the archbishop of Mobile declined to host him because he didn't want to bankrupt his archdiocese. "He said he would lead a delegation to New Orleans to cheer the pope" instead, Reese noted.

Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, in a podcast on the papal visit website, said: "I think it's important to stress again that one does have to be part of a group in order to attend one of the Masses or the prayer vigil."

He added that there would be opportunities for people to see the pope as he travels around.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:06 PM | | Comments (4)


Can one pay in Monopoly money?

Man O man--what a waste of time and money. All political and religious leaders should stay home and mind their own hearths--pray children, I say to these leaders, close to those hearths--lie on your mats, kindle the home fires, watch the embers die and see the sparks fly--think of the lord while you are at it--spare the small folks and the gullible fools of this world the agony of rushing out to see you frauds in action.
R Anon

I have been thinking about the this issue of charging to see the Pope, and I think it has wider significance than one would imagine. It has been largely accepted with a little tsk-tsk from Catholics on pragmatic grounds. As a moral issue it could surely be made from molehill to mountain easily, even by the select group of Catholics to whom the whole thing is pertaining. Why should non-Catholics care? Well, what matters more broadly is simply the resonance - I won't say identification - with the Church's now mostly conveniently forgotten history of charging for sacraments. There is no reason to rehash a history which one can find for oneself if you are willing to read a lot of old Church History books. The truth is so buried there that it takes some impetus or dedication to find it out. But it is the relative hiddeness of it from casual view that is culturally important. The thousands, if not millions, of times the universal Catholic Church participated in corrupt practices and yet later claimed that nothing had gone on, is one if the most striking facts of human history. One can only say that they have an impressive ability to fudge things. The curious thing is this ability comes almost 100% from the inherent complexity of the history which is, again, hard to ferret out. But it recently occurred to me that the main reason for this historical oddity is that they almost never admit the possibility of reform per se. In other words the very idea of it goes against their religion. The slight change in this recently is that the abuse crisis has FORCED them to slightly change their usual procedure. Yet the amazing fact is that the Church's minions are busy spinning things to even cover that over in a haze of rhetoric. The jaundiced Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, father of the rabid blogger Thomas Peters, has a posting on his canon law blog truly perfect for making this exact point. It displays a truly
breathtaking for it complete tautology. I propose that insightful Church-watchers could draw many from the candid procedure of this very strange polemicist. The implication, nay the explicit reasoning of the thing is that the Church cannot be required to reform in any substantial way because that would contradict the its own essential doctrine of its own ahistoricity and perfection! It is pure fanatical garbage, and it amazing that the person writing it is allowed allowed in any academic setting. There was a time when Catholic scholars made a great effort to see their doctrines in relation to the requirements of scholarship. Now they have inverted it in this propagandistic age, and the possibility of inquiry is demoted by specious religious "reasoning". Here it is:

"Fr. Doyle and the ecclesiology of despair
Fr. Thomas Doyle, op., has an essay in The Tablet (24 July 2010) wherein he comments, mostly negatively, on some canonical procedural norms recently revised and published by Rome. My concern here, though, is with what I will call an “ecclesiology of despair” to which I think Fr. Doyle’s essay gives voice.

Concluding his criticisms of the new norms, Fr. Doyle asserts that: “They are tragic evidence that the hierarchical governing body of the Church is no longer capable of leading the People of God.” Now, for Catholics called to maintain communion with the Church in all things (c. 209), such an assertion, no matter what context occasioned it, is disturbing.

The “hierarchical governing body of the Church” is the pope and bishops in union with him (cc. 331, 336), usually operating dispersed throughout the world (cc. 375, 381), sometimes operating in an ecumenical council (c. 337). But let's be clear: the “hierarchical governing body of the Church” is not the ecclesiastical equivalent of, say, the Democratic or Republican Party (groups that can and do lose their mandate to govern in any number of ways), nor is the Church's hierarchy even the equivalent of the federal-state governmental system we know in America (a structure that need not have been adopted and that many nations do not follow). Not at all.

Rather, the “hierarchical governing body of the Church” is the divinely-mandated governing structure that Christ left to his Church. See Lumen gentium 8, 18-29. It is the way that Christ wants his Church to shepherd the People of God. To assert, then, that “the hierarchical governing body of the Church is no longer capable of leading the People of God” is to assert that Christ’s plan and his promise of abiding protection were insufficient to preserve (not so much individuals from sin, for they still have free will, etc., but rather, to preserve) the Petrine-Apostolic foundations of his Church from eventual collapse and, at least from then on, to save her very reason for existence from radical frustration. In short, one sighs in despair, So much for Christ and his divine promises.

Of course Fr. Doyle, blessed with free will, can urge this viewpoint, and others are, I trust, free to contradict him. But we should make no mistake about what his assertion implies for ecclesiology: if the hierarchical governing body of the Church really is “no longer capable” of governing, then it cannot function, not even to reform itself. Nor would the faithful left drifting in the wake of this purported disintegration of the hierarchy get to, say, gather themselves into some sort of world-wide “constitutional convention” and re-found Christ’s Church on X, Y, or Z principles. No, for the Church as founded by Christ would have already ceased to be, and her erstwhile members would be left only to realize that she had disappeared.

Over the centuries, to be sure, many have reached essentially the same conclusion toward which Fr. Doyle's essay seems inclined. Some later repented of it while others went to their graves convinced of it. We cannot judge their consciences. But we can say that, among Catholics, including Catholics grieved by the clerical sexual abuse of children (which is to say, all Catholics), an ecclesiology of despair in divine promises has no place.

Here's a great cherry on this bizarre cake whipped up by the perfervid Peters family, father and son. The son appeared at something called the Catholic New Media Conference and the video of it is posted on his blog at Catholic Vote Action. This video is one of the most useful things ever for understanding the strangeness of the Catholic position today. Over half of his talk is given over to paranoid ramblings about how put-upon the Church is. What a terribly sad character this young man is, I really felt sorry for him. But the funny part is the unintended ironies of it. In one breath he says that he spends at least 15 hours a day behind his computer blogging or reading-for-blogging (no mention of reading books, which tells you a lot). But after admitting he spends his life with his butt parked behind a computer, he claims, in all seriousness apparently, that he and other bloggers are exactly like Jesuit missionaries who went to foreign lands. There may be a variety of opinions about the Jesuits, but there can be little doubt that many were brilliant and brave and risked their lives in harsh conditions for their beliefs. Again, whether their valor was the best use of their energy is perhaps another question. But it is a sign of the detachment from reality, and free-floating ahistorical (or anti-historical) sense of Catholics like this guy, that he could make this comparison with a straight face at all. When one considers the blather that most blogging consists of, the comparison and the unknowing gall of this character reaches really epic, and tragic proportions.

He did make one good point. That when Catholics get together than can have some influence that they would not have, and do not have at this point, by the simple enunciation of their arguments. But do people like this see this observation proves another contiguous point? Namely that the Catholic position only has force at this point based on sheer number, and not by persuadable reason. Therefore, his very argument looked like a white flag of defeat.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.

Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Religion in the news
Charm City Current
Stay connected