Why is Unionism ‘agnostic’ on a visit by Pope Francis to Belfast? – asks Kyle Paisley

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It is strange, to say the least, that hardly one dissenting voice has been raised by Unionist politicians or Protestant ministers against the proposal to bring the Pope to Belfast.

While on the one hand, the peace process requires both sides to go the extra mile, on the other hand in a ‘new’ Northern Ireland dissent should at least be tolerated, particularly on sensitive religious matters.

There are some things which neither unionists or nationalists, Protestants or Catholics, should feel compelled to support or even be neutral over. Every man should be able to freely and openly express his convictions. He must be true to himself.

That is why it is so hard to understand the neutral stance taken by the DUP, UUP and PUP on Belfast City. Unionists were true to themselves over the flag issue, but are remarkably subdued when it comes to a matter of greater import – welcoming to the province’s capital a man who is the very antithesis of Protestantism.

What of the rapid change in the DUP leader’s stance? Within a matter of a few days he changed his stance from “no need or desire” to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church, to – “Yes, under certain circumstances.”

To consent to meeting the Pope if he comes a head of state, but not if he comes in a pastoral role is unreasonable and unworkable. What is more, Mr Robinson is well aware of the fact that the Pope is not merely a head of state, but is chiefly a religious leader. The Vatican State is essentially a religious state.  Therefore to consent at all to meeting him, will be seen as a come-on by the Roman Catholic leadership and not “hypothetical” in the slightest. It is an open invitation.

Before consenting to meet Pope Francis, he should have considered whether or not it was appropriate. There has been enough controversy over the disappeared in Ulster’s troubles and controversy surrounds the former Jesuit Provincial of Argentina in respect of the disappeared in the ‘Dirty War’ in his home country, where the upper echelons of the church were seen as too cosy with the military junta.

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  1. Danny Morrison on

    Kyle, apart from innuendo, you have said very little in this feature. For example, why don’t you actually state whatever objections you may theologically have about the Pope visiting as a religious leader, head of state or tourist? That way, we will have a notion of what you mean to say. Instead, you dance around the issue.

    • Kyle Paisley on

      My theological objections to the Papacy are summed up in the statements of the
      Confessions of major Protestant denominations – e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith.

      My practical objection to his visiting Northern Ireland, is as stated in the closing
      paragraph of my article re: the disappeared.

      I note with interest the column you wrote on Rodolfo Walsh and the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina, who was a victim of the same regime which Bergoglio failed miserably to confront. The Argentine historian, Federico Finchelstein, stated – “The combination of action and inaction by the church was instrumental in
      enabling the mass atrocities committed by the junta…Those like Francis that
      remained in silence during the repression also played by default a central role…It was this combination of endorsement and either strategic or willful indifference that created the proper conditions for the state killings.” (www.nytimes.com).

      On another note, I don’t think that spending ‘x’ amount of £ to bring political or religious leaders from foreign states should be made a priority, when there are more pressing needs. For example, according to the report in the Belfast Telegraph on 2nd April that Belfast City Council gave fifteen times as much time to discussing the Pope’s visit as it did to discussing food banks.

      • Philip Kelly on

        interesting comments , but heres one for you, what did your fathers and your church ever do to confront the loyalist murder gangs operating in northern ireland or to help achive equalielty and justice for catholics/nationalist liveing in northern ireland, i would suggest nothing but they drove forward an agenda of hate that led to what we now call the troubles and the deaths and injuries to 1000s for which you have never never accepted your part played or respontabilty for. your hate of the catholic church and catholics knowes no bounds, but the city of belfast has changed and the deacent members of that society have come to the top and your view of life is being consigned to the waste of history and intolerance where it belongs O yes i am old enough to remember 1964/66/67/68/69/70/74 when loyalist mobs where led by your REV FR to destroy catholic demands for a justice society once a bigot always a bigot, cant change the spots of the lepoard or its cubs

        • Kyle Paisley on

          I think that the misrule of big part unionism, toward the end of the fifty years when it was in power, was a major contributing factor to the political vacuum in Northern Ireland, which was willingly filled by men of violence.
          If Ian Paisley was the man you think, and guilty of the things you charge him with, the British government would have taken his scalp a long time ago. At times they seemed more interested is stifling the voice of democratic politicians who opposed their policy.
          As for not working for equality for Catholics, his track record as an MP for North Antrim answers that charge. He dealt fairly with all his constituents, regardless of what their religion was, or even if they had no religion at all.
          It is all too easily forgotten that it was his intervention that saved the life of a Roman Catholic priest who had been kidnapped by Loyalist thugs in County Antrim. The same priest acknowledged that he owed his life to Ian Paisley.
          My father visited him when he was in hospital some years later, and was well received by him.

