Stephen Glover writes in Mail Online:

Only a few days ago we were being assured by many voices on the BBC that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain might well turn out to be a damp squib.

It was widely predicted that few would turn out to see him.

Some even suggested that protests against the heinous crimes of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church might so dominate and disfigure his visit that there would be no room for the Pope to talk about anything else, or for us to listen.

n the event, the crowds were larger than had been forecast, if not as big as they were when the charismatic Pope John Paul II came to this country 28 years ago.

Particularly noticeable were the many enthusiastic young people among an estimated 80,000 congregation at a prayer vigil in Hyde Park in London on Saturday evening.

As for the protests about child abuse, they did not overwhelm the visit. Pope Benedict effectively admitted the guilt of the Roman Catholic Church.

At a mass in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon, he moved some members of the congregation to tears when he appeared to liken the victims’ suffering to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

He spoke of the ‘shame and humiliation’ brought to the Church by the scandal.

This was a much more successful visit than the Roman Catholic hierarchy had dared to hope.

But I have a feeling it was more than that. In a manner wholly unlike our home-grown clerics, the Pope spoke to the soul of our country, affirming eternal moral verities which our own political and religious leaders normally prefer to avoid.

n essence, he has been asking us to examine what kind of country we want this to be.

He warned Britain not to lose sight of its Christian heritage in its ‘multi-cultural’ and ‘aggressively secular’ modern society.

Politicians should not try to ‘silence’ religion by discouraging public celebration of its most important festivals, notably Christmas.

Nor should they enact legislation which forces Christians to act against their consciences.

He reminded us that ‘Britain stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God’, and reflected how it was ‘deeply moving to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives’.

The excesses of secularism and the perils of ‘atheist extremism’ were themes to which he returned again and again.

They will resonate with Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and with many non-Christians of other faiths, and perhaps those with none.

Perhaps rather amusingly, yesterday evening at Birmingham Airport, David Cameron ‘spun’ the Pope’s anti-secularist message to something closer to his ‘Big Society’.

It is far, far more than that. Pope Benedict’s declarations over the past few days have been remarkable and, in modern Britain, virtually unprecedented.

They were delivered in the calmest, meekest, least ranting way possible, and yet they carried a great authority that largely comes, I think, from the Pope’s sense of holiness and evident goodness, as well as from the dignity of his office.

Even hard-hearted cynics and sceptics could not fail but listen.

Most extraordinary of all, here was a religious leader prepared to confront the modern secular world – and modern secular Britain – with the timeless values of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

These values, said Pope Benedict in his final address yesterday, had been traduced by abusive priests who had seriously undermined the moral credibility of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is almost a shock to hear a religious leader speak in so blunt a way, so inured are we to our own religious leaders, particularly Church of England bishops, accommodating themselves to secular values.

I realise that any Pope has an in-built dominance which partly rests upon the bizarre doctrine of Papal infallibility.

An Archbishop of Canterbury is merely first among equals, and cannot summon up the authority of a Pope.

Yet wouldn’t it be wonderful if Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, dared to speak with a fraction of the authority of the Pope?

The tragedy is that Dr Williams and Anglican bishops probably agree with almost everything Pope Benedict said about the dangers of secularism – and yet they do not have the courage, or whatever it takes, to say it.

And whereas the Pope speaks clearly in English, which is his third or fourth language, Dr Williams often speaks opaquely or in riddles in the language that is his own.

In his concluding address, Pope Benedict said that he had discovered ‘how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the good news of Jesus Christ’.

He is right. And yet how often our national Church – the Church of England – fails to proclaim this good news.

n large parts of the Anglican Church there is a sense of defeatism in the face of the incoming tide of secularism, as congregations dwindle and parish churches close.

But look at the young people in Hyde Park or those lining Princes Street in Edinburgh or those standing outside Westminster Cathedral.

They yearn for the good news, and they invite moral certainty. Would it be too much to hope that Anglican bishops might learn something from the fearless commitment of the Pope?

I realise, of course, that there are some individual parishes, mostly Evangelical ones, in the Church of England which display much of the same fidelity to traditional Christian teaching.

And these, of course, are the very churches to which the young are flocking in droves.

By contrast, the ‘atheist extremists’ such as the biologist Richard Dawkins, the actor Stephen Fry, the lawyer Geoffrey Robinson and the writer Philip Pullman are nihilists who have nothing to offer by way of hope to the young or anyone else.

Atheism is a perfectly respectable intellectual position but these men (they are usually men) show nothing but mean-spiritedness sometimes bordering on lunacy when they called for the Pope to be banned from coming to this country or even, in Mr Dawkins’s case, arrested for ‘crimes against humanity’.

In truth they are driven by hatred of the Church. Mr Pullman actually says that he hopes ‘the wretched organisation will vanish entirely’. It won’t.

Their foaming and often unbalanced denunciations of the Pope reveal their fear. They fear him because he adheres so strongly to traditional Christian teaching and champions principles they abhor.

They fear him because the values he reiterates commend themselves to millions of people and, above all, to millions of young people.

They do not trouble to vent their spite and vitriol on the Archbishop of Canterbury because Dr Williams has been so cowed by the forces of secularism that he no longer poses any threat to their bleak vision.

How petty and irrelevant these extremist atheists appear in the context of the hopes inspired by the Pope.

In invoking the heritage of our Christian past, and suggesting we might still have a principled Christian future, Benedict XVI has achieved more than the Church of England over many years.

The lesson of the past few days is that Britain is not quite the deeply unChristian country that the BBC and other parts of the media would have us believe.

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