Pope’s visit to Britain: crisis of Church mirrors crisis of capitalism

The Pope’s visit to Britain comes in the midst of the most serious crisis of capitalism since the Second World War, with a growing mood of discontent among the workers. No doubt a little help for the British Establishment in times like these from the Almighty will always come in handy. The Pope is also hoping to boost the fortunes of the Church after it has been shaken by scandals in one country after another.

Photo by Fabio Pozzebom/Abr.Photo by Fabio Pozzebom/Abr. This morning Benedict XVI arrived in Edinburgh for the first state visit to Britain by a pope. When the papal plane touched down at Edinburgh International Airport, he was greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh and senior Catholic figures, in a break with tradition said to illustrate the importance with which the visit is being taken by the British Establishment.

Accompanied by a retinue of diplomats, secretaries and officials from the Holy See – known as the seguito – the papal entourage travelled to Holyrood House Palace, Edinburgh, where the Pope was welcomed by the Queen. These details show that this visit has more than just a passing interest. In times of deep social and economic crisis, religion can be a very useful tool.

The visit will not only have a religious content, for the connection of the Vatican to politics is no small matter, and not just in Italy. In addition to attending the spiritual needs of his flock, Benedict will also address “civil society” (politicians) at Westminster Hall. On Saturday morning, the 83-year-old pontiff will pay a series of courtesy calls to prominent politicians, including David Cameron. He will receive the leaders of all three main political parties for short private audiences, before celebrating Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

In the midst of the most serious crisis of capitalism since the Second World War, with a growing mood of discontent, reflected in the militant speeches from the TUC and the beginnings of strikes against cuts and sackings, a little help from the Almighty will always come in handy. For the Lib-Con coalition government, the papal visit is a welcome distraction with which to direct the attention of working people away from this sinful world of cuts and crisis and upwards to the World of Heavenly Bliss to Come.

Declining interest

The cynical pragmatism that characterises the attitude of the ruling class towards religion was accurately conveyed by the immortal phrase of Napoleon: "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet." For generations religion has served as a kind of drug that deadened the pain of existence of the masses. But as with most pain-killing drugs, the effect tends to be reduced with the passing of time.

When John Paul II came to Britain in 1982 (a “pastoral”, not a state visit), more than a quarter of a million people came to hear him say mass in Scotland alone. This time round the Catholic Church in Scotland had more limited expectations and according to news reports around 100,000 turned up this time. This does not compare well with John Paul II’s visit. John Paul II travelled by helicopter to Coventry Airport where he was driven through a crowd of more than 350,000. At Heaton Park in Manchester more than 200,000 people turned out and at the Knavesmire Racecourse in York more than 190,000 turned out.

The comparison is glaring. Where there were hundreds of thousands before, now we have tens of thousands. The Catholic Church has tried to explain this by having to introduce ticket-only events on the grounds of security, and that anyway, they want to create “a more intimate atmosphere” at these events. But the fact is that the contrasting numbers are indicative of growing disaffection within the Church, reflecting not only the endless child abuse scandals but a long term decline of organised religion that is not confined to the Catholic Church. In contrast to the 1982 visit, polls in Britain have shown a widespread indifference to the Pope's visit among non-Catholics and a growing mood of criticism of the Pope's teachings among ordinary lay Catholics in Britain.

On Tuesday 15 September, The Mirror carried an article with the headline: "Pope Benedict visit to Britain hit by mass apathy". The Mirror article pointed out that the three mass vigils to mark the Pope's visit to Britain this week have not sold out and that the Catholic Church will bus hundreds of kids to the events to boost attendances. Organisers of today’s open-air mass in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow had reduced the capacity to 80,000 as ticket sales had been poor. Dioceses have also reported thousands of unfilled places for a vigil in Hyde Park, London, on Saturday and the service to beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham on Sunday.

