‘I note with great satisfaction how Pope John Paul’s call to you to walk hand in hand with your fellow Christians has led to greater trust and friendship with the members of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and others.’
It was good to hear that call to stronger ecumenical relationships in Pope Benedict’s Homily at Bellahouston this afternoon. I believe that our ability to engage with this society is directly related to our willingness to make a real commitment to strong inter-church and inter-faith relationships. Then speaking at Holyrood this morning, the Pope said: ‘the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society.’
And, just to complete the circle, I listened yesterday in Oxford to Baroness Warsi telling the Anglican Bishops of the UK that the coalition ‘does God’ The message seemed to be that in the ‘big society’ faith will come in from the cold – if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors. We’ll wait and see.
Yes I do share the Pope’s sense of exclusion. The Scottish Government tries hard to involve faith groups – and contacts with public representatives and institutions at more local levels are often very good. But the press .. we’ll leave that for another day.
I think that the danger in what the Pope is saying is that an indifferent society and a pietistic church become mirror images of one another. Put it like that and it becomes a challenge for the church to muster all the openness and integrity at its command to engage with this society. But it’s tough.