Mozilla, Mozilla, what DO you stand for?

Some words of Pope Francis on Christian tolerance for Muslims receive a loud echo in a Fraser Nelson piece in today’s Daily Telegraph (London). Meanwhile across the Atlantic a newer kind of jihad takes off yet another head. Some weeks ago the defenders of the gay lobby mocked Ross Douthat of the New York Times when he expressed the controversial view that the gay marriage campaign seemed to be heading for certain victory and that no quarter was going to be given to those who opposed it. The news today seems to bear him out on at least the question of the campaign’s intention.

Nelson takes some pride in what he sees as the remarkable and admirable way in which – in spite of some horrific provocation – Britain has assimilated its imperial legacy of a significant Muslim population. It is a two-way street and the majority of the Muslim minority in the UK cohabits agreeably alongside a majority population whose way of life is still rooted in Christian values.

Would that another very militant minority were as accommodating to the Christian values of the majority with whom they live side by side.

The gay jihadis in the United States have now chopped off the head of Mozilla-Firefox with their creeping and creepy war on Christians and the Christian conscience. For them it’s “no peace, no quarter” for the adherents of a 2000 year-old religion who dare to hold by a belief that marriage should remain what they understand it to be, and the nature and purpose of human sexuality and the institution of the family requires it to be.

The Pope, in his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, has asked all Catholics to embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to their countries in the same way that Christians hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. He entreated those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries. Clearly work remains to be done in this area, but movement is in the right direction.

Christians and Muslims are deeply divided on matters of faith and the practice of their respective creeds. Yet the leaders in the mainstream of both faiths in the West have found a way to tolerance and respect for the freedom of conscience of each other’s followers.  No such tolerance is being offered by the gay jihadis who now have all the appearances of becoming one of the more sinister enemies of democracy in our world today.

In 2008, Brendan Eich gave money to oppose the legalisation of gay marriage in California, a mere $1,000. In a truly democratic world this should be no problem. Let the people decide. Let those of opposing views on the matter openly help along the argument which they feel carries the greater weight. This democratic right is outrageously denied by the gay jihad. “You will be punished in whatever way we feel you can be punished if you oppose us”, is their banner.

The Pope went on to exhort Christians to show a spirit of tolerance to Muslims, even in the face of violent opposition. Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, he said, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence. Elsewhere and unambiguously he has asked Christians to show the same spirit towards homosexual people.

Christians faced with persecution – and the treatment of Brendan Eich is nothing short of persecution – from gay activists across the Western world have the same spirit demanded of them. They will be as good as their word and seek to live by this spirit. But they cannot and will not ignore the voice of their conscience and accept a false understanding of human sexuality no matter how many governments, corporations and pressure groups seek to make them do so.

The Christian faith is not homophobic. It is against its deepest principles to hate or denigrate any human being. But it holds, and has held for thousands of years, as its Judaic sources have held, a belief and a reasoned view of what it is to be human – in all its dimensions. The late 20th century change to that “narrative” is a long way from offering any serious reasonable basis for a radical rejection of that position which is still accepted by the vast majority of human-kind. It is this that makes what is now going on, exemplified by the hounding out of his job of a gifted genius, so outrageous, even frightening. The echoes of the worst kind of totalitarianism known to the last century are unmistakable.

Fraser Nelson rejects the notion that there is a clash of civilizations on British soil today. What he says of Britain might also be said of Ireland.

Those who believe in a clash of civilisations, in which British values are pitted against those of the Muslim world, have not been short of examples in the past few days. The BBC reports on an “Islamic takeover plot” by hardliners to seize control of several Birmingham state schools. Two Morrisons workers are suing the supermarket for not being able to take holiday during Ramadan, after being told that they submitted their applications too late. Such stories do make the blood boil, and may lead the less charitable to ask if such people should move to a country that better reflects their prejudices.

But one hears such complaints rarely, and this is what marks us out in a Europe that is paranoid about Islam and identity. Britain is, through empire, the original multi-ethnic state. When Churchill was writing for The Daily Telegraph as a war correspondent, his criticism of the Afghan tribesmen was that their behaviour was un-Islamic. Then, the Queen had tens of millions of Islamic subjects and her ministers boasted of running the greatest Muslim power on earth.