Archbishop Nichols said around 55,000 people was expected to attend the beatification ceremony for Cardinal John Henry Newman to be carried out by the Pope in Cofton Park, Birmingham. This is 10,000 fewer than originally thought. And a new poll suggests most British people do not support the Pope's trip. Only 14 per cent polled by the Populus institute said they were in favour of it. More than two-thirds said they were unhappy about the trip because of the cost to taxpayers, or the views of the Roman Catholic Church.

The total number of Catholics in Great Britain is said to be about 5,050,000. However, the number of people attending weekly mass throughout the UK is about 1.1 million, or about 20 percent. The great majority never set foot in a church, other than for funerals, weddings, confirmation ceremonies and the like. The number of active Catholic priests in England, Scotland and Wales is only 4,400. In the past, they made up the numbers by importing priests from Ireland. But now that the Church in Ireland is itself having difficulty in persuading young men to join the priesthood, this source has dried up. Instead, priests have to be imported from Third World countries, where the generally low standards of education and the lack of opportunities for a career still make the priesthood an attractive proposition.

This represents the dominant trend in all developed capitalist countries. In all the advanced capitalist countries official organised religion is losing its grip on the minds of men and women. The churches stand empty.

According to the BBC, “Figures gathered by the National Centre for Social Research show that membership of most religions [in Britain] is lower now than it was 30 years ago.” In a survey that asked people whether they regarded themselves as belonging to any religion, more than 50% responded in the negative, and of those who responded yes close to 60% said they never attended mass.

This may well explain why in his speech today he warned against “aggressive forms of secularism” in Britain and added that, “the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny’." The now infamous German-born Cardinal Walter Kasper is no longer on the Pope’s delegation, because of his comments claiming Britain was like a “Third World country”. But the Cardinal also said that Britain was facing an "aggressive new atheism", clearly something that also reflects the thinking of the present pontiff.

Cardinal Kasper promoting inter-faith co-operation at the Lutheran World Federation. Photo by LWB/Erick Coll.Cardinal Kasper promoting inter-faith co-operation at the Lutheran World Federation. Photo by LWB/Erick Coll. The problem for the Vatican hierarchy is that these comments could be made about many countries. Even in such a supposedly devout Catholic country like Italy, surveys reveal that no more than 23 percent attend mass regularly. In France, regular attendance at mass is thought to be below 5 percent and the number of professional astrologers is greater than that of Catholic priests. In Spain the numbers of the clergy can only be maintained by importing priests from Latin America and only 20 percent go to weekly mass.

A reactionary figure

The present pope is a controversial figure. Ever since his installation in April 2005, his attempts to turn back the clock, rejecting modernisation and reform have caused profound unease among liberal Catholics. For the first time since 1962 the Tridentine Mass, the form of the service always said in Latin, will be permitted. He has introduced a new set of rules regarding the way in which the Mass may be celebrated, in an effort to win back the followers of French Archbishop Lefèbvre, who insisted on continuing the use the Mass introduced at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. One bishop interviewed by the Italian paper La Repubblica said the day the Pope's letter on this question was published confirming the reform was "the saddest day of my life".

In contrast to popes who have attempted to modernise and reform the Papacy, Benedict XVI has made a point of appearing in a variety of archaic hats, capes and other adornments he wears to underline his conservative attachment to the past. In his first winter as Pope he appeared as a Santa Claus look-a-like, wearing the camauro hat, red velvet with a border of white ermine, which had not been worn since John XXIII, who died in 1963. He also affected the galero, which some have compared to a cowboy outfit in red, and the greca, the ankle-length cashmere overcoat last worn by Pope Pius XII. Benedict has been photographed seated in the little-used golden throne in the Vatican's Sala Paolina, where Pius XII used to receive important visitors on their knees.

The Pontiff's dress style is only the most obvious manifestation of his conservative views. His opposition to progressive causes is well known. On issues like women's rights, contraception, gay equality, fertility treatment, embryonic stem cell research, abortion and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, he is on the side of reaction.

