Pope Benedict's time as the Pope is coming to a, rather surprising, end. I won't pretend I've ever been a fan. From his linking of my lack of belief with Nazism to how down he was on my relationship with Jim I don't think we would ever have gotten along. And it wasn't just me who didn't appreciate his rather unkind words, I'd wager that most secular people weren't really that into him.
Perhaps that is a failure of his Papacy, the failure to reach out and embrace others. But perhaps that is also a failure on the part of many of us who "opposed" him on some level. He was hardly greeted with tolerance wherever he went. His time in the Hitler Youth (something that was not voluntary) is often dragged out to suggest he was some sort of Nazi (although, as we see above, messing around with Godwin's law wasn't only limited to one side of the argument!). And his anti-gay views, pro-life stance and attitude towards safe sex caused a great deal of hurt and anger.
Even during the Protest The Pope action during his state visit to the UK, a movement for which I had a great deal of mean-spirited sympathy, I expressed concerns that some were taking things a little too far. And today on Twitter the anger at his stances has lead to insults. Is this really a practical way for us to engage with the Pope or the Catholic Church itself?
I not only understand the anger and hurt from people on "my" side, I feel it too. Being treated like fascists, told you don't really love (and absolutely shouldn't love) your other half and seeing the pain some Catholic beliefs cause others is sometimes a little too much to bear with just a shrug of your shoulders and a polite smile. But we are never going to change the Catholic Church's beliefs. I'm not saying they can't be changed but they can only be changed from within. We may as well be tilting at windmills if we believe that the next Pope will somehow magically be any different in terms of belief to Pope Benedict XVI.
What we can hope to change, although it isn't completely within our control, is the language the Catholic Church uses about us and how it treats us as people. But we can only change this through engaging with the Church rather than standing around throwing insults. That does very much rely on the Church engaging as well but if we perhaps approach them in a more conciliatory way then perhaps there might be a chance for dialogue.
As shown by recent events surrounding LGBT rights and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, engaging with a church can sometimes lead to real change. I'm not suggesting anyone temper their demands or beliefs. People should still fight tooth and nail for better sex education and equal marriage. And the Catholics should be free to believe as they wish in their own spheres. But perhaps we can temper our language and start talking.
Can we at least try not to call each other names any more? We might get somewhere. Maybe. It is surely worth a try at least?