The integration of Muslims can now be seen as one of the great success stories of modern Britain. While the Dutch and the French have huge troubles with integration, and are caught in agonised struggles about their national identities, Britain is marked out by the trouble that we are not having. Dig a little deeper, and the real story is the striking amount of harmony.

But where there is no sign of harmony is in the relentless campaign of a militant minority of homosexual people and their allies from the anti-Christian “liberal” establishment who want to expunge from Western society some of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith about what it is to be human and how men and women should give expression to their sexual identities in a way that is moral.

Pope Francis is number one in ‘Fortune’ magazine’s top leader list

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Linkedin reports that Fortune has just published a list of the top 50 leaders inn the world today. At the top of the list was Pope Francis.

The world is at last beginning to look up. We can only hope that it will now listen as well.

Listen, for example, to this excerpt from Evangelii Gaudium, combining a quote from one of his recent predecessors:

“Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications’. [Pope John Paul II]”. Note, “The prime form of charity”.
An excerpt from Fortune’s piece about the Pope seems to indicate that some are listening: “His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a ‘Francis effect’ abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they’d increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77% said it was due in part to the Pope.”
Sorry for adding a drop to that ocean of words, but in this case it is surely worthwhile.


Thinking about it… Racism

The Help is not a great film but it is an honourable film and worth watching because it once again reminds us of things we prefer to forget – the banal injustice and ludicrousness of racism.

A few hours after watching it I was again reminded of it and its heroines when I read these words:

“The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised”
– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation

There are still many mountains to climb.

Obama and Pope Francis: an imagined conversation


“He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera before the his meeting with Pope Francis.

Obama being the man he is, believing what he believes, attacking his Catholic electorate in the very depth of their Christian consciences, one is tempted to decode this. It is hard to take.

We know where Obama’s sense of decency and compassion is taking America: abortion and the killing of millions of infants awaiting birth, the deconstruction of the institution of marriage, and an anthropology as bizarre as anything that might be generated by the logic of Humpty Dumpty. With apologies to Lewis Carroll – and to Pope Francis – perhaps this was part of their conversation:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘marriage,’ ” Pope Francis said.
Obama smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you.”

“When I use a word,” Obama said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Pope Francis, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Obama, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Garvan Hill tries not to do cynicism. But sometimes the public face presented by men who are walking us all into a hell on earth makes it impossible to resist. I’m sorry. No, maybe I’m not.


Another warning from history

A new book about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and their role in the horrors associated with the events which led to the creation of Bangladesh is frightening. A Times Literary Supplement (10 January, 2014) reviewer writes of it:

Bass (the author) deploys White House recordings, including several new transcripts, to excellent effect, and although the bigotry and small-mindedness of Nixon and Kissinger are widely understood and known, the book contains enough material to make the reader sick. As Bass recounts in one instance, “Nixon bitterly said, ‘The Indians need – what they really need is a – . . .’ Kissinger interjected, ‘They’re such bastards.’ Nixon finished his thought: ‘A mass famine’”. The bigotry and rage are not limited to Indians, either (‘they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Muslims’, Nixon says of the Pakistanis).*

There are three great realms of intolerance in this world – and probably always have been: cultural intolerance, religious intolerance and racial intolerance. Of the three, racial intolerance is the most irrational, blind and obnoxious. In these utterances of this supposedly wise and powerful duo we have all three mixed up together.

This is naked evil. There is no other way to judge it. A commandment forbids that we judge as evil the men who uttered these words and harboured these thoughts. But if this is the consequence of the political philosophy of realpolitik then that is an evil philosophy and we must call it such.

I don’t know if there is anything as genocidal as these remarks on record from the administration of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which presided over the Irish Famine in the 19th century. I don’t think so. That these words should come from the mouths of an elected representative of a civilised people, and his learned and widely admired aide, is truly shocking. The prevailing laissez faire economic philosophy of the 19th century is offered as an excuse for government neglect of the starving Irish. It is a weak enough excuse. But what can excuse the racism, the callousness and the arrogance of these two – and how many more – in the middle last quarter of the 20th century, in living memory.