Today the Catholic Church has been forced to backtrack on some of the worst crimes it committed in the past. It was kind enough to “rehabilitate” Galileo – 359 years after the Inquisition used the threat of torture to compel him to renounce his view that the earth did not stand at the centre of the universe. Some might view this as progress of sorts. But it still opposes the advance of science in fields which could potentially save thousands of people from death and suffering.

By adding "genetic manipulation" and "morally debatable experiments" to the list of the Seven Deadly Sins the Vatican would ban valuable research which could one day lead to the elimination of diseases that kill countless numbers of people every year. The religious lobby is campaigning against very promising areas of medicine, such as foetal cell research, stem cell research, and therapeutic cloning. They managed to convince the Bush administration in the USA that these areas of research should be prohibited or severely limited. Later Obama changed this decision, but it is still being fought in the courts by Christian fundamentalists. This has real implications for reducing the possible medical treatments available for each of us and for tens of millions of people in the U.S. who have spinal cord injuries and diseases such as Parkinson's.

To its credit, the British parliament rejected the attempts to ban stem-cell research, in the teeth of ferocious opposition from the powerful religious lobby. However, the Church still exerts a powerful influence on British political life. Tony Blair announced his conversion to Catholicism soon after standing down as leader of the Labour Party. Mr. Blair would see no contradiction in his support of the “Pro-life” lobby and his commitment to the Sermon on the Mount and the part he played in launching a bloody war against Iraq on false pretences.

The reactionary policies of Pope Benedict XVI have provoked the indignation of progressive people in Britain. A group of more than 50 leading academics and authors signed a public letter saying he should not be given a state visit. The list includes Stephen Fry, the comedian and broadcaster and authors, Pratchett and Pullman, professor Richard Dawkins, the well-known scientist, atheist campaigner and evolutionist, professor AC Grayling, the philosopher and Sir Tom Blundell, the pioneering biochemist. They say. “We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican”.

There is no doubt that these views are shared by many people in Britain, as the polls indicate. Despite this, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has described this visit as “a great honour for our country”, which would provide a “unique opportunity” to celebrate the “good works of religious groups”. These remarks provide us with an interesting insight into the psychology of the self-styled “progressive” Tory leader who clearly is itching to abolish the welfare state and return to the good old days when the poor had to stand outside the monastery gate waiting for the monks to serve them a bowl of soup.

Who pays?

The Pope on a visit to Brazil. Photo by Fabio Pozzebom/Abr.The Pope on a visit to Brazil. Photo by Fabio Pozzebom/Abr. According to the Gospels, the Founder of the Christian Church was born in a stable, lived among the poor, encouraged his followers to give up all their worldly goods and hold their possessions in common. He made his final journey to Jerusalem on the back of an ass and, although he must have been well aware of the threat to his life from the Romans and their local agents, he did not feel the need for any bodyguards.

All costs of the accommodation of members of Pope's entourage will be paid for by the British taxpayer. Since we do not believe they will be put up in anything resembling a certain stable in Bethlehem, this will certainly not come cheap! It is a case of: “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render approximately the same to the Vatican elite”. Dispensing with the cow sheds, they can expect to sleep in the most expensive hotels. After all, we must move with the times!

To these modest expenses must be added the cost of policing the Pope's visit, which is roughly estimated at £1.5 million. Fear of assassination means that each of the £75,000 vehicles used by the Pope and his entourage has bulletproof glass windows and roof, armoured side panels and reinforced chassis to provide security. The Popemobile runs on green fuel, so that will please the environmentalists. It is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle with a special glass-enclosed cabin built into the back to give a clear 360-degree view of the pontiff, so that will please the crowds.

