Jesurgislac’s Journal

September 16, 2010

Peter Tatchell: Not the Pope

Over at Mercatornet, Michael Cook, the editor, is having Conniptions about a documentary on Pope Benedict, released by Channel 4 the Monday before the Pope’s arrival in the UK on a state-funded visit.

Cook dismisses Peter Tatchell as “a vigorous campaigner for lowering the age of consent to 14” and summarises a documentary that touches on such things as the bans on contraception inspired by Catholic doctrine which cause such suffering in developing countries, to the ban on stem cell research, to the re-admission of a Holocaust denier to the fold, as “about the Pope and the sex abuse scandal”.

Peter Tatchell began his life’s work as a campaigner for human rights as a teenager in Australia, where he campaigned against the death penalty and for aborigine kids to have scholarships to attend his school.

This is Tatchell on the Channel 4 documentary he presented this Monday:

Rather than interview atheists like Richard Dawkins, which would have played to expectations, I chose to interview mostly Catholics, both allies and critics of the pope. To some extent, the film reflects a debate within Catholicism, between the liberal and fundamentalist wings of the church.

I wanted to give Catholic leaders an opportunity to put their side of the story. When we went to Rome, the production company, Juniper TV, requested an interview with Pope Benedict or a senior cardinal. The Vatican turned us down. Our approach to interview Archbishop Vincent Nichols in London was also knocked back, with the rebuke: “We do not wish to co-operate with a programme presented by Peter Tatchell.”

Although the church did put up a spokesperson at the last minute – Fiona O’Reilly from the pressure group Catholic Voices – it strikes me as a sign of weakness that no Catholic leader from the Vatican or Britain was willing to be interviewed in defence of the pope.

In the forty years since Tatchell began his life’s work for human rights, he has campaigned for democracy, civil liberties and rights, and human rights almost literally without stopping. He campaigns for clean water, for the right of Muslims to live without harassment, for the rights of women and LGBT people under Shari’a law, for the right of free assembly, for the right to vote. He was beaten twice by Mugabe’s bodyguards when he attempted to put the dictator under citizen’s arrest for torture.

Does he feel resentful towards his attackers? “No. There’s an element of regret in that I wish these injuries hadn’t happened.” Mugabe’s henchmen attacked him three times in Brussels – once in the lobby of the Hilton hotel where the Zimbabwean president was staying, and twice on the street outside, leaving Tatchell paralysed down his left side for several days. On television news footage of the beating, you can hear a crack as the bodyguards make contact with Tatchell’s skull. In Moscow he vividly remembers the thugs kicking him to the ground with “heavy, black boots”. Afterwards the Russian police arrested Tatchell and let his attackers go free. How can he not feel resentful? “What’s the point? Bitterness is a very destructive emotion.” He breaks off. “Obviously, I think they’re bastards,” he says with a grin, “but I don’t hold some grudge… The best reward for me would be to change them.”‘ link

“Age of Consent” is top of the alphabetically-ordered list of things he campaigns for on his website – – and you may or may not disagree with his belief that a 14-year-old has the right not to be prosecuted or persecuted for having consensual sex.

Ratzinger may outlive Tatchell. Ratzinger has led a far more sheltered, protected life. At the age of 16, Ratzinger joined Hitler Youth, because his family didn’t see any alternative but to go along with the social norms. No one can blame a teenage boy for doing what’s easy, not what’s right, especially when doing what’s right would have got him and his family into such serious trouble.

But knowing what we do about Peter Tatchell, in the same situation, he would have died rather join Hitler Youth. Tatchell has the moral stature that Ratzinger lacks: the willingness to stand up for and suffer for what he believes, that Ratzinger has never demonstrated.

