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Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.K. May Be a Flop

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LONDON -- Boy, do I hope that the pope has thick skin. On Thursday, he arrived for the first papal visit to the United Kingdom since John Paul II came in 1982. But unlike his predecessor, it doesn't look like Pope Benedict XVI is going to get a hero's welcome.

The pontiff will spend four days in the U.K., visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham. But if ticket sales are any indicator of his popularity, he's far from attaining rock star status on this island nation.

As of Tuesday, thousands of tickets remained unsold for events during the pope's visit. One of these -- the beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman, a Victorian theologian who converted to Catholicism -- was scaled back dramatically from a venue that could hold 200,000 seats to one holding only 80,000 (of which only 50,000 tickets have been sold). Many of the unsold tickets are now being redistributed or given to schools.

Pope Benedict XVIIn addition, the pope is going to be greeted by protesters. On Thursday, the Rev. Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland led a 60-strong delegation from the Free Presbyterian Church to protest the visit. On Saturday, Protest the Pope, a loose coalition of human rights activists, secularists, survivors of clerical sexual abuse and reform-minded Catholics will march in London. The group has 9,000 Facebook members and champions causes ranging from female ordination of priests to lifting clerical celibacy to more pro-active church efforts on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse. (Some members of this group even went so far as to mount a campaign to enact a citizen's arrest of the pope during his visit, but that idea has been shelved.)

There's also a good deal of resentment over the cost of this trip, the price tag of which -- this is an official, State visit -- is estimated at over 20 million pounds (about $31 million). Of that total, £11 million will be funded by the church and £9 million by the British government, including a record £1 million to £1.5 million in policing costs. But a recent poll found that 77 percent of people do not think taxpayers should be paying for the visit. And on Wednesday, The Guardian published a letter from a group of prominent actors, writers, and academics saying that the Pope shouldn't be granted the "honor" of a state visit because of the Vatican's policies on homosexuality, abortion, and birth control.

Pope Benedict will also be facing a nation of non-believers. The most recent British Social Attitudes survey found that just a third of the country's population held firm religious beliefs, with another third deeply skeptical and the final third uncertain. This is consistent with a Guardian/ICM poll conducted in 2006 in which only 33 percent described themselves as religious, against 63 percent who said they were not -- including a majority who described themselves more broadly as culturally Christian.

While many have assumed that the rise in immigration from places like Africa and Eastern Europe would bolster Christianity in Great Britain -- particularly Roman Catholicism -- that hasn't necessarily proved to be the case. In an interview with the BBC, Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, says that Mass attendance in Great Britain has "dropped by half in 20 years," from 1,913,200 in 1990 to 972,800 in 2010. His prediction is that, despite the influx of immigrants, Catholicism will be nothing more than a "cult" in 30 years time, and that the Catholic Church will be unsustainable as a national institution. (There are approximately 4.7 million Catholics in the United Kingdom, which is roughly 8.5 percent of the population.)

Whether or not he's right about that -- and others disagree -- there's no question that the pope is not arriving on particularly fertile soil for his message or his religion right now.

Let's see whether he can work some magic and turn those numbers around.

Follow Delia on Twitter.

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September 16 2010 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mount carmine

While you are entitaled to you opinion Dialia you are speaking for the benifit of your left leaning company AOL

September 16 2010 at 9:24 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Since I am not a "subject of the queen," I could care less about who the crown belongs to. I care about those poor little souls who have been abused. I look and listen to the Catholics who MAKE UP EXCUSES for the abusing Priest and the Pope. And I wonder about the parents who STILL, after all or this, continue to send their children to this church to be abused. So I guess they love the Pope more than they love thier children. What a sad commentary. (in my opinion)

September 16 2010 at 7:46 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to starrchild56's comment

No, it's more like: they love their faith more than the priests. I am catholic and I noticed that non-catholics tend to believe that catholics just give a pass to the priests and therefore, all catholics are either dumb or exploited. That is the wrong interpretation. Priests are men and people like every one else, this is not an excuse for their faults but the reason why catholics remain in the faith and in the church. We believe in forgiveness of the sins and atonement if there is true repentance. The faith is for God and not in the priests.