We are informed that the Pope enters this ingenious vehicle by a rear door and sits in a chair which is raised by a hydraulic lift up into the “glass room”. There is also space for two aides to sit in the area in front of him. In theory, the Popemobile has a top speed of 160mph, but in Britain it will do a more sedate 6mph as the Pope waves to the crowds. The car will be driven by a specially trained British police officer with a Vatican security agent sat in the passenger seat. Only after his departure will the exact financial cost of the visit be known. Whether this will please the taxpayer is open to reasonable doubt.

The estimated cost of the visit is up to £20 million, but in practice it will be a lot more. The UK taxpayers, who were naturally never consulted about this, are forced to make a handsome contribution to the cost of the visit. At a time when ordinary people are being told that there is no money for schools, pensions or hospitals, this may be considered by some uncharitable souls as an extravagance.

Despite all the problems, it is hardly likely that the Church, which over the past 2,000 years has acquired considerable expertise in the matter of fund-raising, will make a loss on the deal. The Church has sufficient resources to gather large numbers of the faithful, sufficient make a lot of money that is.

As far as we can remember from the Scriptures, Christ did not charge any entrance fee for those who came to listen to the Sermon on the Mount. But, as in the matter of cow sheds and asses, time moves on. Here is a breakdown of the official figures for prices of tickets to various papal functions:

Price of tickets to aforementioned rallies (masses): up to £20. Expected attendance, up to 250,000. Expected attendance at prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, on Saturday: 85,000. (Price of tickets: £5). Expected attendance at Cofton Park, Birmingham, at Mass celebrating the beatification of John Henry Newman on Sunday: 54,000. (Price of tickets: up to £25).

All this should bring in a nice profit, to whit: 250,000 attendance at £20 brings £5 million; 85,000 attendance at £5 brings £425,000; 54,000 attendance at £25 brings £1,350,000.

According to our rough calculations the total from these three gatherings is £6,775,000. Of course, we must deduct the costs (excluding those so kindly defrayed by the tax-paying public). But the money-spinning aspects of the tour are by no means exhausted by the sale of tickets. There are, naturally, all kinds of other interesting initiatives, such as the various lines of official memorabilia on sale during trip, which are numbered at 80. An example of this profitable line of business is the official papal visit gold medallion, priced at only £775 (a real bargain), or the official T-shirt, price £18, or the official baseball cap, price £15. How much these business deals will bring in is anybody’s guess. But it will be far from negligible.

And what will the hard-pressed British taxpayer receive in return, apart from Spiritual Consolation? To all this, we will be told, must be added the boost to the British economy, as visitors are moved by the Holy Spirit to put their hands in their pockets in local shops, cafes and pubs. The estimated value to Glasgow and Edinburgh of an economic boost resulting from the visit of His Holiness is an impressive £13 million. So the sacrifice made by the taxpayer is not lost at all. Like the wafers and wine in the Eucharist, it undergoes a process of Transubstantiation. That part that does not end up in the Holy of Holies goes straight into the pockets of the hoteliers, restaurateurs and, of course, the brewers.

Abuse Scandal

There can be no doubt that part of the difficulties facing the Pope this time is to do with the huge tide of scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church over the last decade concerning the sexual and physical abuse of children by priests and nuns. The sickness of society is faithfully reflected in the moral sickness of the Church. That was the case in the period of the decay of feudalism (the Roman Catholic Church was one of the main bulwarks of feudalism before it went over to capitalism).

The corruption of the Church at all levels on the eve of the Reformation is too well known to have to document here. It ended in the greatest Schism. The crisis of the Church then was only a reflection of the terminal crisis of a decaying society and an anticipation of social revolution to come. When Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg, it was the start of a revolution that would sweep through Europe and change the world. The present crisis of the Catholic Church is of a similar character.

When writing of religion, Marx once wrote:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

For many people, religion is the only hope. They believe in the words of the old hymn (admittedly written by the heretic Luther): “A safe stronghold our God is still.” But the latest scandals have shaken this faith to its foundations. It has torn aside the veil of secrecy and revealed all the rottenness that lay hidden beneath the exterior of sanctimonious hypocrisy.

