Just say no to the Vatican

Protests this weekend will call for an end to the Vatican's privileges and its 
undermining of human rights
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    * Peter Tatchell
    *
          o Peter Tatchell
          o guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 February 2009 19.30 GMT
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The Vatican should stop meddling in politics and misusing its power to oppose 
human rights. Just as importantly, it is time the Italian government ceased 
kow-towing to the pope's theocratic agenda. All of Europe should be secular, 
where people are free to practise their faith but where no religion has 
privileged legal status and unique access to political power and influence.

These are the demands of protesters, backed by the British Humanist 
Association, who will assemble in London this Saturday afternoon in support of 
a simultaneous protest taking place in Rome against the Vatican's manipulation 
of Italian, European and worldwide politics.

In celebration of Charles Darwin's debunking of the Biblical idea that the 
world was made by God in six days, the protesters will meet at the Natural 
History Museum. It is hosting the biggest-ever Charles Darwin exhibition to 
commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of his 
book, On the Origin of Species. His theory of evolution was long rejected and 
denounced by successive popes.

Undeterred by church hostility, Darwin made his view of religion very clear: 
"Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interposition of 
a deity ... it is more humble and I believe truer to consider him created from 
animals."

>From the Natural History Museum, the marchers will go to the Italian Embassy 
>to demand that the Italian government curb its favouritism and appeasement of 
>the Vatican. The Italian parliament too often allows itself to be bullied by 
>the Vatican, resulting in it dumping legislation for same-sex civil unions and 
>sex education in schools.

The Catholic church in Italy is a huge corporate business empire. It owns 
hotels, restaurants, shops and private schools but it does not pay tax. On the 
contrary, it is subsidised by the Italian taxpayer, with about four billion 
euros in public money being given to the Vatican every year.

Saturday's protest organisers, Marco Tranchino and Serena Bassi, describe the 
Vatican as a "tiny statelet inhabited almost entirely by priests, with a 
disproportionate and malign influence on Italian and global politics".

Officially part of the United Nations, the Vatican's observer state status 
means it intervenes in UN debates on a variety of issues, including old-time 
favourites, such as birth control, abortion and homosexuality. No other faith 
has this privileged status, access and influence at the UN.

The Vatican maintains diplomatic relationships with nearly every nation in the 
world. In most EU countries it benefits from the support of Catholic 
politicians and in many cases its policies are advocated by political parties 
like the Christian Democrats and their successors and allies. The Vatican does 
not shrink from using threats and intimidation to enforce its will. To keep 
Catholic MPs in line with papal policy opposing gay equality, for example, the 
Vatican has threatened to excommunicate any Catholic legislator who votes for 
same-sex civil unions.

Of the 27 countries in the European Union, 14 are bound to the Vatican by at 
least one treaty. No other religion has such state-level power and connections, 
either in Europe or the wider world.

The pope has made sure that the proposed EU Constitution – and now the Lisbon 
Treaty (article 16c) – commits the European Union to "an open, transparent and 
regular dialogue with churches and religious organisations". No other 
non-governmental organisation is afforded such dialogue – not trade unions, not 
human rights groups and not bodies representing the rights and welfare of 
women, black or disabled people.

Within Britain, the Catholic church has lobbied hard to restrict women's 
reproductive rights, in particular access to contraception, abortion and 
fertility treatment. It has led the opposition to medical advance by means of 
embryo and stem cell research. With increasing numbers of state-funded faith 
schools (1 in 3 of all schools in the UK are either Catholic or Church of 
England), the Vatican continues to exercise a strong and biased influence on 
hundreds of thousands of young people.

The pope encourages us to view women as inferior to men by barring them from 
the priesthood and by consistently stating that the two genders are naturally 
different and that women are biologically inclined for a more mothering and 
domestic role in life. In many Catholic countries, women who have had a divorce 
or abortion, and women who are living as single parents, suffer 
religious-inspired stigma and discrimination. In some Catholic countries, like 
Ireland and Poland, abortion is illegal. In others, like Italy, abortion rights 
are under constant threat from the Vatican's pressure on the government.

To the delight of homophobes everywhere, the pope propagandises that being gay 
is an "objective disorder", "grave depravity" and a "tendency towards an 
intrinsic moral evil". In 1992, the Vatican officially rejected the concept of 
lesbian and gay "human rights", asserting that there is "no right" to 
homosexuality. It added that the civil liberties of homosexuals can be 
"legitimately limited". While condemning "unjust" discrimination, the Catholic 
leadership declared that some forms of anti-gay discrimination are "not unjust" 
and may even be "obligatory".

In around 80 countries male homosexuality is still illegal, with penalties 
ranging up to life imprisonment and even death by execution. Last December, a 
proposal to decriminalise homosexuality and protect gay people against 
discrimination was opposed by the Vatican in the UN and by fellow religious 
bigots in the Organisation of Islamic States.

In contrast, if Catholics suffer discrimination I will be the first to defend 
them. Equally, when the pope supports discrimination against women and gay 
people I will be the first to oppose him. That is the difference between me and 
the pope. I reject all discrimination, including against Catholics. He supports 
sexist and homophobic discrimination whenever it suits his intolerant 
interpretation of the Christian faith. That is why the Vatican must be opposed 
and why I will be joining Saturday's march in London.

No to Vatican. Protest Saturday 14 February 2009. Assemble at 2pm outside the 
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD (near the corner with 
Exhibition Road).

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Peter Tatchell: Just say no to the Vatican
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 19.30 GMT on Friday 13 
February 2009. It was last updated at 19.30 GMT on Friday 13 February 2009.
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