Protests against the pope to hit London

By Ian Dunt

Protests are being organised this weekend against the Pope’s visit to the country later in the year.

A coalition of gay rights, secular and women’s groups are organising the demonstration, which will meet outside Westminster Cathedral on Sunday at 13:00 GMT, before heading to the Italian embassy at Grosvenor Square for a rally at 15:00 GMT.

Peter Tatchell of gay rights group Outrage!” listed the litany of abjections to the pontiff’s visit.

“The Pope opposes women’s rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research, death with dignity and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV,” he said today.

“Pope Benedict played a key role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy.

“He has rehabilitated the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, and even though Pope Pius XII failed to speak out against the Holocaust he plans to make him a saint,” he continued.

“Given that he opposes universal equality and human rights, Pope Benedict should not be accorded the honour of a state visit to Britain.”

Groups involved in the protest include the Central London Humanist Group, the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, One Law for All, the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association, the Rationalist Association and OutRage!.

The demonstration will be held in solidarity with another taking place the same weekend in Rome, also against the Vatican and its “reactionary interference” in Italian, European and worldwide politics.

Protest organiser Marco Tranchino said: “The tiny Vatican State is inhabited mainly by priests. It is extremely powerful and its ‘moral’ crusades adversely affect the lives of millions of people in Europe and across the world.

“Officially part of the UN, its ‘observer-state’ status means it can access, influence and pressure UN debates on issues such as birth control, abortion and homosexuality. No other religion has such privileged UN status.”

The protest comes just weeks after the pope prompted outrage in some quarters by speaking out against the equality bill, currently working its way through parliament.

His visit is expected to involve him presiding over the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

The trip is expected to cost £20 million.