Perverse priests are able to live out their sick fantasies on innocent, defenceless and vulnerable children, and many of them do this unnoticed over many years, shielded by the Church authorities. Worse still, if they are eventually caught and charged, the Church pays out huge amounts of money, to get them off the hook. But then it isn't their money anyway; it is money they have made from ordinary churchgoers. They use the money of the parents of the children who are at risk of abuse to pay for the court costs.

The Bible says: “And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mark, 9; 42) But these villains are not cast into the sea as Jesus advocated. Instead of languishing in prison, which is what they fully deserve, most of the priestly abusers have not even been defrocked. And more than a half of Catholic clergy (14 out of 21) who have been jailed for a year or more since 2001 for paedophile activity in England and Wales still remain members of the clergy.

This detail is enough to show the atrocious degree of complicity of the Church authorities with the torturers of little children. Many observers have commented on the strange fact that instead of supporting the victims of abuse, the Church in its statements seems far more concerned with the problems of – the abusers!

Lawyers in the USA are making good money and one of their best sources is the Catholic Church. Already in 2008 the Church had agreed to pay £2.8million to settle 18 child abuse claims against three priests. The archdiocese in Denver, Colorado, alone has so far paid out £4million since 2005 in order to settle 43 allegations of abuse. Files on one of the three priests implicated in the scandal, Harold Robert White, have revealed that the archdiocese had known of complaints against him as early as 1960.

Feeling the fire under their backsides, the Church hierarchy has begun to react to public anger and disgust. The spokesman of the Catholic Church in Britain said (not accidentally) on the eve of the Pope’s visit:

“There is nothing that can be said to excuse the crimes committed by members of the clergy against children. The damage that is done strikes right at the core of a person; in the capacity to trust another; in their capacity to love another and – especially in the context of the Church – in their capacity to believe in God.”

More importantly, it strikes at their capacity to believe in the Catholic Church. Words are cheap and plentiful. But actions speak louder than words. And the gap between words and deeds in this case is a yawning abysm. Having made his genuflection to the Sacred Cause of PR, the archbishop hastened to add:

“The Catholic tradition in this country is one of actually very profound loyalty to the person of the Holy Father. While many would want to suggest differences of trends and opinion, this way or not, I am quite sure, and it is my experience in parish after parish, standing at the back of Westminster Cathedral day after day, that Catholics are looking forward to this visit very much indeed. The Catholic people of this country know what it is to show their affection and support for Pope Benedict.”

The two statements sit uneasily together. The record shows that even before he became Pope, as Cardinal, Ratzinger used his office to conceal cases of abuse and shield the perpetrators from exposure and punishment. Atrocious crimes, including the torture and sexual abuse of defenceless children, which in any civilized society ought to be punished with the full force of the law, are subject to concealment by the Church. The monsters who have committed them have been protected purely by virtue of wearing a dog collar.

Amnesty International recently called on the Vatican to do more to address concerns surrounding child abuse. It has been asked to do more to co-operate with criminal investigations, open up records of its internal inquiries to public scrutiny, and to offer an apology and reparations to all survivors of abuse. It could hardly be asked to do less!

Forgive and forget?

A new poll of more than 2,000 people released by ITV's Daybreak found that 80 per cent of Britons would like the Pope to issue some sort of apology for the worldwide clerical child abuse scandal during his visit. Their wish may well be granted. Observers say it is now highly unlikely that Benedict will not make some sort of gesture that recognizes the harm caused by abusive priests. There is speculation about a secret meeting at which the Pope may apologize to the victims. He really does not have much choice.

In the run-up to the Pope's visit new attempts have been made by the Church to paper over the cracks and defuse the scandal. Last month members of the Church's Child Protection Advisory Service met a number of survivor groups – including the Survivors Trust and Macsas (Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors) – to discuss future pastoral care for victims.

