Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross. And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.
Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!
The child abuse crisis is, of course, the worst of them. Tens of thousands of children have been casually used and abused by Catholic priests around the world. The scale of this horrific sexual exploitation is only now becoming apparent. There are few checks and balances in the developing world, so there is little knowledge yet of the scale of abuse there.
Last week, the chapter of the Ryan Report that had been suppressed pending a court case was published. It revealed yet again a catalogue of deliberate and carefully orchestrated cover ups by the Church, both locally and in the Vatican. Children who might have been spared the trauma of sexual abuse were sacrificed in order that the Church could spare itself further criticism.
Yet another report about abuse in the diocese of Cloyne has been presented to the Irish Government, and soon there will be another extensive list of victims and another account of the Vatican’s contempt for them.
But it is not only child abuse that the Pope should be made to answer for. The Vatican bank is under investigation (again) for money laundering. It is a bank that is excused the regulation that any other bank is bound to observe. But there are strong suspicions that it is hand in glove with the mafia. [Hmm, I wonder where this bit of hearsay has come from? Has someone been reading too many Dan Brown books? *tut tut tut*]
Last week we revealed that the Vatican is in negotiation with Belarus over the signing of a pact that will give the Catholic Church numerous privileges in that country. A country that is, at present, ruled with an iron fist by “Europe’s last dictator”, the despotic Alexander Lukashenka who has now gained the nickname “Europe’s Mugabe”.
He fixes elections, jails opponents and suppresses dissent with ruthless violence. Just the sort of man the Vatican likes to do business with. Just as it did with Hitler. [This is just uncalled for. There's arguing your point, there's poking fun, and then there's making sweeping generalisations and going too far.] And it is still enjoying the fruits of that concordat, with millions of euros flowing into the Vatican’s coffers from the German taxpayer. Similarly with the concordats it signed with Mussolini in Italy, with the tyrannical Franco in Spain and his counterpart Salazar in Portugal. And with just about every foul dictator that has infested South America.
In September the BBC committed huge resources and much air time to covering the Pope’s visit to Britain. Opinion polls showed the British public to be massively indifferent [So?] to the visit and yet a huge, fawning, over-the-top propaganda exercise was mounted by the Corporation to ensure that the Pope had a clear run. No difficult questions were asked, no awkward commentators were allowed to appear and a completely skewed and, when looked at objectively, ridiculous, exercise in whitewashing was achieved. [I don't think so. Did they read the papers? Did they not hear that the Pope visited abuse victims? Said he was saddened by the child abuse cases? I'm not the BBC's protector, but why point the finger at them?]
Now the Pope follows up this little coup with another as he gains access [Yes, it's not like Radio 4 wanted him on the show....] to the unquestioned, unchallengeable Thought for the Day slot. Who knows what he will say – whether he will renew his attack on secularism (with no opportunity for secularists to answer back) [If the Pope was to 'attack' secularism I'm sure you'll find a way ... oh wait, you have!] or whether his target will be gay people or the equality laws or the rights of women to control their own fertility. [Oh behave yourselves.]
Why is the BBC doing this? [Because they want to?] Could it possibly be the work of the Director General Mark Thompson who personally negotiated the coverage of the Pope’s visit while at the Vatican? [And if so, why does it matter?] Mr Thompson is a high-ranking Catholic. [Again, so?] He would be a very useful feather in the Pope’s hat. [Ah, you don't miss a thing do you NSS?] Let us hope that is not what Mr Thompson is.
[Also they think the BBC has become 'the official propaganda arm of the Vatican?' Did they see Sky News' coverage of the papal visit to the UK? It was better than the BBC's (no offence, I watched both you see)].