Are city taxpayers on the hook for Papal visits?

Darwin Toivo, a member of the BCHA, forwarded me the letter he recently sent to the Mayor of Philadelphia. Darwin argues that the city shouldn’t have paid for a Catholic mass during the Pope’s recent visit to the city to investigate the city’s issues with homelessness. You can read his letter below.

In March, a coalition of religious organizations similarly invited Pope Francis to walk Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Vancouver Courier reported that on a trip to the Vatican this week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson intends to repeat that invitation.

Bringing international attention to the issues facing the residents of the Downtown Eastside is a commendable goal and it’s good to hear Pope Francis speak out on social justice issues more and more.

However, the original invitation called for the Pope to “celebrate Mass from a barge in English Bay.”

In no way should a diverse and secular city like Vancouver be sponsoring an explicitly religious service, particularly in light of the the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that city councils should not open with a prayer. If the Pope and local Catholic dioceses wish to fund such a service, that’s their prerogative.

The money spent on such a service would be far better spent providing services and improving conditions, rather than a publicity stunt.

While a meeting of the Pope and local aboriginal peoples could help reconciliation for the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, the Pope should heed one of the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

Some of our members are writing to Mayor Robertson with their objections. If you’d like to tell Mayor Robertson that the city should not be sponsoring religious services, email him at [email protected] and make sure to cc us at [email protected].


Darwin’s letter to the Mayor of Philadelphia

Mayor Michael Nutter
City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

July, 15, 2015

Re: Taxpayers footing bill for religious ceremony

Dear Mayor Nutter

Today’s article by Antonia Blumberg of Huffington Post that highlighted your city’s homelessness problem with respect to the upcoming September visit of Pope Francis and his public outdoor mass, was absent one important matter.

Why are taxpayer dollars being spent on a religious service?  In the city that spawned and wrote the great American Constitution (where god is not even mentioned), why is that money not being used to alleviate homelessness by way of housing and medical services for the homeless of your city?

You are setting an expensive precedent for other religions to demand similar treatment.  I realize that Pope Francis is also the head of an internationally recognized state but that does not give you license to spend hard earned tax dollars on one religious sect.  Giving a few front row tickets to the homeless for the mass assumes they are both religious and Roman Catholic.  Keeping them away from the park they currently sleep in for a prolonged time covering a before and after period of the mass seems unnecessarily cruel and shortsighted.

While we are at it, can you tell me why the Pope who will also be visiting a jail in your city has been given the incredible favour of removing a prisoner, Monsignor William Lynn who is serving 3 years for conspiracy and child endangerment for transferring predator priests to new parishes?  Should the Pope never have to confront the rape of children?  Why do you offer so much to a religious leader and nothing to homeless victims or rape victims of his church?

Please reconsider your city’s position on these matters quickly.  There is no shame or fault in admitting a mistake.  The error would be not to do so.

Thank you for your attention to these matters and I look forward to any reply you care to make.

Your Evolving Correspondent

Darwin Toivo
Vancouver BC
Member, BC Humanist Association

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