The grounds for disillusion – even disgust – with the political class are hard to cope with. Is it really true that “all power corrupts”? It seems that we should worry much less about absolute power than about power in its more ordinary manifestations. This is where the real rot lurks.

What is the antidote to this poison? Our only hope of escape from this evil would seem to lie in the spirit of these words:

People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’. Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.**

That is an excerpt from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, recently given to the world by Pope Francis whom the incumbent successor of Richard Nixon is due to meet shortly. We can be sure that the White House has by now dealt with the dreaded leakage problem which opened the world’s eyes to what went on in the mind and heart of Nixon and his advisers. We may have mixed feelings about Edward Snowden and his ilk but there is an upside as well as a downside to their approach to ‘open government’. Do we really think that we now enjoy a purer, selfless and more just exercise of political power than we did half a century ago? We would be naive to think so.

In the modern state, even in states which proclaim themselves of the people, for the people and by the people, our only hope of integrity, honesty and dignity is in remembering and living by those words, ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’.

*THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. Gary Bass, 475pp. Knopf. $30.
**Excerpt From: Francis, Pope. “Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation”, 220. 24-XI-2013.

So where does the Catholic Church stand?

Irish television’s current affairs flagship, Prime Time, is turning its attention this week (Tuesday 10th of December) to ‘The Current State of The Catholic Church’ and its future. It is posing the question as to whether the Church is “heading to a more purist congregation or is the leadership of Pope Francis opening up its doors to a more diverse range of beliefs?”

While the awkward phrasing of that question in itself betrays a degree of confusion about the nature of the phenomenon being looked at it, the very posing of the question once again underlines the shock and awe aroused in the secular media – and it doesn’t get much more secular than Irish television these days – by the new man on the Chair of Peter.

What the question betrays is the simple ignorance of the fact that constant development is part of the DNA of the Catholic Church. The past 30 years have seen an incredible development and clarification of its teaching under the guidance of two incredible popes. We now have what looks like another extraordinary man setting out an explicitly missionary stall, defining the very nature of the church in those terms but also very explicitly building that mission on all the sacramental and moral principles which have been taught, developed and clarified by his predecessors over two millennia.

The church’s business is and always has been helping us find our way from this world, through this world, to the next. That is sometimes a messy business. It can be messy for internal and external reasons. It was internally messy for weak-kneed Peter, doubting Thomas, Augustine, overchaqrged with testosterone, and countless others. It was externally messy for its Founder and countless others of his followers down to even an hour ago. People are put to death every day for pursuing this business. For a lot more life is made very awkward because the take it all so seriously. But it has nothing to do with being rigid or purist – it is about the pursuit of the Good Life in the true meaning of both those words.

This is the stall now being set out by Pope Francis. I’d say, ‘just watch this space’.

We now enjoy far greater freedom from rigid social constraints than we did 50 years ago – although the new cultural phenomenon of ‘political correctness’ has put a number of new ones in the place of the so-called “taboos” we have got rid of. But freedom, while a very good thing, does not guarantee good judgment. At the heart of the Catholic Church is a teaching mission and the ultimate aim of that teaching is to guide us to right judgment. ‘How will they know if they are not taught’?

Many of the judgments we have made about ourselves and our condition which have now become enshrined in the modernist and post-modernist political and social consensus are totally at variance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. What the Church is now doing is finding the way to counter this alien consensus, as it has done for centuries – first, in the Roman Empire, later in the paganism of the barbarians, later still, in the many false,  although often well-intentioned, cues of the protestant reformers, then in Marxist materialism and now in hedonistic materialism.

Pope Francis is now addressing the entire Catholic world in a letter   (“Evangelii Gaudium”, Apostolic Exhortation, 24-XI-2013.) which is much more than a letter. It is a programme for missionary action, profoundly cognizant of human nature and profoundly supernatural, rooted in the essentials of Christian faith and morality. Here he is talking to the Church dispersed in particular churches throughout the world:

Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is…called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelization, since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative”. It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach him to areas in greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new socio-cultural settings. Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there. To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform.”

