The broadcaster chose Mr Tatchell to front a 60-minute programme to be transmitted around the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit to the UK in September.
Mr Tatchell is one of the founders of a group called Protest the Pope, which criticises the Pope’s record on homosexuality, contraception and child abuse and says that he “is an unsuitable guest of the UK government”.
Channel 4 said that the programme will examine the impact that the Pope’s pronouncements have had on both the developing and Western world, and that it will give voice to a range of views on the Pope.
“There is nothing surprising in the continued frantic jumping up and down by the Guardian/Channel 4/BBC axis in opposition to the Pope,” said James MacMillan, the composer, who is a devout Catholic. “Their venom is now so repetitive that it has lost any potency it once had. Frankly, people are getting bored with them.”
Mr Tatchell defended the programme, saying: “This will be a robustly factual programme that explores the Pope’s personal, religious and political journey since the 1930s, as well as the motives and effects of his controversial policies.”
Ann Widdecombe, the Tory politician who famously converted to Catholicism, said: “I think this will confirm the view that there probably already is in the Vatican that this is a profoundly anti-Catholic country. I wouldn’t call this the right thing for any serious broadcaster to do, but they’re doing it for the publicity, they’re doing it to stir up controversy. Mr Tatchell certainly won’t be sympathetic to his subject, so what’s the point of doing it? It won’t be skeptical, it will be hostile.”
Christina Odone, the Catholic writer, said: “Peter himself would be the first to admit that he is no authority on the subject. And perhaps it would be good, rather than have some polemical, knee-jerk reaction to the Pope if Channel 4 would be interested in actually shedding light on a figure who is so important, and so often misinterpreted and misunderstood - and of whom more needs to be known. I don’t think the founding father of [gay rights pressure group] Outrage! is the right person for this.”
“It’s really awful,” said Jack Valero, a prominent member of Opus Dei. “Any idea that Mr Tatchell can be impartial in presenting a programme about the Pope coming here - it’s just amazing that anybody could think that.”
This is outrageous. Channel 4 have gone way too far this time. Look at this derogatory picture of the Pope that Peter dragged around at a gay rights campaign:
This is a man who is going to present a documentary about the Pope? How can he be impartial. Is this a joke? And what does he really know about Catholicism? I’ve noticed with C4, Muslim documentary let’s get a Muslim to present it, atheist documentary, let’s get an atheist to present it, a Christian documentary, let’s get an outsider, not a Christian, and someone who is not impartial either but someone who hates the Church.