As a freethinking Anglican I hold no brief for the Pope, nor do I think he should not have come to the UK. For a pastoral visit, that is. But a State visit? As a citizen, and noting all the negativity surrounding his visit here this week, I am bound to ask: who invited him?
I don’t recall seeing any debate in Parliament about this visit. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any legislature discussion about any State visit other than the debate on the Queen’s Speech which invariably seems to begin with a phrase like, “We look forward to the visit by…” Do we? It doesn’t help that I do not, as many others do not, regard the Pope as being a real head of state. And the current pontiff is not exactly an inspiring, positive sort of holy visitor in the way his predecessor was three decades ago. So who invited him and why?
Let Parliament debate whether or not someone should come, welcomed by the people at large and not because he or she is on some kind of Foreign & Commonwealth Office list of ‘people we must have here.’ The debates need not, however, have only heads of state to consider. A State visit could be in honour of someone who has accomplished much without reaching the top of a constitutional tree.
That way, a religious leader could indeed receive all the pomp and circumstance that Benedict XVI is getting, but only if most of us genuinely thought that she or he deserved the honour. How about the Dalai Lama?