His doctor has told him he should take a complete break of at least six months, but Tatchell, who works 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and ekes out a living of £8,000 a year, largely from donations, is politely ignoring them. He spends his time orchestrating campaigns and answering a constant stream of emails and phone calls. He is extremely thin, subsisting on a diet of raw vegetables and cups of tea. On a comparatively uneventful day, he goes to bed at 3am and wakes up at 9am. Doesn’t he ever pine for a quiet life? “I can understand why people want a quiet, relaxed, material life, but on another level I can’t understand why people just accept things the way they are. One billion people woke up this morning without clean drinking water. That is outrageous. We live in a world of such plenty that it’s unconscionable that so many people don’t have the basics… That is just morally unacceptable.” link

The notion that Pope Benedict, who instigated the worldwide concealment of child abuse by the Church and supported the systematic transfer of paedophile priests from parish to parish, is somehow morally superior to Peter Tatchell?

Some people think Ratzinger’s critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is head of the institution involved. This is an error. For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micromanager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans Kung, a former friend of Ratzinger’s, says: “No-one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.” Johann Hari

Benedict lives in a city state where he is supreme ruler: Tatchell lives in a small flat in London. Tatchell has fought for his beliefs all his life: Ratzinger has always taken the easy path. That’s the difference between them.


  1. I’m so ashamed that I’d never heard of Tatchell before. Thank you for posting about this!

    Comment by wealhtheow — September 16, 2010 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • It really does bug me. Peter Tatchell is an extraordinary man – a genuine hero of our times. His documentary wasn’t respectful to the Catholic hierarchy, but virtually everyone who got to speak on it was a Catholic.

      You don’t have to agree with everything Tatchell has campaigned for: but dismissing him as a “campaigner for an equal age of consent” is just… wrong. Yes, he supports lowering the age of consent to 14. (I fail to see how this is comparable to supporting child abuse, either.) But he’s done way more than that in his very busy and very risky life.

      Comment by jesurgislac — September 16, 2010 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

  2. Check out the author of Chapter 9 and ask yourself, who would you prefer as a babysitter, Tatchell or Ratzinger?


    The contents and contributors of The Betrayal of Youth:

    Chapter 1: ‘Incest’ by Clive Coliman: Described as “An ardent supporter of the children’s rights movement.”

    Chapter 2: ‘Child Pornography and Erotica’ by Richard Green: Illustrator for the Paedophile Information Exchange magazine under the pseudonym “Dominik”

    Chapter 3: ‘Child Prostitution’ by Warren Middleton of P.I.E. Chapter 4: ‘Gender Differences’ by Liz Holtom and Kathy Challis: both from the anti-Christian Peace News.

    Chapter 5: ‘Power and Consent’ by Eric Presland: Homosexual activist. Contributed also to the American paedophile book “The Age Taboo.”

    Chapter 6: ‘Love and Let Love’ by Tuppy Owens, Editor of the Sex Maniac’s Diary, and Tom O’Carroll: ex-Chairman of P.I.E. who was convicted in 1981 of conspiracy to corrupt public morals by sending out a paedophile contact list.

    Chapter 7: ‘Children and Sex’ by Fr Michael Ingram: Catholic priest, defender of paedophilia.

    Chapter 8: ‘The Paedophiles’ by Beatrice Faust: militant feminist & civil libertarian.

    Chapter 9: ‘Questioning Ages of Majority and Ages of Consent’ by Peter Tatchell.

    Chapter 10: ‘Ends and Means: How to Make Paedophilia Acceptable?’ by Roger Moody of Peace News: “One of the most outspoken advocates of children’s rights in Britain .” Well-documented as a ubiquitous paedophile intellectual.

    Chapter 11: ‘Socialism, Class, and Children’s Rights’ by John Lindsay: “ardent supporter of children’s rights.” Member of the Socialist Workers’ Party. Homosexual activist, hates the institution of the family.

    Chapter 12: ‘Childhood Sexuality and Paedophilia: Some Questions Answered’ by Warren Middleton of P.I.E.

    Chapter 13: ‘The Oppression of the Young: An Inside Perspective’ by Jeff Vernon: Involved in Gay Youth Movement and Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

    Appendix 1: ‘P.I.E., from 1980 Until its Demise in 1985’ by Steven A. Smith: ex-chairman of P.I.E. Fled to Holland in 1984, became “active in the Dutch crusade for children’s rights,” was deported back to the UK in 1991 and sentenced to 18 months for sending indecent articles through the post.