Dr Margaret Kennedy, the founder of Macsas, said: “It was a rather acrimonious meeting to be honest. A lot of survivors feel fed up with the way they were treated by the Church and feel this is too little, too late.” Macsas says that it has requested a public meeting with the Pope to give him a book of survivor testimonies. Its requests have so far been refused, with the Church instead offering to give the book to the Pope “via an intermediary”. This shows that the whole question of “meeting with the victims” is merely a hypocritical tactic based on damage limitation.

“To not hold some sort of meeting would be a PR disaster,” one prominent Catholic who (significantly asked to remain anonymous) told The Independent. “It would send a terrible message.” This puts things very clearly. For the Vatican it is not a question of obtaining justice for the victims of abuse but of Public Relations. But this is a case of too little and too late. With numerous new clerical sex abuse scandals breaking out every day in Ireland, Belgium, Germany, the United States and Latin America, he could hardly do otherwise.

This impression is confirmed by recent declarations by the head of the Catholic Church in Britain. In his final briefing to reporters before the Pope touched down, Archbishop Nichols admitted that the global Catholic Church should have done better in its handling of clerical abuse. “The Church has made a mess of its response to incidences of child abuse,” he said. So it is not so much a question of rottenness within the Church but of the response of the latter to the accusations leveled against it. That is, it is a question of inadequate presentation.

In order to rectify this serious defect, the archbishop was unusually outspoken in his criticism of errant priests. This, however, begs the question of why he has waited until now. In the New Testament Christ refers to the Pharisees as “whitened sepultures” – that is, white on the outside but black and foul within. (“For ye are like unto whiten sepultures which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27). The analogy is rather appropriate. The Vatican and its spokesmen admit only what can no longer be denied. They hope that apologies will lessen the whiff of scandal, as the sweet smell of incense lessened the bad smells that emanated in the past from an unwashed congregation. But the stench of corruption will not be so easily eliminated.

Marxism and religion

In general, one can judge the level of civilisation of a given society by its treatment of its most vulnerable members: the children, the old, the sick, the poor. On this basis, modern capitalism stands condemned on all counts. The laws of the market are the laws of the jungle, in which all humane sentiments, all feelings of social solidarity, compassion and sympathy for the sufferings of others must be suppressed for the sake of a single overriding aim: self-enrichment.

As a concession to the feelings of the masses, the Church has added to the well known seven deadly sins, others such as “environmental pollution” and “accumulating excessive wealth”. But these “sins” are committed by the small minority of the population that controls the state and the economy, the capitalists and bankers. Among these are many friends of the Catholic hierarchy, beginning with the crooked billionaire who is currently Prime Minister of Italy. How does the church reconcile this contradiction? The answer is: it does not.

Who decides what “excessive wealth” is? In a market economy every capitalist is obliged, on pain of extinction, to obtain the highest possible rate of profit, and this he can only do by extracting more surplus value from the labour of the workers. If this is a sin, one can always confess and be absolved. They should at least repent once year... and then go about their regular business again.

We live in a society that is sick unto death. It is an alienated world in which all natural human relations are inverted and turned into their opposite. In such a society, people are regarded as things, mere commodities to be abused in every sense of the word, while things (money, shares, gold and jewels) are worshipped as the True God. The Church that in the past was a perfect reflection of the degeneration of feudalism is now the equally faithful reflection of the rottenness of capitalism in its epoch of senile decay.

Some may ask how is it possible, after these terrible revelations and scandals that so many people still believe in God and are prepared to pay money to hear the pope. Bourgeois atheists like Richard Dawkins confine themselves to a general denunciation of religion, cataloguing its crimes and delusions. Insofar as it is directed against mysticism and a defense of science, evolution etc., such propaganda plays a useful role. But it can never really defeat religion, because it leaves out of account the real social conditions that are the soil from which religion grows and is nourished.