Later he says:

If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

As Rome Reports summed up this letter: “Pope to Christians: Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.”

The children of wrath?

What is it about the anti-God brigade that makes them so hate-filled and, well, just downright unpleasant. They truly seem to be the children of wrath. The genuine children of light – as opposed to the faux variety – do at times let themselves down and indulge in rants which border on or cross the line of human decency. But by and large they are restrained by that essential ingredient of their cultural heritage – the charity of Christ.

Take a random comment thread from any faith story on the internet and what are you likely to find? You find yourself wading into a quagmire of irrational contempt, animosity and downright hatred towards anyone professing faith. You don’t even have to go anywhere near the more extreme end of this spectrum, the Dawkins Quarter, to get this. Scroll through any of these stories and you will find yourself not a little depressed by the experience. If you don’t encounter mockery then it will be sterile cynicism or worse.  But you will hardly ever encounter an attempt at a real engagement of minds. It is seriously sad.

Over the past few years the secularist/religion debate was frequently pitched in terms of one motion: The Catholic Church is (is not) a force for good in the world. Sometimes it was broader and put in terms of “Religion is (is not) a force for good in the world”, a Christopher Hitchens-style generalisation. Hitchens’ book, God is not Great, underlined the problem of debating the question in those terms. Its subtitle, “How religion poisons everything”, said it all. Hitchens’ “religion”,  by his definition, is really no religion. The opponent of any and every faith has the faithful at his mercy on this platform. Hitchens’ generalisation of faith allows him to bundle together, for the purposes of confusion, every kind of lunacy which men have for millennia described as religion.

The only meaningful debate on this topic will be one where religion is defended and professed on the basis of the specific doctrines it teaches and the way of life it proposes for its followers – regardless even of how faithfully its followers succeed in living up to those teachings and that way of life.

In many of those debates over the past few years the defenders of the mainstream Christian Churches – and for the most part it was the Catholic Church which was put in the dock – were on the losing side. This was primarily because they failed to demand that the teaching of their church, and not the motley collection of red herrings thrown at them, be made the focus of debate. If that were done, and if the cumulative effect of the effort of millions of Christians across the world to live according to the authentic Christian principles of their church, taking account of the development of its teaching down through the ages – and its influence on our civilization as it did so – then there would be no contest.

Leave aside the red herrings of issues generated by the inherent weakness, folly and sinfulness of mankind and you will find in the teaching of the Catholic Church, enshrined in its moral and social doctrines, a guide second to none for mankind’s flourishing. Examine all of these as closely as you like and you will not fail to find in them an understanding of our human condition which if acted on universally would be the greatest imaginable force for good in the world, bar none. Just do it, and see.

The argument against religion on the basis of the ignorance, weakness or malice of those who profess to follow Christ’s teaching while in fact following some aberrant concoction of their own, is no argument against the truth and value of this teaching. We might use an analogy. Great art is not diminished in its value to mankind, nor in its power to move our race, when confronted by the ignorant, even when they collect it and hoard it as a marketable commodity.  The sense of loss felt after the recent burning of some priceless works of art by some crazed woman underlines our appreciation of the value and power to do good of the world’s great literature, music and art.

Ignorance is ever a threat to beauty. Ignorance, culpable or otherwise, has also always been a threat to goodness an truth. That the truth of the Christian religion has historically and contemporaneously been held hostage by the misguided, the ignorant, and even evil people (like vicious slavers in the New World), is inadmissible as evidence against it.

A gem of moral wisdom encountered recently in a book of moral questions and answers compiled in the last century – with resonances very pertinent for our own times – might illustrate how much of the misery we inflict on each other globally might be alleviated if we were more attentive to the teaching of Christ’s Church.

