Pope snubbed by Scottish Catholics

Thousands turn down the chance to see the Pope in person, and controversy over costs continues.

Controversy has broken out over the Pope's planned open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park, near Glasgow, with many parishes returning more than half of their allocated tickets for the event.

The organisers now reportedly fear that attendance will fall short of the 100,000 they expected to come to the Mass, which will cost £1.5m to stage. Each of Scotland's 450 Catholic parishes received a pro-rata ticket allocation based on the size of its regular congregation, but the Herald reports that, in some cases, only one-sixth of the parishioners are planning to take up their places at the papal event.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at the same site on a sunny afternoon, with 300,000 people in attendance. The choice of this site has been interpreted as an attempt to re-create the success and popularity of that service for a pope who has been under siege in recent months.

The open-air Mass requires participants to be in their places hours before the two-hour service begins, and it is thought that fears about the weather and long travel times are putting people off. Distant parishes are also planning to watch the service via video link, rather than travel to the other side of the country to attend in person.

The service, which will take place on 19 September during the Pope's state visit to Britain, has also reopened the debate over the cost of the papal trip to Britain. Although it insists that pilgrims will not have to pay to attend the Mass at Bellahouston, the Catholic Church has asked each parish to make a donation of £20 per attendee -- an obligation that many parishes have passed on to their parishioners.

The total cost of the visit, which will be borne by Britain, as the host nation, provoked outrage in some quarters when it was revealed that it could exceed £20m. As well as asking for "voluntary donations" from the public to cover the cost of specific events, the Catholic Church is also asking members to donate towards the overall cost of the visit, which it currently estimates at £7m.

The Church is also selling merchandise to coincide with the trip. T-shirts, fridge magnets and mugs are available, as well as more conventional religious artefacts.

Besides being hit by low attendance figures, the Pope's visit could suffer from a lack of television exposure, after BBC workers threatened to strike during that period (which will coincide with other major events such as the Last Night of the Proms) over pension disputes. Workers are being balloted on the issue; a result is expected in the week before the Pope is due to arrive in Britain.

Add to this the stated intention of Richard Dawkins and others to attempt to arrest the Pope for his alleged complicity in the child abuse scandal while he is on British soil, and we could be in for an eventful visit come September.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.