I was still at (Catholic) school when the previous Pope came here in 1982. By that age I was already a convinced atheist and managed to avoid the hysteria whipped up around me. Although at the time I found all that adulation heaped on one man extremely weird and ... well you could say, down-right idolatrous ... at least the whole event was a private Catholic affair. That's to say it was a 'pastoral' visit - paid for largely by the church and Catholic community in this country. The Pope didn't even meet prime minister Thatcher because of sensitivities over the Falklands War.*
It's very different this time around though - this is a state visit.
The pretext of this is the existence of the mickey-mouse Vatican State - an entity of just over 100 acres and just under 1,000 people. It only exists at all because the Pope at the time did a deal in 1929 with the Fascist government of Italy to stay out of each others' affairs. The Holy See - which by some sophistry is not quite the same thing as the Vatican State - is a 'government' without any actual citizens at all, but whose 'authority' over millions of followers globally supposedly trumps that of democratic nation states.
Because this time it is a state visit the government, the great and the good, will all be queuing up to fawn over the pontiff and press the flesh. It also means that the £12million bill for the visit is being picked up by me and you.
Most importantly though the fact that it is a state visit sends out a signal of endorsement by this government - in our name.
Which is why this time we tax-paying atheist citizens don't have to sit back and let the Catholics get on with their fun. We are fully entitled to say the Pope is not welcome. And fully entitled to have the 'bad manners' to mention his opposition to condoms in Aids-stricken Africa; his denial of womens' right to control their own fertility, to his homophobia; his concealment of child abuse in his own organisation; or even his rehabilitation of the reactionary and Nazi-appeasing predecessor Pius XII.
(Not because the Pope saw the Falkland War as a cynical attempt to prop up an unpopular government on a wave of jingo-ism but because the latin-speaking world was largely behind the Argentinians and even Popes know better than to piss on their own doorsteps.)