    Appendix 2: ‘The Uranians’ by Timothy d’Arch Smith: Bookseller. Author of “Love in Earnest.”

    Comment by Erica Blair — October 14, 2010 @ 12:37 am | Reply

    • Check out the author of Chapter 9 and ask yourself, who would you prefer as a babysitter, Tatchell or Ratzinger?

      Peter Tatchell believes that two 14-year-olds shouldn’t be criminalized for having sex with each other. He’s been writing about this since 1996, and he has consistently taken the position that

      The issue is not whether the under-17s should have sex (I do not advocate early sexual activity), but whether they should be criminalised for consensual relations. Young people should be able to enjoy sexual relationships without being penalised by the law, providing both partners give their consent and are mature enough to understand the implications of their actions. (2008)

      Joseph Ratzinger believes that priests who rape children of any age shouldn’t be prosecuted, as they should be protected by the church: the police shouldn’t be helped or supported in collecting evidence to prosecute them. He has demonstrated this by his actions since 1981. (2003)

      I don’t think either Ratzinger or Tatchell would make great babysitters (Ratzinger’s 83 and has lived in a childless environment since 1981: Tatchell suffers from minor brain damage since being beaten by Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards in 2001): but Ratzinger’s the only one of the two of them who’s consistently demonstrated by his actions from 1981 till the present day that he thinks child molesters and rapists need to be supported and protected: he thinks their victims may deserve his facile apologies & crocodile tears, but not his support in getting justice against the Church for the crimes committed by the Church hierarchy and individual priests.

      Ask yourself: Which would you rather have as a babysitter: the Cardinal who let priests rape children, or the social campaigner who thinks teenagers don’t deserve prosecution for having consensual sex?

      (I find it interesting, too, as I noted in my original post, that while Tatchell’s worked for human rights forty years – he’s actively opposed Muslim women being forced to cover and people in developing countries having no access to clean water, just as two examples – his opponents have fixated on one thing: his belief that teenagers shouldn’t be criminalized when they decide to have sex.)

      Comment by jesurgislac — October 14, 2010 @ 4:00 am | Reply

  3. ‘Joseph Ratzinger believes that priests who rape children of any age shouldn’t be prosecuted, as they should be protected by the church: the police shouldn’t be helped or supported in collecting evidence to prosecute them. He has demonstrated this by his actions since 1981. ‘

    This is completely untrue. The source you rely on misunderstands the nature of ‘Papal Secrecy’ which is a translation from Latin. The original document concerned cases where the Confessional was used to seduce women (which is not a crime in any country) – there was a later addendum saying that child abuse cases be treated in the same way. ‘Papal Secrecy’ is a term used in the church for confidentiality – which was for the protection of all concerned, not least the victims while investigations were carried out.

    As for Tatchell. You haven’t addressed the fact he contributed to a book produced and written by paedophiles. Was this a single aberration?

    Read Tatchell’s true position on child abuse here:

    BYLINE: Peter Tatchell.
    LENGTH: 480 words

    ROS Coward (Why Dares to Speak says nothing useful, June 23) thinks it is “shocking” that Gay Men’s Press has published a book, Dares To Speak, which challenges the assumption that all sex involving children and adults is abusive. I think it is courageous.

    The distinguished psychologists and anthropologists cited in this book deserve to be heard. Offering a rational, informed perspective on sexual relations between younger and older people, they document examples of societies where consenting inter-generational sex is considered normal, beneficial and enjoyable by old and young alike.

    Prof Gilbert Herdt points to the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea, where all young boys have sex with older warriors as part of their initiation into manhood. Far from being harmed, Prof Herdt says the boys grow up to be happy, well-adjusted husbands and fathers.

    The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.

    While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.

    Peter Tatchell.
    Rockingham Street,
    London SE1.

    LOAD-DATE: June 26, 1997

    Comment by Erica Blair — October 17, 2010 @ 9:42 am | Reply

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