Is the answer for this prostestant the Pope?

Pope Francis could be an answer to a Protestant’s prayer. There’s a sentence you didn’t think you’d read and I didn’t think I’d write.

Pope Francis could be an answer to a Protestant’s prayer. There’s a sentence you didn’t think you’d read and I didn’t think I’d write.

Yes, it’s unfair to drag the Pope into our politics but like Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything except temptation”. As a global religious leader he’s far above the trivial issue of who’s king of our wee castle. Despite that, he could help us with a little bit of badly needed symbolism.

Many crises in the peace process have had the same root cause. Unionists get away with pretending to their electorate that despite the Good Friday Agreement’s mandatory coalition, they’re still in charge. There are countless examples of this. Unionists need to be seen to be the bosses. When it finally dawned on Peter Robinson that the Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the Maze was going down like a lead balloon with his electorate, he reneged and withdrew his agreement to it. That was in his infamous ‘letter from America’. More recently, when the DUP failed to get the Assembly adjourned or suspended by London or by the business committee here, Arlene Foster talked about her “gate-keeping” role to protect people from “rogue” nationalists and republicans. And Gregory Campbell has long characterised the peace process as the DUP forcing Sinn Féin to change.

Unionists couldn’t get away with posturing like that if it really became obvious to even the slowest of slow learners that sharing power actually means not always getting their own way. That’s why the image of Ian Paisley chuckling happily alongside his friend, Martin McGuinness was such a danger to other unionist politicians. That’s why they forced him out. He was damaging the perception that unionists are still the real lords and masters. Perception is all important. That’s where Pope Francis comes in. With a papal visit to Dublin likely, Archbishop Eamon Martin and others also want him to come North in 2018.

Alban Maginness has gone further. “If he can speak to the US Congress in the light of the variety of viewpoints there, then why could he not address his fellow Christians in the Assembly?” Alban asked. Exactly! Brilliant!

The sight of Pope Francis addressing politicians assembled in the former unionist ‘holy of holies’ at Stormont would ram the message home.

A visit to Derry, or to anywhere else in the North, wouldn’t make quite the same impact.

The response from non-Catholics to the proposed visit has ranged from welcome, to ambivalence, to opposition. Presbyterian General Secretary, Rev Trevor Gribben was welcoming, as was the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt. DUP politicians were ambivalent. Retired Free Presbyterian Minister Rev David McIlveen, who accompanied Ian Paisley when he heckled the Pope in the European Parliament, was opposed. “Free Presbyterians see him as anti-Christ… taking the place of Christ on earth,” he says.

There’s the old notion. Unionists still make the big decisions. They decide who’s welcome and who’s not. We need a demonstration that this perception is now out-of-date.