Large crowd for Pope protest

Submitted by AWL on 18 September, 2010 - 7:25 Author: Martin Thomas

The organisers claimed 20,000 people joined the “Protest the Pope” march in London, from Hyde Park Corner to Downing Street, on 18 September.

One of the organisers, Peter Tatchell, said: “Among the marchers were Catholics and other Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of no faith. The protest was not against the Catholic church or Catholic people. It was against the Pope and his often harsh, intolerant teachings; especially his opposition to contraception, women priests, gay equality, abortion, fertility treatment, embryonic stem cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.”

A few AWL members were there, pretty much the only presence from the organised left. (Two SWPers came to petition about cuts, but did not want to discuss the Pope, the Catholic Church, religion, etc; there were a few members of the Anarchist Federation there.) Solidarity had a brisk sale, the AWL comrades there selling all the papers they’d been able to bring.

Unfortunately there were many more thousands in Hyde Park of Catholics who had come to join a “Prayer Vigil” with the Pope...



Submitted by AWL on Sat, 18/09/2010 - 19:27

There were many more thousands in Hyde Park of Catholics who had come to join a "Prayer Vigil" with the Pope. Although the Pope was not due to arrive until 6.30pm, Catholics were already turning up in thousands in the morning.

I arrived early for the "Protest the Pope" march, so used the time before the march to do a paper sale. You might hope that among the tens of thousands of Catholics there would be a few "Christian socialists". Maybe there were, but very thinly scattered.

I sold fewer papers than usual - only five in an hour - and all of them to people other than the Catholics who had come for the Vigil: tourists, random passers-by, a worker from the Tube station taking a break, and then at the end a couple of early arrivers for the "Protest the Pope" march.

Solidarity had a brisk sale on the "Protest the Pope" march, the AWL comrades there selling all the papers they'd been able to bring.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 18/09/2010 - 19:39

On 11 September, the Catholic paper The Tablet published a list of one hundred "Catholics [who] we think wield the greatest influence" in Britain today.

They "hold some of the most significant positions in British public life: Cabinet Secretary (Sir Gus O’Donnell); BBC director general (Mark Thompson); Chancellor of Oxford University (Lord Patten); editor of The Daily Telegraph (Tony Gallagher); president of the CBI (Helen Alexander)".

And it has been noted that only a few years ago all three big political parties were led by Catholics or soon-to-be Catholics: the Tories by Ian Duncan Smith, the Lib Dems by Charles Kennedy, and Labour by Tony Blair.

Among the Tablet's top 100 was a surprising name: Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union.

Serwotka was a member of the Socialist Organiser Alliance (a forerunner of AWL) for a brief while in the 1980s. We knew he came from a Catholic background. The AWL has no bar on individual members having religious views so long as they are willing to go with us rather than with the teachers of their religion on political issues (a difficult matter for Catholics, given the pretensions of their Pope). However, at the time Serwotka gave no indication of still being a Catholic.

So, not only did he quit organised socialist politics - he has now gone back to the Church? Or is the Tablet making it up? There has been no denial by Serwotka, although the Tablet's list has been widely reported.

Submitted by Matthew on Sun, 19/09/2010 - 11:06

I too saw Serwotka's name on The Tablet's list and wasn't that surprised: lapsed Catholics returning to the Church in middle age is not that uncommon after all. I was chatting to some PCS reps after the lobby of the TUC General Council last week who mentioned it, they thought it was common knowledge he had become a practising Catholic again although when he did so I'm not sure.

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 19/09/2010 - 22:01

I don't know whether the Tablet is right. If it's not I think Mark Serwotka should say so. "Not any of our business", though? The Pope has been explicit during his visit that the Catholic religion is not just a private matter, but aspires to regulate social affairs. And the Pope speaks with some authority about Catholicism, doesn't he?

Martin Thomas

Submitted by Matthew on Mon, 20/09/2010 - 12:05

Unlike MariaT, I have no way of knowing whether The Tablet is right about Serwotka being a practicing Catholic (and unless she's asked him directly, I can't see how she "can assure your readers that Mark has not 'returned to the church'"). And actually I'm more interested in what PCS is going to do to defend its members' jobs and pensions than whether its General Secretary attends Mass on a Sunday morning. I merely said I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.

I was surprised however by MariaT heading her comment 'Not a Catholic'. It's a few years since I attended Mass but I'm pretty sure the Church still regards baptised former communicants such as myself as lapsed rather than non-Catholics.

Submitted by dalcassian on Mon, 20/09/2010 - 13:07

In reply to by Matthew

As Mathew says, according to the Catholic church, 'once a catholic, always a catholic'. Many of us, of course, beg to differ. The really odd thing though is that Serwotka for years in politics was, and maybe still is, a supporter of "Respect" - an active political ally of political Islam and of the defenders and championa in Britain of Islamic clerical fascism. That is, in political terms he was, so to speak, a practicing political Muslim! He spoke on Respect's platforms. I'd be surprised if he goes to mass, but in my limited experience of him, his cast of mind in politics never ceased to be that of a Catholic - rigid, metaphysical in his principles, politically brittle. Such people turned opportunist lose their moral compass - and in this case, his political compass too.

Sean Matgamna

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