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Papal visit inspires Catholic-Humanist discussions

The New Humanist was critical of the papal visit to Britain

Catholics and Humanists held groundbreaking talks this week about Aids, contraception, faith schools and same-sex adoption.

Eight members of the Catholic Voices group, including Austen Ivereigh, Jack Valero and Fr Christopher Jamison, discussed the issues with 14 members of the Central London Humanist Group, including Alan Palmer, the group’s chairman, Josh Kutchinsky, a trustee of the British Humanist Association, and Paul Sims, news editor of New Humanist magazine.

The discussions, which lasted for two hours, followed on from a public debate held at Conway Hall before the papal visit, at which Catholic speakers were heckled, and which Mr Sims described as “loud and rowdy”.

Following the Conway Hall meeting, both groups wished to organise a smaller, more respectful meeting. A member of the Central London Humanist Group explained his understanding of Humanism and secularism, and Mr Sims gave some reflections on the papal visit. The three Catholic speakers each then put the Church’s case on one of the topics being discussed, which was followed by a discussion of that topic aimed at clarifying areas of disagreement.

One Humanist and one Catholic were then asked to summarise the views of the other side, to ensure both sides had listened attentively to the other. Dr Ivereigh gave what Mr Sims described as “a very eloquent description of what Humanism stands for”.

Mr Valero described the meeting as “an unexpected fruit of the papal visit”. He said it was “respectful and attentive, but there was no attempt to suppress real differences”.

Mr Sims described the meeting as “really interesting”, saying that “people from both sides came away with more understanding of where the other side was coming from, framed in reasonable terms”. He added that he did not think the Humanists were convinced by Catholic arguments on Aids.

“You’re not going to change the world with something like this. It’s about seeing what the other side has to say, and that’s constructive in itself,” he said.

Further meetings are planned following Tuesday night’s discussion.

Dr Ivereigh said: “This kind of exchange should be part of what we do in the future.”