The question, from a person with an eye on Irish history, was asked:

 Suppose a person is in possession of land by ancestral right –  land confiscated in the time of Cromwell, and given to one of his ancestors. Legally, he owns the land. Is it the teaching of the Cathoiic Church that he morally owns it or does the land rightly belong to the descendants of the original owner?

 The answer, from a renowned moral theologian of his day[i], was this:

 The confiscation was unjust, and the newcomer held the land on a title that no moral law could sanction. But time heals many wounds. Some of his successors were better than himself; they became bona fide holders of the proceeds of his robbery. The best moral instructors of mankind – and among them the Catholic Church takes the prominent place – have come to the conclusion that to safeguard public order and the rights of the community as a whole, the claims of these successors must be maintained, even in conscience, when a long period of peaceful possession has elapsed.

 The principle is termed “prescription,” and is universally acknowledged. The period varies in the different countries, but the time since CromweIl is long enough to satisfy the most exacting reading. The present holder may keep what he has without being troubled in conscience.

 If a person questions that conclusion, he must meet certain difficulties. The real owner in the days of Cromwell held the land from an ancestor who disturbed the previous owners in the days of a previous invasion. So through the days of the Milesians, the Firbolgs, and the countless other regimes of which history knows nothing. If we reject the principle of “prescription” we must face the suggestion that no human being on the globe at the present moment owns a single particle of anything he holds.

 Another question was asked. This was probably some time early in the last century. It’s clarity is uncompromising.

 Should the right of conquest be always recognized?

 The “right of conquest” , he answered, has been asserted by bellicose invaders and by their “scientific” supporters. It is no better than the right of the highway robber to seize all he can on a night-raid.

 Can we see anything but wisdom and a force for good in a world view which enshrines principles of common sense and justice like these? This is just a glimpse of the patrimony of the authentic Christian Church, passed from generation to generation in the manner eluciadated in the first encyclical letter from the current incumbent of the See of Peter, “Lumen Fidei.”

 The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood? It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory. What was handed down by the apostles — as the Second Vatican Council states — “comprises everything that serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.

 The often flawed striving and rough hewing of mankind to implement this patrimony should not be the measure of the value or goodness of the Foundation itself. What is frightening in the contemporary debate – and it is often hard to recognise it as a debate – is the flight from reasonableness in failing to recognize this distinction, a flight accompanied by what appears to be a visceral hatred of the very idea that underlying our existence there might just be that benign “divinity that shapes our end” and that this Divinity subsists in the Catholic Church.


[i] Dr. Michael J. O’Donnell, Professor of Moral Theology in st. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland, in the early decades of the twentieth century.

So who is obsessed then?


The real story revealed by the brouhaha over “that” interview is what it tells us about much of the international secularist media and it’s take on the Christian message. The interview is a moving and penetrating reflection on that message, our response to it, and ways in which we might be transmitting it to each other. For the media, deaf and blind to the spirit which moves the man who gave it, it was about obsession with sex.

In 12,000 words, about 18 pages printed out, the Pope mentions abortion and homosexuality a total of three times. As has been pointed out, a search for other buzzwords shows that Pope Francis referred to God 37 times, Jesus 26 times and St. Ignatius 15 times. As Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow said on American radio, “Pope Francis referred to Italian and German opera more than he did abortion and homosexuality.”

Wake up! There is no obsession with sex in the teaching of the Catholic Church. What there is, however, is an obsession by the media with the teachng of the Catholic Church on human sexual behaviour. This is plainly because the consensus on this realm of human behaviour within the media generally is deeply resentful of the Christian understanding and teaching on the nature and purpose of human sexuality.

The media pursues this obsession by reporting incessantly on every utterance from the Church on the subject, every sign of any rebellion or resistance to it inside the Church, to the exclusion of the rest of the entire corpus of its teaching on the Decalogue. It would be unfair if the Pope were to blame his bishops for an obsession just because the media grossly distorts the balance of everything they teach, from pastoral letter to pastoral letter, from homily to homily, day after day, year after year. He hasn’t, and they are adding to their distortion by putting words into his mouth. If anyone has a case to answer about obsessions, it is the media.

