The Pope's here then. Had you noticed?! And I am personally paying for him to be here. You are too, I expect. If the estimate of a potential £13.5m bill to the British taxpayer is correct, then (and I'm using the UK population of about 62 million for this sum, with the assumption that every man, woman and child pays tax directly or indirectly in some way) Pope Benedict XVI's company for four days is costing me more than 20 pence. It might not seem a lot, 20 pence, but I'm not Catholic. And all the 20-odd pences of all the non-Catholic taxpayers are adding up to pounds and pounds and pounds. Do we mind?
David Cameron was quoted by the BBC as saying this will be "a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics, but for many people of faith right across Britain". Well, I'm not finding the whole thing ALL that special, but then I'm more in your agnostic camp, so I don't count anyway. I wonder if our Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish taxpayers are finding it special though?
Alright then, what if just the UK's six million Catholics paid for the Pontiff's trip? I mean, they're the ones most likely to be pleased to see him, right? That would cost them £2.25 each - a bit of a bargain really, for the chance to see one of your biggest heroes on your own stomping ground (I had to pay considerably more than that to go and see Prince at the o2). And then the rest of us, who don't really mind if he's here or not, could save that 20-odd pence and put it towards a postage stamp or something,
Don't get me wrong, I don't really have a problem with the Pope coming here, and no problem with anyone who has faith (although some of the beliefs and rules people put their faith in do rattle me a bit). But I do feel a bit wonky, a bit wrong about, and a bit bullied into paying for the company of a religious leader whose church's stance on issues such as gay rights and abortion are so vastly different from my own. Steve Clifford, General Director of The Evangelical Alliance (a charitable organisation claiming to represent a million Christians in the UK), thinks that Christians of all denominations should welcome him anyway. He said: "While not all Christians share the Pope's or the Catholic Church's stance on certain issues, we should welcome his visit for the sake of fighting for religious liberty." Hmm.
The whole thing is certainly getting some people's backs up. The BBC reported on Wednesday that more 50 public figures have signed a letter to the Guardian illustrating their dismay and disgruntlement that the Pope has been granted a state visit. The Vatican, whichever way you look at it, can't really honestly be described as a state though, can it? As Stephen Fry (one of the signatories of said letter) points out, where's its Olympics team?
And yet, how fascinating and wonderful to see the Pope's welcome into the UK. Thousands of people lined the streets of Edinburgh and waved their flags. I couldn't help wondering how many of those revelers were Catholics, who were actually in awe to see the leader of their church pootle by - and how many were just bitten by the bug, grabbing their once in a lifetime chance to honestly claim they had laid eyes on the Pope. How much of that was all about the 'celebrity'?
Unless everyone in the UK reads this and then leaves a comment as to whether they're happy to chip in their 20-odd pence, how will we ever know? If I had been in charge, we would have all been written to and asked whether we'd like to contribute (and if so send a postal order to a P.O. box). I might be wrong of course, but I suspect if they had added up all the 20-odd pences then, they might have had to tone down the trip a little bit - perhaps just two days instead of four, perhaps a cheaper cut of meat on the menu. After all, when billions of pounds are being cut from public spending and probably every one of us will feel the pinch from that in the coming months and years, I think that 20-odd pence taken without asking seems like a bit of a bloody cheek. You?
By: Pip Jones