Letters: The Pope's visit

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The Independent Online

Catholic critics of the Pope

As a practising and informed Roman Catholic, I endorse Johann Hari's excellent analysis of how Pope Benedict has failed the Church (9 September).

British RCs have problems in supporting protests against the visit because we don't want to identify with opponents of religion. But we can and do protest, writing to him to ask him to resign – which would be the only adequate sign of the Church's sorrow for abuses and its determination to reform.

Catholics are embarrassed by the brass neck of a Pope who has brought the Church to its knees, and only a tiny fraction of our number will be out there cheering him.

Peter Clifton

Stonesfield, Oxfordshire

Congratulations on your even-handed treatment of the Pope's visit. As a church-going member of the Roman Catholic tradition I was particularly happy with the letter of Jackie Hawkins of Bedford (13 September) which expressed splendidly what I and, I suspect, many others feel, especially about the perception much of the media has of the Church.

The Pope embodies and symbolises for us the Christian tradition which is not to be identified with totally unchristian ideas that historically have emerged at times from popes, bishops, Doctors of the Church, members of the Curia and other official teachers.

For example: slavery is OK; freedom of conscience is not a good thing; women are not quite up to the mark as human beings. As Newman insisted, conscience is not a matter of saying "Yes, Father; no, Father; three bags full, Father" to everything that officials of the Church express. We are grown-up sons and daughters of the Church, not children, and we try to show that respect for the Church authorities which grown-up children should have for the parents they love.

Kevin Dean

Blackburn, Lancashire

I am shocked by your apparent decision to mount a witch-hunt against Pope Benedict.

Your atheist contributors ignore the fact that under Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor the Catholic Church in England and Wales produced exemplary procedures nearly 10 years ago to prevent child abuse and that the Pope has appointed Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor as one of the guarantors to oversee the Irish Church's anti-abuse procedures.

David R Matthews

Stockport, Greater manchester

Julie Burchill's article on Pope Benedict (8 September) is embarrassing. Criticising a young German for having been in the Hitler Youth is outright foolish.

Joseph Ratzinger became member of the organisation in 1941 at the age of 14. As of December 1936 membership in the Hitler Youth became mandatory by law for all so-called Aryans living in Germany from ages 10 to 18. Joseph Ratzinger was an unenthusiastic member who refused to attend meetings. His family believed that Nazism conflicted with their Catholic faith.

Stephan Visy

Kingston, Surrey

When did The Independent become so anti-Catholic? Julie Burchill's piece of 8 September was followed by an article by Geoffrey Robertson QC telling us that His Holiness the Pope should be prosecuted when he visits the UK.

Those of us who attend a Catholic church are not all conservatives who think that the Church can do no wrong. We are very aware of the Church's faults, and are appalled that the child-abuse scandal was allowed to continue for so long.

But saying that His Holiness the Pope should be prosecuted only causes resentment among Catholics. Much better to talk with the Church and seek ways to move forward and make reparation for what has happened.

J R Turner


Internships bar social mobility

You report that MPs may be breaking the law by using interns to do tasks that used to be carried out by paid employees ("MPs should pay us as employees, say interns", 14 September).

Unpaid internships are a prime way in which the few hundred families who run our country maintain their dominance down the generations. A new graduate cannot afford to take such a job unless they can rely on their family to support them and provide free accommodation within commuting distance of central London.

So of course nobody in power has any intention of changing this system, because it could be their son or daughter who needs the experience next. The last thing they want is a load of nobodies from the provinces competing for the internships.

Anyone who believes in advancement through merit rather than through family connections should agree that this internship system stinks.

Dr Keith Anderson

The York Management School

University of York

Having worked for four months many years ago as an unpaid intern for a Liberal Democrat who is now a minister, I can't see what all the fuss is about.

Every intern who has taken an unpaid position knew what they were getting into when they applied for the position, as did I. I was grateful for the work I did, the skills I learnt and of course the glowing reference the MP was able to give me when I sought paid pastures new after leaving his office.

Of course it wasn't easy, but there are countless examples of other professions where unpaid internships are a necessary and invaluable experience in getting one's foot in the door – journalism being one example.