Kathryn Jean Lopez – in a rare exception in the flood of coverage on the Pops’s interview – points out in a piece she wrote for Fox News that not everything in the world is about sex and politics. That message may take the Irish Times, The New York Times, the BBC, among many more media prganizations, a few more homilies and interviews with Pope Francis to understand. As Shelia Liaugminas concludes on her blog on MercatorNet, “The Catholic Church – or at least those preachers and teachers who are outspoken on matters concerning human sexuality, especially when catechetical discussions are turned into clashes in the public square for political or cultural reasons – is often accused of being obsessed with sex. But the obsession might just be the media’s.” I dont think there is any “might” about it.

Is this a case of a sad but congenital blindness to a reality they cannot comprehend?

In the final volume of his masterly trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, writes of how the replies of Jesus to Pilate in his interrogation “must have seemed like madness to the Roman judge. And yet he could not shake off the mysterious impression left by this man, so different from those he had met before who had resisted Roman domination and fought for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.”


It is difficult not to see similar bewilderment lurking in the hearts and minds of the thousands of media functionaries who were milling around St. Peter’s basilica and the Vatican since that historic day, 11 of February, 2013. In the six or seven weeks since then the world’s media vainly – for the most part – tried to grapple with realities which they were fascinated by but which they simply could not comprehend. Just as Pilate was bewildered by the idea that Christ was a king in the sense that he, Pilate, understood kingship, they were looking at a group of men assembling in Rome to elect the ruler of an entity which they only half understood. Essentially they read it all in terms of purely human politics. As a consequence they missed the entire plot.


The New York Times of 11 March gave us what might be a textbook example of how the application of political language takes you only so far in this drama, and how, when you reach a certain point, if you persist with it, it simply leads you into a dead end.


Laurie Goodstein and Elisabetta Povoledo began their “analysis” piece for the Times by telling us that the cardinals who would enter the papal conclave on Tuesday of that week would walk into the Sistine Chapel in a single file. That would be something deceptive, for “beneath the orderly display, they were split into competing line-ups and power blocs that will determine which man among them emerges as pope.”


Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy was, for example, described by Goodstein and Povoledo, as “a top contender for pope among some in the conclave.” Marlon Brando famously muttered to Rod Steiger, his older brother in On the Waterfront, “I could’a been a contender”, meaning a contender for a boxing title. This was not a boxing match. This was not a title fight, not even a contest in any meaningful sense of the word. This was a meeting in which over a hundred men who have given their lives to the service of Christ and his Church were going to look among themselves for the one whom they deemed, in their hearts and minds, would most faithfully and effectively lead and sustain that Church in the mission which its founder gave them.


Nothing of this understanding, nothing, was evident in the 1,500 or so words penned by Goodstein and Povoledo on that Sunday and filed to the Times. From beginning to end they read the drama – and a papal conclave is high drama, no doubt – unfolding before them as power bloc pitted against power bloc in pursuit of the control of a political and administrative structure serving an end which to them was very ill-understood indeed.


“The main divide”, they said, “pits the cardinals who work in the Vatican, the Romans, against the reformers, the cardinals who want the next pope to tackle what they see as the Vatican’s corruption, inefficiency and reluctance to share power and information with bishops from around the world.” What had all that to do with the billion and more ordinary people who want to follow the teaching of Christ, receive his sacraments daily and weekly and be helped to make their way through this world to a promised eternal life? Serving these people is the sole and ultimate object of this institution and the raison d’etre of those men walking into the Sistine Chapel on the morning of 12 March.


The faithful of the Catholic Church throughout the world, within hours of the white smoke appearing, were at peace once again. Indeed, as the smoke appeared, the cheers from the thousands in the square told us that they were once again in the place they wanted to be and that they knew that God’s ordained instruments had once again chosen a shepherd in his own mould to care for all their needs.


When the secularist world’s reading of the history and the reality of the Catholic Church is not naively political, it is driven by the media’s own very unbalanced and self-created image of the reality of the institution, its problems and its crises in the world today.


