N.Ireland firebrand slams pope's state visit to Britain

9th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Ian Paisley, the Protestant firebrand and former Northern Ireland first minister, on Thursday said that Pope Benedict XVI should not be afforded a state visit to Britain.

Paisley infamously denounced pope John Paul II as the antichrist and was thrown out of the chamber during the pontiff's 1988 speech to the European Parliament.

The Free Presbyterian Church founder, 84, also urged Protestants to stand by Catholics in Ireland, saying they had been "torn asunder" by the pope turning a "closed" eye to the child abuse scandal.

"They are receiving him as a king. He's not a king," Paisley told Sky News television.

"And if he is a king, he has only a few miles around the Tiber that he can rule over!"

Pope Benedict, 83, is due to visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham in central England on his September 16-19 visit to Britain.

Queen Elizabeth II will welcome him to Edinburgh, while a banquet will be held in his honour in London.

Paisley said the child abuse scandals have justified his lifelong opposition to Rome.

"When the Roman Catholic people are torn asunder because of this matter that the pope has in many ways closed an eye to, it is time for the Protestant people also to support them," he said.

Paisley added that former British prime minister Tony Blair had confided in him before converting to Catholicism.

It was announced in December 2007 that Blair, who left office in June that year, had converted.

"I was the last Protestant minister that spoke to the prime minister the night before he was made a Roman Catholic," Paisley said.

"I was in Downing Street that day and he turned to me and said 'I will be a Roman Catholic tonight'.

"Well, I said 'I'm going to say to you a few things', and I said them as a real Christian, because this was a matter of eternity."

In his memoir out last week, Blair said of Paisley: "People could never understand it when I used to say how much I liked him. But I did. I think my granny's reverence for him made me have a soft spot."

© 2010 AFP

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