I never felt exploited and I knew I could have chosen a more lucrative career than parliamentary research, but that was what I wanted to do and I was prepared to take the difficult route, taking a loan out. Ultimately, internships whether paid or unpaid, reap rewards.

Dave McCullough

London, SW8

London's fate in the Blitz

Like June D Troy (letter, 8 September) I was in London during the Second World War. She made the plea "Please don't underestimate the bombing of London", but she also said: "It was nothing like Coventry". Of course it was nothing like Coventry. In the worst raid on Coventry in November 1940 approximately 600 people were killed. In London similar numbers were being killed nightly.

In total during the war about 1,250 people were killed in Coventry: in London 23,000 were killed during the Blitz (September 1940 to May 1941) and a further 9,000 were killed by the V weapons. By the end of the war the number of homes destroyed in London amounted to hundreds of thousands.

Ron Watts

Wretton, Norfolk

In all the celebration of the Battle of Britain, one thing is being forgotten.

All the pictures and most of the coverage pay tribute to the Spitfire. While it was our leading fighter during most of the war, relatively few were in use in time for the Battle of Britain. Most of the fighting was done by pilots in Hawker Hurricanes. Not as glamorous or so fast, but rugged and still a useful fighting machine.

It would be sad to see its good name eclipsed in the final history of the Battle by the elegant newcomer.

David Foster

Ipswich, Suffolk

Keep faith with the world's poor

As your excellent leading article about the Millennium Development Goals points out, one of the most worrying outcomes of the financial crisis is the tendency of previously reliable nations such as Germany to cut pledges on aid ("A promise is a promise", 8 September).

At the G8 summit in June the UK failed to make actual financial contributions, instead just "pledging our support" for the initiative on child and maternal health. There's a real danger that the ongoing reviews of aid that are happening in the Department for International Development will again be used as an excuse not actually to tie ourselves to anything.

As well as the MDG summit there are several fundraising rounds for international development institutions coming up before the reviews will be finalised. One of these institutions is the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which Germany is currently discussing cutting its funding for.

Yesterday I met a man called Winstone Zulu, an HIV-positive health activist from Zambia. He explained that in the 1990s and early 2000s thousands of HIV-positive people, including four of his brothers, died in his country from TB, a disease that it costs less than $20 to cure, because they couldn't afford the necessary medication. Now that has changed, and most HIV-positive people who contract TB in Zambia can access the medication they need through the Global Fund.

As you rightly point out, it is dangerous to overemphasise the security argument for aid, as it raises the danger that our government might spend our aid on the wrong things; on the military for example, rather than on health and education. Instead we need to emphasise the holistic benefits of helping other countries develop – for example that a stronger, richer Africa and Asia would provide better trade partners – as well as the moral argument against poverty.

Julia Modern


It's becoming a woman's world

The very interesting article on women in education and society as the increasingly dominant sex (9 September), failed to mention the biological evidence that girls mature physically and mentally more quickly than boys. The past emphasis on education for boys, counteracted this fact of life. Now that educating girls has, rightly, taken its place, this late development is penalising boys.

The situation in the UK and the West for women contrasts with the conditions they suffer in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, which Robert Fisk has reported on in your recent investigation. One hopes our dominant women will give some attention and energy to helping their less fortunate sisters.

M D Stevens

Helston, Cornwall

My heart bleeds for all the failing boys with only prime ministers, chancellors, presidents, head of business, etc, as role models, added to which it appears that only girls are immortal, judging by most obituary pages. It is just not fair.

Ella Hewison


The hours junior doctors work

Mary Dejevsky cuts to the heart of the debate over junior doctor working hours (Notebook, 14 September). The reduction in working hours has been supported throughout the last decade because tired doctors are more likely to make mistakes.

However, the European Working Time Directive has introduced a new set of problems because of the way it has been implemented by some NHS trusts. A recent BMA survey showed that almost half of junior doctors are missing out on essential training since the reduction in working hours.

Training junior doctors properly in a 48-hour week is not impossible. But it will require some changes to how our training is delivered. We need to look at improving the design of workforce rotas to ensure shifts deliver better training as well as the best possible care for patients. Moving to a more consultant-based service and reducing the administrative burden on junior doctors will also be essential.