The next pontiff, Goodstein and Povoledo said, “must unite an increasingly globalized church paralyzed by scandal and mismanagement under the spotlight in a fast-moving media age (my italics). And among the cardinals, they said, there is no obvious single successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who rattled the church by resigning last month at age 85”. Obvious to whom? The short and decisive conclave showed precisely the contrary. The cardinals, after their days of prayerful conversation and reflection walked into the Sistine Chapel with much more unity of intent and purpose than the watching world imagined.


But who really thinks the Catholic Church is paralysed? No one who looks at the phenomenal growth of the Church in different parts of the world could say it is paralyzed. It may be challenged to keep up with this; it is being challenged by the decline of the faith in the old world  – a decline brought about primarily by the growth of materialism, indifference and the lure of hedonism and only very marginally by the weakness its members see in each other.


Of course the lure of hedonism has infected servants of the Church. Of course there has been scandal, but there has always been scandal. Two thousand years ago followers of Christ were told “How terrible it will be for the world due to its temptations to sin! Temptations to sin are bound to happen, but how terrible it will be for that person who causes someone to sin!” Holier than thou media is one of the phenomena of our time, and while the abandon with which sinners are stoned from the media’s so-called high moral ground today is occasionally halted by exposures like those at the BBC in the Saville affair, the stones keep raining down.


The Church, for its part, has never wavered in its teaching on what is and what is not sinful. It knows all too well that it is populated by sinners but it also knows that its God-given task is to help those sinners to repentance and forgiveness in Christ’s name. It forgives repentant sinners but remains constant on what is sinful, despite pressure from many quarters through modern media to move with the spirit of the age and abandon the Way, the Truth and the Life of which it is the mystical incarnation.


The Church certainly has to find new ways of more effectively managing the challenges it faces but it is far from paralysed. As for the Church being rattled by Pope Benedict’s abdication, that is about as far from the truth as you could get. The pilgrims, 200,000 of them, who came to his final audience in St. Peter’s Square on 27 February were not rattled – and they represented millions more. Surprised, no doubt; puzzled perhaps, for a short time; but ultimately profoundly grateful for a magnificent example of humility and wisdom which in the end could only be interpreted as coming from one source, his prayer and the grace of him whose vicar he has been.


And that is the missing link in all the volumes of deliberations we have been absorbing from the world’s media in the days and weeks since 11 February – as the world in its very limited wisdom tries to work out the “madness” of the Wisdom of Catholic Church.

Perhaps we might hope for some change in all this now following the new Holy Father’s words of encouragement to 5000 journalists on the Saturday following his election?  Pope Francis was nothing if not positive when he offered

“A particularly heart-felt thanks… to those who have been able to observe and present these events in the Church’s history while keeping in mind the most just perspective in which they must be read, that of faith. Historical events almost always require a complex reading that, at times, can also include the dimension of faith.

 “Ecclesial events are certainly not more complicated than political or economic ones. But they have one particularly fundamental characteristic: they answer to a logic that is not mainly that of, so to speak, worldly categories, and this is precisely why it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wide and varied audience. In fact, the Church, although it is certainly also a human, historical institution with all that that entails, does not have a political nature but is essentially spiritual: it is the people of God, the holy people of God who walk toward the encounter with Jesus Christ. Only by putting oneself in this perspective can one fully explain how the Catholic Church works.”

  “Christ is the Church’s Shepherd, but His presence in history moves through human freedom. Among these, one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, Successor of the Apostle Peter, but Christ is the centre, the fundamental reference, the heart of the Church! Without Him, neither Peter nor the Church would exist or have a reason for being. As Benedict XVI repeated often, Christ is present and leads His Church. In everything that has happened, the protagonist is, ultimately, the Holy Spirit. He has inspired Benedict XVI’s decision for the good of the Church; He has guided the cardinals in their prayers and in their election. Dear friends, it is important to take due account of this interpretive horizon, this hermeneutic, to bring the heart of the events of these days into focus.”

 Might we hope that those words would be printed out and pinned up over his or her desk by every journalist planning to write authoritatively about the Church in future? Without the perspective given in that message they will continue to write little better than worthless nonsense.