          • Kyle Paisley on

            Correction: ‘big PARTY unionism’

            Correction (words added): ‘At times they seemed more interested is stifling the voice of democratic politicians who opposed their policy THAN IN DEALING WITH THE REAL TROUBLE MAKERS.’

          • as i said i remember davis street and the murders of peter ward and after i met gusty spence he told us of your fathers words led him into the uvf and his wish that he had never met him your father used the fears of working class unionist to his own twisted gain by stokeing up secterian fear. he also used the fear of unionist to destroy sunningdale and created the uwc /uda etc it was only that tony blair called his bluff on the gfa and the fear of joint authorty that he agreed to the power sharing agreement the fact that martin mc guinness got on with him says more for martin than ian paisley and always remember that it was the irish nationalist community in the usa that opened the doors to investment in north ireland ie the mcbride principles that your father opposed and it would be my conviction that if he could have destroyed that he would have and in conclusion ireland does not need or require your brand of fundamental religion of hate against another religon or its leader the one thing the catholic church teaches is tolerance of others and love thy neighibour dont see much of that in free presbyterian church. O on a point of intrest my grandmother and grand uncle were both presbyterians but also social republicans and leading members of the I T G W U in belfast in 1911 and in fact were james connellys election agents WHO WORKED FOR EVERY ONE RELGION NEVER CAME INTO IT

  2. Don’t make me support Danny Morrison on this… please! If the religious leader of one part of our community wishes to visit his flock then it’s churlish and unreasonable to get all hot and bothered over it.

    Stop going around looking for excuses to be offended – we see enough of that sh1t with parades already. Good luck to them.

  3. Philip Kelly on

    bread by a bigot brought up by a bigot and still a bigot have the paisley family learned nothing in the past 50 years , if its good enough for your queen to meet him it should be good enough for you after all you lay loyality to her

    • Nothing to do with bigotry & all to do with the Presbyterian & Baptist Westminster Confession of Faith : CHAPTER XXV.
      Of the Church.

      I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
      II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
      III. Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.
      IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
      V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.
      VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.

      • Glenn Bradley on

        Time, eh.

        Hard to believe that in 2014 people still use or see relevance to a doctrine initially drafted in the period 1643-46 by Parliamentarian Puritans to ‘reform’ the Church of England thus enabling the political allegiance of the Church of Scotland for the Parliamentarian cause against King Charles 1 during the English Civil War.

        Really is a small world, here, I guess.

  4. If there is a lack of tolerance from ANY sector of the political or religious framework then that should be challenged. We live in a modern liberal democracy – or should do – and with it goes an acceptance that there has be be reasonable accommodation – or an effort to achieve this. Disagreeing with another set of religious values is ok, but disagreeing and being actively obstructive and inciteful, or even malicious as happens in many cases, is certainly something else – and we have seen plenty of this sort of stuff for too long in our society here.

    We certainly need a process that examines this ethical area in a safe way so we can move on – sadly it is all too often trial and discussion by a media usually too fickle and transcient. This recurrent problem of understanding and acceptance needs to be examined for what it is worth, documented, and so on until one day we reach that golden moment when self awareness shines through and we all live happily ever after.

    At the moment we have ‘stuckness’ – a constant harping on about such religious and political issues. There is never a genuine solution. But the reality is probably more removed and has something to do with deeper unfinished business influencing the discussion – around racial perceptions, ethnic identity, and fear of change and foreigners.

    Across Europe there are similar tensions below the surface. It is when we go into hard times that these tensions become more exacerbated and public. Maybe it is time we looked at the broader picture of what these are in a fuller examination. If the EU project is to move on, maybe it needs this full discussion, so that people can live and work together – it has been done in the US.

    I think there is a complacency among the leading elites that the status quo is ok or tolerable – I see it falling short of the mark. So, to address Kyle’s question (finally), Unionism is made up of many facets and strands – some tolerant, and some hostile to Catholicism and for that matter the Pope. We simply cannot generalise. I think the difficulty is therefore in the title of Kyles’ title/question. It cannot be answered in a few words. But it can be recognised by being part of a more complex process of dialogue, one which needs refined and extended. This might all sound a bit vague to some, but we must start to see our ‘problem’ in a different light on a broader less-narcistic context. Then a solution may come one day. I live in hope.

  5. non hypocrit on

    We should not tolerate US Bible belt clerical graduates who bought their degrees? Also what about Kyle’s father’s cosiness with loyalist death squads?

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