Pope Benedict XVI has criticised the “increasing tide of secularism” in Britain, in his second comments on the country in a week.
By Martin Beckford
The pontiff condemned support for euthanasia, which he said goes directly against the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life, and recent developments in embryo research.
He also said that too many people see the Roman Catholic Church in terms of “prohibitions and retrograde positions” but ignore its positive vision of the world.
The pope added that faith schools are a “powerful force” for improving society.
It comes just days after Benedict XVI made an unprecedented attack on Labour’s “unjust” equality laws, claiming that they restricted religious freedom.
He made his earlier intervention in politics, which triggered protests from MPs and campaigners, when he met 35 bishops from England and Wales on Monday.
On Friday the pope addressed Scotland’s Catholic bishops at the Vatican, where they had made the five-yearly “ad limina” pilgrimage.
Benedict XVI confirmed that he would journey to Scotland as part of the historic first papal state visit to Britain.
“Later this year, I shall have the joy of being present with you and the Catholics of Scotland on your native soil,” he said.
But he told the bishops they must “evangelise society” as he highlighted his concerns about the country.
The pope said: “That task requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in your country.
“Support for euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life.
“Recent developments in medical ethics and some of the practices advocated in the field of embryology give cause for great concern.”
Last month Margo MacDonald, a member of the Scottish Parliament, published a bill that would let terminally ill people ask a doctor to help them end their lives. This would go even further than the guidelines for England and Wales being drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, which are likely to state that anyone who helps a loved one die will not be prosecuted unless they did it for profit or the victim was not seriously ill.
In 2008 the UK Parliament passed a law that would allow the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos to help develop cancer treatments.
The pope went on: “The Church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood.
“All too often the Church’s doctrine is perceived as a series of prohibitions and retrograde positions, whereas the reality, as we know, is that it is creative and life-giving, and it is directed towards the fullest possible realization of the great potential for good and for happiness that God has implanted within every one of us.
“You can be proud of the contribution made by Scotland’s Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities. Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion, and when the occasion arises, you do well to underline this point.”
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior Catholic in Britain, told the pope: “Your Holiness has let it be known that you will visit Great Britain in the autumn, and we are thrilled that your visit will include Scotland.
“We remember with joy the visit of your venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1982.
“We are certain that the Scottish people will give Your Holiness a heartfelt welcome. We hope that your visit to Scotland later this year will bring us renewed encouragement, vigour and joy as we seek to serve Christ in the circumstances of the present day.”
Homosexuality rights campaigners and secular groups have announced that they will stage protests when Benedict XVI arrives in Britain – likely to be in September – after he spoke out so strongly against equality law.
He had in mind the order that Catholic adoption agencies must consider same-sex couples as potential parents, and the clause in the Equality Bill currently before Parliament that could have left churches unable to require that employees are Christians, and forced to admit homosexuals to the priesthood.
Labour later disclosed that it would not seek to reintroduce the contentious clause of the bill, saying: “The Pope's intervention has been noted.”