Let's not disrupt the Pope

Can we just ignore or deride him instead?

For those of us who are merely secular or anti-clerical rather than militantly atheistic, there is something rather off-putting about the possible scale of the impending protests at the papal visit.

It would appear that there is a fear that the protests will be such that the papal tour will be disrupted.

This fear is so serious that it is reported that there is to be a meeting at Scotland Yard between the police, the Archbishop of Southwark, and representatives of the Protest the Pope campaign.

If this fear is well-grounded - if it is plausible that the effect of the protests would be to either prevent or inhibit the course of the papal visit - then perhaps the strategy of mass protests is misconceived.

Not only would the rightful freedom of expression of the Pope and his followers be unfairly undermined by a noisy and determined group; it is likely that such protests would be counter-productive.

It is not as if the Roman Catholic church hasn't got a track-record of converting hostility into claiming an undeserved victim status. After all, they've been doing it since the Romans.

None of this is to deny the seriousness of any of the reported scandals as to the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests; nor does it mean that the the papal opposition to contraception in the developing world is anything less than an incredible evil.

All those things need to be addressed.

But protests which may lead to disruption simply do not seem an effective or efficient response to the visit. There is no rational link between disrupting the visit and the policy and operational changes which most sensible people want the Roman Catholic church to adopt urgently.

So if there is a real risk of disruption, then perhaps the visit should be ignored.

Or, even better, we can just deride the Pope instead.

We can all sing along with the Pope Song by Tim Minchin.

We can enjoy the superb and scathing internet satires of Crispian Jago.

We can meet the head of this dysfunctional organisation not with hatred and intimidation, but with laughter and intellectual subversion.

And we can use the appropriate governmental and legal channels to put an end to the wickedness of some of its priests towards children, and to offer redress to those who have already suffered.

Priests should always be treated like any person suspected of a crime and face due process for their alleged offences.

I am not saying that there should be any limit placed on any person's peaceful protest. There is nothing wrong with Protesting the Pope.

But surely there is no need to disrupt the Pope as well.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. His Jack of Kent blog was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He will now be blogging regularly for the New Statesman on legal and policy matters.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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