Sunday, 11 April 2010

Know thine enemies

It looks like the Vatican is going to need to do a little more than issue a glowing review of the new Harry Potter movie or compile a list of the best rock albums of the last 50 years, if it wants to remain popular.

Pope Benedict XVI is currently under fire for his dubious role in blocking the defrocking of a US priest accused of molesting children in his care. According to a 1985 letter that Benedict signed when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican advised the bishop overseeing the case "to consider the Universal Church" before deciding to sack Father Stephen Kiesle.

Outspoken opponents of organised religion, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, are currently investigating the possibility of a legal ambush when the Pope arrives in the UK in September. Their plan is to charge the paedophile-protecting Pontiff with 'crimes against humanity' for his part, and are consulting with lawyers about initiating criminal proceedings.

As two of Britain's most recognisable atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens have their fair share of critics too. But they're not the only controversial figures gunning for the guy in the big hat.

An unusual cartoon character was recently stenciled onto a billboard in Malta announcing the Pope's imminent arrival on the island, with the local press assuming it was some kind of panda. However, eagle-eyed websperts were quick to point out that the illustrated figure was actually Pedobear.

This dodgy little ursine icon is used as visual shorthand for "You're being creepy about children" when users on imageboard websites like 4chan start to show a preference for underage imagery. Although no-one knows who originally designed the anthropomorphic kiddie-diddler, he's turned into something of an internet legend.

Since his first appearance, Pedobear has popped up on YouTube, and even been misinterpreted by Polish news sources as one of the Vancouver Winter Olympics' official mascots. Online jokers also campaigned for Pedobear in a recent competition to find pop jailbait Miley Cyrus' number one fan - winning with over 15,000 votes.

Dawkins and Hitchens are certainly well-intentioned in their legal battle to keep the spotlight firmly trained on the church's systematic abuse of children in its care. But since they're known primarily for their religion-rattling viewpoints, it will be easy for defenders of the faith to argue that they're simply drumming up publicity for the atheist cause.

Could it be that a crudely drawn cartoon bear might ultimately offer a more impactful critique on the Catholicism's abuses than two of our biggest brains?

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