Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, recently had to suffer the indignity of abuse and the interruption of his sermons by chanting and slow handclaps. The reason for this antagonism? His support for the visit of the Pope to this country in May, to bless his own faithful and further the cause of Christian unity. This vociferous minority obviously have long memories. They resent the visit of the successor of the man who refused the Defender of the Faith permission to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn, thus forcing Henry VIII to proclaim himself Head of the Church of England in order to achieve his ends.
However, many religious people interested in such matters—certainly the majority of Roman Catholics in the country—are looking forward to the Pope’s visit. If precedent is anything to go by, they will trek long distances to see him or be among the tens of thousands attending one of the open air masses which will put Billy Graham’s crusade meetings in the shade. The visit will be costly, and there is even talk of a levy of £9 or £10 on every Roman Catholic adult in the country to pay for it. Obviously the Vicar of Rome, astride one of the greatest collections of wealth in the world, cannot be asked to help to defray the costs. (One wonders who paid for his visit to Poland—and why.)
On the other hand, there are some who will gain financially from the visit. One souvenir factory, instead of going broke now that royal anniversaries and weddings are over for a while, is taking on extra staff to produce plastic busts of the Pope, and Catholic headquarters are giving official approval to other selected souvenirs of “good taste’’. Although we are not sure that this description holds good in one particular case, it certainly shows ingenuity. The Daily Telegraph (4/3/82) called it “Credit Card to Heaven”—a Plastic Pope! A simulated credit card “in glorious colour”, with a picture of the Pope on the front and the usual signature panel on the reverse. It is, according to the advertisements, “manufactured to the same high specifications as the bank card in your wallet or purse”, which is probably not a vain boast as the originator, Barry Collins, learned his trade working on Barclaycards. This card is, of course, useless for earthly purchases, but it is pointed out that for £1.25 “it may open the gates of heaven’’—surely an offence under the Trades Description Act?
The cards are to be sold through parish priests and teachers, using children as the salesforce. The brochure sent out to schools says: “Get your pupils to sell to families and friends” (a novel interpretation of “suffer ye little children to come unto me”); “sell 1,000 cards and buy a colour TV or video. Use the cards as admission tickets to dances and functions”. The brochure sent to parish priests states: “Get your parish organisation involved . . . and watch your profits grow”. Special deals are offered for bulk orders from large business organisations. Collins, who is himself a good catholic, says he wants to make the Pope’s visit a success . . . “obviously I’m also in it for the money” he adds.
Church headquarters are not happy with his selling methods. “We certainly agree that this material is way over the top. It is not the type of material we would have approved.” But to an organisation which has sold “indulgences” and masses for the dead, there is nothing amiss in principle in selling heavenly credit cards.