Below is the text of the address Pope Benedict XVI delivered earlier today before members of both Houses of the British Parliament, assembled at Westminster Hall. The text of the address is taken from the site http://www.thepapalvisit.org.uk/, where other information about the Pope’s visit to the UK will be found.

Mr Speaker,

Thank you for your words of welcome on behalf of this distinguished gathering. As I address you, I am conscious of the privilege afforded me to speak to the British people and their representatives in Westminster Hall, a building of unique significance in the civil and political history of the people of these islands. Allow me also to express my esteem for the Parliament which has existed on this site for centuries and which has had such a profound influence on the development of participative government among the nations, especially in the Commonwealth and the English-speaking world at large. Your common law tradition serves as the basis of legal systems in many parts of the world, and your particular vision of the respective rights and duties of the state and the individual, and of the separation of powers, remains an inspiration to many across the globe.

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident — herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore. A positive illustration of this is found in one of the British Parliament’s particularly notable achievements — the abolition of the slave trade. The campaign that led to this landmark legislation was built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law, and it has made a contribution to civilization of which this nation may be justly proud.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers — still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion — but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith — the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief — need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue — paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination — that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today. And it finds expression in the fields of concern in which your Government has been engaged with the Holy See. In the area of peace, there have been exchanges regarding the elaboration of an international arms trade treaty; regarding human rights, the Holy See and the United Kingdom have welcomed the spread of democracy, especially in the last sixty-five years; in the field of development, there has been collaboration on debt relief, fair trade and financing for development, particularly through the International Finance Facility, the International Immunization Bond, and the Advanced Market Commitment. The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all.

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013. In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

This overview of recent cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Holy See illustrates well how much progress has been made, in the years that have passed since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, in promoting throughout the world the many core values that we share. I hope and pray that this relationship will continue to bear fruit, and that it will be mirrored in a growing acceptance of the need for dialogue and respect at every level of society between the world of reason and the world of faith. I am convinced that, within this country too, there are many areas in which the Church and the public authorities can work together for the good of citizens, in harmony with Britain’s long-standing tradition. For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies — including institutions linked to the Catholic Church — need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed. The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for this opportunity briefly to address this distinguished audience. Let me assure you and the Lord Speaker of my continued good wishes and prayers for you and for the fruitful work of both Houses of this ancient Parliament. Thank you and God bless you all!

Because I posted some opinions last week on the subject of 9/11, and many readers of this blog may have no idea what terms like Building 7 refer to, and may in fact think that the opinions expressed in that post are somewhat bizarre and kooky (aside from being expressed in extremely bad verse), I am posting a couple of segments from a radio program that I heard this morning on WBAI, the show Guns and Butter, hosted by Bonnie Faulkner of KPFA 94.1 FM, Berkeley, California. (The show is, incidentally, an excellent one, and one of the advantages of living near New York City is that one is able to hear such things on the radio.) She was interviewing a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel named Dr. Robert M. Bowman, a man who, during the 1970’s, was in charge of the development of space-based weapons systems for the U.S. military, the program which later, under President Reagan, came to be called “Star Wars.” His comments echo the concerns I expressed in last week’s post; and, as they come from a man much more authoritative and knowledgeable in military matters than I will ever be, I thought I would transcribe them and publish them here.

B. Faulkner: I’m speaking with former director of Advanced Space Programs Development, Dr. Robert Bowman. Today’s show: “Vietnam, Space Wars, and 9/11.” I’m Bonnie Faulkner. This is Guns and Butter….

B. Faulkner: Well see, this is very important, and this is what we’re dealing with today, the consolidation of media and the control, particularly here in the United States….