September 16 2010 at 9:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

No you're sad I send my child to catolic scholl so they get an education while paying 18,000.00 a year for the public schoo;s full of rape, drugs and teachers that are worried about their next raise for the 190 days they work.

September 18 2010 at 6:31 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply


September 16 2010 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I applaud the papal visit. I pray that His Holiness has a successful visit to England and to the newly beatified John Henry Newman, that this visit may bring people peace and closer to the word of God through the catholic faith. I also pray for those who are anti-catholic, their hatred is noticeable. Some oppose the beliefs others oppose the priests, but the church is a church of faith, not of men. Men will come and go, the church and the faithful remain. Do not confuse the sins of some with the church itself. I hope the Pope receives the blessings of many.

September 16 2010 at 2:23 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to luigt's comment
dan and judy

Thank you

September 16 2010 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think it's a little ridiculous to keep the Pope from coming because of the Vatican's policies on homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. The church has always held these policies and I don't think they will change, at least now. Not everyone has to share the same belief's, but I do agree that the cost should lie on the Vatican, not the English people. I also think the Pope will address the sexual abuse scandals and the many who were affected by it. That was abominable and remains a black spot on the Catholics and he must make things right, legally and morally.

September 16 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Dear Delia ... why whould we want the pope to turn anything around? This man is a criminal, was in charge of the office to handled abusive priests during JP II's "reign", and even during this very occasion describes the church's response to the clergy abuse scandal as a "failure". Make no mistake, this wasn't a failure but a criminal conspiracy to hide crimes that have been acknowledged by the church since the third century. Let's hope his trip not only flops but that it drowns.

September 16 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

THe cost of the trip should be entirely belong to the PAPAL coffers. The bristish government should not have to pay anything except police coverage (god forbid the pope gets shot at) for security. The POPE has a lot of explaining to do about when he knew things and what he did about them. HE has not come forth candidly enough on the churches sex abuse scandals, reporting system and handing off the offenders to the local police. No person regardless of status in the church should be above the law. If the church wishes to forgive the offender then taht is their choice, but it the local law that should prosecute any person that within the church the offends and victimizes the flock.

September 16 2010 at 10:09 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to flyingfortresb17's comment
Bob B

You bring up an excellent point: Why hasn't the appropriate law enforcement arm of the government (of any country) in which these alleged crimes occured, investigated and prosecuted, where appropriate, not only the perpetrators, both those that covered up these vile deeds? And, if the Church authorities put up roadblocks, why haven't the authorities worked vigoressly to have them removed? I suspect, no matter what the Pope has done - or not - it will never 'satisfy' those that have an ax to grind, either with him personally, or the Church. Lord knows (no pun intended) the Church has already paid many millions of dollars to rectify those wrong deeds - including many who wrongly accused a priest, just to cash in on their need for greed. Never-the-less, in this entire sad story, the government's failure to act to protect its children from abuse by criminals inside or outside the church, gets a short shrift - and that is not fair either to the victims or to the institutional church. I doubt, very seriously, whether it is rational or even possible to expect the Pope to hand over every lawbreaker among his universal-worldwide 1.2billion flock "to the local police". Again, why didn't the local police go get the accused themselves? Why haven't the police prosecuted those who wrongfully accused a priest? Somebody, besides the church, dropped the ball - prosecutors (parents of the victims and lawyers of fraudulent claims) are you listening?

September 16 2010 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

More people have been killed in the name of GOD then any other reason. The popes have been behind these things for over a thousand years. the helped Nazis escape after WW2 with false ID's and hiding them from war crimes. they have molested children for decades and hide offenders. I think the cathlic church should have their tax free status removed until they become clean again. God will judge them not me.

September 16 2010 at 11:46 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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