Pope Benedict used the keynote address of his visit to Britain to protest at “the increasing marginalization of religion” in public life, maintaining that even the celebration of Christmas was at risk.
In a dense, closely argued speech to an audience that included four former prime ministers, the pope said social consensus alone could not be left to decide policies. And he pointed to the global financial crisis as an example of what happened when pragmatic solutions were applied in the absence of ethical considerations.
The occasion was rich with symbolism. The pope was accepting what he called an “unprecedented invitation” to address Britain’s great and good in Westminster Hall where the Catholic saint, Thomas More, was tried and convicted for refusing to put expedience ahead of his religious convictions and bowing to the demands of his king, Henry VIII.
In a key passage, he said: “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.” This was a clear reference to Britain, whose tolerance he praised on the first day of his visit.
He went on: “There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue â€“ paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination â€“ that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.”