Pope Benedict XVI has given the first official Vatican confirmation that he will be visiting the UK in September to beatify Cardinal Newman. The full text of his address to the English and Welsh bishops at the conclusion of their ad limina visit is here.
He doesn't give any further details, nor even names the date, although 16-18 September is circulating among the bishops. The fact that he doesn't suggests that the itinerary is still very much under discussion. Perhaps he is leaving it to the bishops to give the details, which have been at the heart of their discussions in Rome.
The Pope's address homes in on the battles in Britain currently being fought over equality legislation, especially in relation to gay people, which have a strong potential impact on the capacity of Catholic organizations to remain true to their beliefs while at the same time receive public funding.
"Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society," he tells the bishops. "Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed."
He calls for a robust Catholic presence in public conversation, appealing to the British tradition of free speech:
"Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?"
And he calls for the bishops to mobilize lay people to ensure that presence:
Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission.In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.
These comments suggest that his UK visit will be a grand opportunity to pit Pope Benedict the defender of Reason + Faith against the apostles of scientism who promote a new, aggressive British -- although many would say very unBritish -- secularism. And the main tool of this counter-attack will be, of course, Cardinal Newman.
Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that “kindly light” wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.
He also calls for "generosity" in implementing Anglicanorum coetibus, his apostolic constitution which allows for the creation of ecclesial structures to accommodate Anglicans wishing to cross the Tiber while retaining their River Thames swimwear. "I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church," the Pope says.