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 – http://www.petertatchell.net/ – 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.

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