Dawkins makes a fundamental mistake. It is impossible to abolish religion through logical argument, because this supposes that religion is an artificial construct that can be eliminated by rational argument, education etc. In fact, one can never uproot religious prejudice among the masses (or even among most religiously-inclined intellectuals) by logical arguments. Religion is not at all logical or rational. It is a confused reflection in the minds of men and women of really existing contractions in society and life.

The reason why people like Dawkins make this mistake is that they are philosophical idealists who imagine that things like wars, terrorism etc. are caused (mainly) by religion and religious fanaticism. This is not at all the case. While the ruling class makes use of religion to fool the masses into fighting “just wars”, we will always find that in the last instance the real cause of wars are the material interests of particular classes. This was as much the case with the Crusades as with the present-day so-called war on terror. Religion is merely a convenient device to fool impressionable people and conceal the real interests involved.

In every war, “God is on our side” – and He will also be found equally on the other side. The US soldier sees his role as fighting for (Christian, western) “civilization” against evil (Islamic fundamentalist) barbarians. But behind his back big monopolies like Halliburton are making fat profits from the war. On the other side, the poor, ignorant youths, born in the slums of Karachi, brought up under the whip of the mullahs in the madrassas, are taught that it is their duty to martyr themselves in the fight against the “infidel”. And all the time behind their backs the mullahs join hands with the drug barons and officers of the ISI (the Pakistan Secret Services) to make money out of war, bloodshed and misery.

As long as we live in a world based on the exploitation of the many by the few, as long as the worker remains alienated from the product of his labour, as long as the destiny of humanity is decided, not by rational planning but by the blind play of market forces, so long will men and women seek refuge from a cruel and arbitrary world in the illusory world of religion. It is not by abolishing religion that we change the world but, on the contrary, it is only by changing the world that we create the material conditions whereby men and women can begin to free themselves from the psychological shackles of religion.

Marx explains:

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

And he concludes: “The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.”

Religion is an opiate, but like any drug, its effects are not long-lasting. Of the thousands who will attend the rallies and masses, most will be working class people. They will be moved by the speeches and sermons. The psychological effects of large numbers of people gathered in public places, whether a papal mass or a football match, are well known. They will be ecstatic, enthusiastic, in a state of bliss.

But what will they do on the next day, and the day after, and the day after that? After the show is over, they will have to come down from the clouds and place their feet firmly on the ground. The clouds of incense that blinded their sight and clouded their judgment will disperse and they will come face to face with reality in the cold light of day. They will see that they and their families are under attack, and that no amount of prayers will make any difference.

The only road they can take is the road of struggle. In the course of struggle people learn and are changed. Many good workers and trade unionists have religious convictions. That does not prevent them from fighting the bosses and acquiring a socialist consciousness. Gradually, through their own experience, they will come to understand that in the struggle between the classes, the hierarchy of the Church will always take the side of the rich and powerful, as it has done ever since the Emperor Constantine, for opportunist reasons, decided to incorporate the Church into the state.

In reality it is wrong to speak of “the Church”, as if it were a monolithic structure. There were always two churches: the church of the rich and powerful, the church of the exploiters and oppressors; and on the other hand, the church of the poor, exploited and oppressed. We Marxists are fundamentally opposed to the former, which is represented by the Barons of the Church, headed by the reactionary Benedict XVI.

But we consider the latter to be our class brothers and sisters, worthy allies in the fight against injustice and oppression. We will fight shoulder to shoulder with them to cleanse the world of all evil and injustice and create the conditions for a really human society. Only when we begin to create a paradise in this world will men and women cease to long for a life beyond the grave.

[Some interesting statistics: Area of Vatican: 1.2 square miles; Worldwide Church membership: 1.166 billion; Nations with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations: 178; Nations in which Roman Catholic priests have (so far) been accused of child abuse: 28; Total damages likely to be paid to abuse victims in the US alone: $5bn.]

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