Changing EU directives can take many years of negotiation. Rather than simply tinkering with the number of hours a junior doctor should work, there is an urgent and real need to focus on delivering the changes needed to safeguard the quality of UK doctors and patient care.

Dr Shree Datta

Chair, Junior Doctor Committee

British Medical Association

London WC1

How the upper class speaks

John Romer confuses social class with region (letter, 8 September). He tells us he finds the English of the non-south-east incomprehensible but fails to explain how he copes with Cockney and Estuary English which are as far removed from Received Pronunciation as anything in the Midlands or the North.

The problem with Received Pronunciation is its association with privilege. RP can be heard anywhere in the country, but has become identified with the south-east because this is where much of the nation's wealth and privilege are found. Were John Romer to visit the affluent parts of, say, North Yorkshire or rural Northumberland he would have no difficulty with comprehension.

Until we develop a spoken English that is independent of social class then Mr Romer's desire to see the nation's children learn to speak a universally acknowledged version of English will remain unfulfilled.

Philomena Lewer

Morpeth, Northumberland

Bob Armstrong (letters, 7 September) presents a typically insular view. As a student just returned from my year abroad, I can assure him that English is not spoken everywhere, even in France and Germany. Those who promote the compulsory teaching of foreign languages in schools are not "harking back" wistfully to some bygone era. Rather, they argue that foreign languages increase cultural tolerance, provide an intellectual challenge, and are essential for making Britain more internationally competitive and securing the economic future.

Joe Bryan

Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

Obama's angels

It seems likely that Pastor Terry Jones misunderstood President Obama's reference to "those better angels" (letter, 14 September). He was, I suggest, alluding not to theology, but to the ending of Abraham Lincoln's Inauguration Address of 1861: "The mystic chords of memory ... will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Thomas Tallon

Bexleyheath, Kent

Perspectives on public sector unrest

We need a new poll tax revolt

I am very glad that Brendan Barber cited a campaign I was in a small part involved in as a way to defeat the budget cuts ("Look at how the decent majority killed the poll tax", 13 September). However, I feel I must remind him that it wasn't the trade union movement who beat it.

It was the Militant Tendency in Scotland and then in England who galvanised and then helped organise poor and frightened local communities to resist council, bailiff and police intimidation under the slogan "Can't Pay, Won't Pay." It also took outstanding MPs such as Dave Nellist to give the movement a voice in Parliament. He did so and saw the nascent New Labour Party machine bring him down in 1992. Mr Barber must also remember that the reason Thatcher was removed was because, for a short while, the state lost legitimacy in the eyes of those whom it governed.

Therefore Mr Barber must think a bit more about how to galvanise those who are about to be butchered by the free-market surgeons who apologetically inform us that the amputation of the Welfare State has become a regrettable necessity.

We all have a responsibility to try and dig us out of the mess the City of London got us into, but some have more responsibility than others. Therefore I suggest that in the spirit of great British fair play, public-sector workers (myself included) take a pay freeze while every tax-avoiding scoundrel is made to move to the place where they've stashed their cash and all goods left in the country are sequestrated. Furthermore, every deal in the City should be subject to a Tobin tax of 0.5 per cent.

And when the Tory Party have explained why it is impossible, the City all threaten to decamp and the ordinary people of this country get properly desperate (as with the poll tax), suddenly you'll find there is another revolt (and I don't use the term lightly) and only then you'll see them back down.

Phil Davison

London N19

Strikes will cripple the country

As an owner of a small business, I have had to suffer over-taxation, increased legislation, increased administration and no help from the previous government of 13 years. That government not only mismanaged the economy but has left this country with a debt as large as our previous one, incurred through fighting a world war.

Now we're being threatened with co-ordinated strike action that will cripple this country and send us further into the doldrums, when we need to enter into a period of austerity to get us out of this situation.

What right do the trade unions have to demand that their members do not suffer the same sacrifices that the private sector have to? There's no such thing as a "job for life", so when the money is in short supply, the jobs need to go.

Trade unions need to get real, or they'll find that the main backlash will come from the general public for the hardships that we will be made to face in order to keep them in the luxury that they've become accustomed to.

It was nice to hear Harriet Harman pledging the support of the Labour Party. Pity she won't be able to get in to work if the trains, buses and roads aren't working.

Fred Crook

Milton Keynes