R. Bowman: Of course, and it’s much, much worse today: when you have major events go on, and the government concocts a lie, it’s a lot easier to sell that lie today than it used to be. Think back to 1963 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Yeah, the Warren Commission was much like the 9/11 Commission, in concocting a cock-and-bull story to cover up the truth, but in 1963 there were still independent newspapers, and independent media; and so almost all Americans heard about the “grassy knoll.” But, fast-forward to today, and, when 9/11 happened, almost all the major media were absolutely dominated by a handful of multinational corporations, owned lock, stock and barrel by these corporations who profited greatly from the wars, and had interlocking boards of directors with weapons manufacturers and oil companies and all the rest. So, the result of that was that almost nobody, except for a handful of us in the 9/11 Truth movement, has ever heard of Building 7. And Building 7 is the smoking gun; it’s the Grassy Knoll of 9/11, if you will. And yet, so many people haven’t heard of it.

When Barack Obama was still in the Senate, I went to see him; I only saw him very briefly, said a few words, niceties, and he had to leave, but I briefed his chief of staff in the Senate for over an hour, and I showed him my 3-minute “smoking gun” video of Building 7, showing the BBC announcing the collapse of Building 7 ten to twenty minutes before it happened, and the BBC announcer talking about why Building 7 had come down — and you can still see it standing over her left shoulder. And it shows a clip of Larry Silverstein talking about his decision to “pull it,” and talking about his insurance policy which he took out only weeks before 9/11, specifically covering acts of terrorism. And it also shows about a dozen views of Building 7 coming down from different angles, each one looking, for all the world, like a perfect controlled demolition of an intact building with no visible fires, a building that had not been struck by an aircraft. And, if someone sees this video, and understands that that building came down at free fall speed at 5:20 in the afternoon, hours after the two tallest towers had come down, this 47-story, steel-reinforced building, it’s very hard for them to deny that the official Bush conspiracy theory about 9/11 is impossible. And yet, what happened when I showed this to Obama’s chief of staff — he said, “I’ve never heard of Building 7.” And he’s chief of staff for a leading United States senator and candidate for the presidency. So, that’s what the media has done; they have kept the American people in the dark about so much. The American people, rather than being informed, are brainwashed. So, we have a hard job.

B. Faulkner:
Well, even though Senator Obama’s chief of staff said he’d never heard of Building 7 before, after he found out about it from you …

R. Bowman:
(agreeing) … mm-hmm…

B. Faulkner: … he still didn’t do anything, did he?

R. Bowman: No, uh, well, I don’t know whether he ever told Barack Obama about this. And so I can’t say for sure if President Obama understands about Building 7 and knows that the official 9/11 story is a lie. I just don’t know. But he ought to know.

* * *

B. Faulkner: You found the official explanation of the failure of the air defense system on September 11, 2001 to be incredible. Did you reject the official account from the start, or come to this view over time?

R. Bowman: Well, my wife can tell you that, as we sat there and watched what was happening on the morning of September 11, 2001, what I kept saying over and over was: Where are the interceptors? And, I mean, that just doesn’t happen. Hijacked airliners do not fly around for an hour and forty minutes without being intercepted, unless our air defense system was deliberately sabotaged. And nineteen Arabs with boxcutters can’t do that. And something was fishy. I also, when I saw the first tower come down, I said: That can’t happen. There’s no way that an aircraft impact and the paltry fires caused by that could cause that structure to come down with all its thousands of tons of steel and concrete. And then the other one fell, too. I mean, I knew the whole thing was just fishy. And then, in the newspaper, while Condolissa Rice was going around saying, Oh my goodness, we never thought such a thing could happen; who could envision this kind of thing? — we find out that exercises were going on that very morning, simulating hijacked aircraft being flown into high-value targets — like buildings. And it was reported to the FBI that Moussawi was probably working on a project to fly a hijacked airliner into the World Trade Center. But, we’d go from being absolutely clueless to, within hours, the front page of the newspapers having all the names and pictures of the supposed hijackers; while an indestructible black box from the airliner supposedly evaporated in this fire, an unarmed passport from one of the hijackers floats to the street below — the whole thing is just fishy from the beginning.

