The Pope and totalitarian regimes

Pope Benedict XVI ignores the role of religion in the rise of the 20th century’s totalitarian regime

On the final day of his visit, which was also the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the Pope talked as someone "who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany". Earlier during his visit, in his address at Westminster Abbey, he touched on the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century and argued that what gave rise to them (and to the slave trade) was a "misuse of reason".

There was no mention of the contribution of the Christian Church to the rise of Hitler, or the acceptance by all religions, at least in their sacred texts, of slavery.

If we take Pope Benedict's remarks regarding the Holocaust as an example, there is little doubt that he views it as one of the darkest moments in European history. At the Cologne Synagogue, earlier this year, he said, "I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis [mystery of sin]."

Yet, as far as his views on the origins of the Holocaust are concerned, there are serious problems. Benedict XVI presents it as primarily, even exclusively, a neo-pagan phenomenon that had no roots in Christianity but instead constituted a fundamental challenge to all religious belief, including Christianity. Certainly, for Hitler and his Nazi Party, race and not religion was the dominant motive for destroying Jews, but the Holocaust took place in a Christian culture and much of the Nazi anti-Semitic legislation replicated laws against Jews which were created in medieval Christendom.

In other words, if race provided the mythology and motivation for anti-Semitism, secularised religious language provided the justification. In Mein Kampf, Hitler did not hesitate to use overtly Christian language to appeal to a pious audience. Thus he could affirm, "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the word of the Lord."

Many Christians came to agree with him and many more stood by as the Nazis enacted policies that built on the widespread racist and religious attitudes towards Jews in Europe that helped pave the way to Auschwitz.

Christianity provided an indispensable seedbed for the widespread support, or at least acquiescence, on the part of large numbers of baptised Christians during attacks on Jews and other marginalised groups, such as the disabled, the Roma and gay people. Christian anti-Semitism definitely had a major role, and Pope Benedict XVI's remarks can leave the impression, intended or not, that the Holocaust was simply the result of secularising modern forces in Europe at the time of the Nazis. He fails to deal forthrightly with Christian culpability.

Some liberal commentators, such as the American Catholic scholar John Pawlikowski, explain it as a result of the Pope's tendency to regard the Church as primarily an eternal and heavenly reality, basically unaffected by human history. This would explain Benedict's great reluctance to deal directly with the Church as a reality in human history.

The central problem for Pope Benedict resides in his fundamental vision of the Church. His ecclesiological perspective is one that sees the Catholic Church as a totally completed institution, incapable of any major redefinition, and without any need in the end to learn anything new theologically from a dialogue with other Christians, Jews or any other religious group.

This visit has been positive in many respects. Following his meeting with interfaith leaders, I certainly appreciated the pontiff's encouragement of the interfaith dialogue and his invocation of "abundant divine blessings" on all faiths.

His calls for respect and understanding, and his desire to raise religious and moral questions in Britain's diverse society, exceeded expectations. But this refusal to accept the Church's responsibility for this or other examples of mysterium iniquitatis will remain a major obstacle as it seeks to engage in wider society, with its mosaic of all faiths and none.

A London pride march. Photo: Getty
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Changing the Gender Recognition Act won't solve discrimination

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. 

The Government's recent announcement of a review to the current Gender Recognition Act - the right to legally change gender - has been given the full support of the the leader of the Labour Party with his proclamation that to comply with the act requires "invasive" medical treatment.

Like many people, Jeremy Corbyn has not read the 2004 Act nor understands its consequences, or the reason for its existence, particularly in relation to discrimination, which in essence the 2004 Gender Recognition Act does very little if nothing to fight. To clarify, there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any surgery or treatment, as some people are not fit nor able to undergo any form of medical intervention.

When we come to discrimination there is a blatant failure by organisations to educate their workforce about the rights of transsexual people. This is made worse by the perpetual use of the word "transgender" - originally a derogatory American slang word, which fails to differentiate between individuals who wear clothes of the opposite gender for whatever reason and those who genuinely feel they were born in the wrong bodies.

Close examination of any discrimination legislation reveals the only word used to describe people born in the wrong body, that is, "transsexual". So widespread is the use of the word transgender by the media, including the BBC, that the public, as well as parliament, insists on using it. Yet "transgender" is not in legislation for a very good reason. Transgender has no legal definition, even being used to describe people who are not transsexual but transvestite (people who wear the clothes of the opposite gender).

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. The public is confused, parliament is confused, the media is confused. All of them assign rights that belong specifically to a small minority of people, widely persecuted and discriminated against, to people who have no specific right to protection and do not suffer the same levels and degrees of discrimination a transsexual person does.This adds to the woes of a very small group whose voice is hardly heard, if it is listened to at all, instead being drowned out by cross-dressers, transvestites, drag kings and queens, gender queer and non-binary people and a plethora of others claiming all sorts of gender difference, which are difficult if not next to impossible to define.

The publication by the BBC of details of pay to the men and women it employs has highlighted a difference in our society that should not exist but does. The vote to leave the EU has also brought about a meteoric rise in racism, which everyone thought had been dealt with by legislation. It has not. Clear legislation needs to be reinforced by action. These are two examples where legislation has failed and has detrimental consequences for individuals.  The issue is no different for transsexual people; the law needs to be followed by actions.

The key mover in changing our society to accept difference is education, yet governments consistently fail to ensure either that a compulsory policy of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is implemented. Discrimination at all levels is allowed to continue. Ofsted staff have no clear understanding of the nine protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act; like many organisations they confuse "gender" with "gender re-assignment" by omitting the latter entirely. In Wales the compulsory policy is not implemented because the Welsh Government is too afraid of parents' reaction to compulsory SRE.

If the Labour party and the governments in the UK want to effectively help transsexual people then they need to speak to those people directly, not organistions claiming to represent all and sundry about the issues transsexual people face in society. Politicians should also stop tinkering with something which successive governments are not effectively policing and supporting in the first place.

The writer is a transsexual woman living in Wales. A pseudonym has been used.