How to memorialize the dead?
I won’t burn a Koran today
or paint a Hitler mustache on the President’s face.
I will not perform a symbolic act
to add to the deeply poisonous atmosphere
of this society.
Yes, I worry about Islam:
but some of my neighbors are Muslims
and some of my students,
and I don’t hate them.
I will try this day to remember
the victims of crimes,
heinous crimes that
it would be well if
none of us had seen.
But, because we have seen these crimes,
because they have occurred
within our living memory,
it would be well if we tried to think about
just why and how they happened.
Two planes crashed into two buildings
and the buildings fell down.
Is that the whole story?
People, mothers holding babies,
jumping from a towering inferno:
These are things that no one should have to see,
yet we have seen them;
they indelibly color our minds.
They are images
burned into our hearts —
the sudden, terrible fall
of mountainous towers, sending up
volcanic white clouds of dust and asbestos,
clouds of silicon and evaporated flesh
settling upon the dazed and stricken city,
settling upon the wounded and bleeding,
men and women, silent, in shock,
making their way on foot
out of lower Manhattan.
And, at the place called “Ground Zero,”
subterranean fires continued to burn
for weeks thereafter
scorching the boots
of rescue workers.

Nothing will ever take away
the dignity of those who acted like human beings
in the midst of this inhuman tragedy.

Yet I am forced to ask again:
Why did this thing happen, and how,
and for the benefit of whom?

By the next day, details emerged
of nineteen hijackers, Middle Eastern
nationals, trained at
American flight schools, who,
carrying box cutters,
took command of the planes
and flew them into the buildings
along with one plane that hit
the Pentagon;
while another plane, it was said,
was meant to hit the Capitol,
but the passengers put up a resistance, and
caused the flight to crash
in a field in western Pennsylvania.
And all fingers pointed
to a single culprit,
a single, diabolical mind
who had planned and executed this attack
from a mountain cave in Afghanistan —
Osama Bin Laden.
And, after American forces were sent
to Afghanistan
to bring this man to justice
and destroy his organization,
a somewhat grainy video eventually turned up
in which Bin Laden
(or someone looking somewhat like him)
gloated about his success in this operation
and maintained how he had known,
from prior experience in demolition,
that two jetliners, filled with fuel,
would generate enough force and heat
to bring down the two steel buildings.

Then, to the single culprit,
there was added yet another: Saddam Hussein,
and so a war was fought
to destroy him, too.

And, here in America,
government surveillance of citizens
was greatly increased
in the name of the universal war on Terror.

Like most people, I accepted much of this story,
although I had my doubts from the start
about our purposes in Iraq
and was convinced early on that the pretense of
Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 was flimsy,
that controlling Iraq and its resources was
a long-standing strategic objective
of Bush and his advisers,
and that they took the attack on America
as a pretext for doing
what they wanted to do anyway.
But I did not doubt the essential part of the story:
that the 9/11 attacks were planned and orchestrated
by an Islamist terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda,
and that violent measures were justified
to stop them.

At this point, nine years onward,
I find much of the original story
hard to sustain.
I do not doubt that Al-Qaeda
had something to do with the attacks.
But I am convinced that, at the very least,
there were people in the American government
who knew that the attacks were going to happen
on that Tuesday morning in September
and who chose to do nothing to stop them.
And it may be that the truth of the matter
is much more damning than that.
I worry that, if, as a nation,
we fail to ask this question about ourselves,
our moral and political rot
will only continue to grow.

When World Trade Center Building 7 fell
some hours after the Twin Towers,
it showed all the signs of
a controlled demolition.
And a serious case can be made,
and has been made by many well-informed,
intelligent people,
that the same thing holds true of
the Twin Towers themselves.

Were the 9/11 attacks
a “false flag” operation
designed to lead a democratic country
into wars it would not otherwise
have been willing to fight,
for purposes it would not otherwise
have deemed worthy
of sending its children to die for?
I don’t know.
But that is, it seems to me,
an essential question,
a largely unasked question,
a question that anyone who loves America
needs to ask, and ask seriously,
and not dismiss offhand with the arrogant credulity
of those who think that, by burning other people’s books,
they can solve their own problems.

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