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Diary

by
01 August 2007

by Jonathan Boardman


Same old story?
I HAVE READ the Harry Potter series with pleasure, and was among the first to buy a copy of the final volume from the Lion Bookshop here in Rome. I didn’t even have to sleep out on the street, as it’s just round the corner from the church.

The climax of each novel, with its mix of thriller and whodunit (or should that be He-Who-Cannot-Escape-Detection?), shows an inventiveness for plot and a grasp of pace within narrative, which for me justifies J. K. Rowling’s reputation as a favourite author for children and adults alike. I am not convinced by those who criticise her prose: the virtue of these books lies elsewhere, and their style ensures their genuine (part) ownership by the young — a noble achievement.

When asked recently to review an analysis of the religious themes in modern mystery fiction (Books, 27 July), I was obliged to acquaint myself with another popular woman thriller-writer. Although I am familiar with Umberto Eco, Ian Pears, and Colin Dexter as contributors to the genre, I had never before read a P. D. James. In bridging that gap, I was struck by her old-fashionedness.

James’s texts, for all their contemporary references (aids patients, nuclear waste, communications technology), are peopled by a cast of characters who would be more at home in the 1930s than in the first years of the new century. The range of aristocrats, spinsters, poets, chars (indeed, servants of all sorts), clergy, retired army officers, and artists (the only class permitted a degree of bohemian licence) is much what I would have expected Marjorie Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, or Agatha Christie to come up with.

It was this reflection that brought me suddenly back to Harry Potter, and a throwaway comment made by an Italian friend: that at heart his story is a further reflection of the obsession with class that school stories, detective fiction, and perhaps all truly British writing have always had.

Although it is true that there are nods in the direction of political correctness in Rowling’s fantasy (roles for women, an evident multiculturalism), Harry’s battles with Voldermort, Snape, and Malfoy recall nothing less than Tom Brown’s clash with Flashman. Despite all this (or perhaps because of it), I enjoyed Deathly Hallows enormously.

Shoes, hat and bags
Mid-July sees the twice-yearly sales in the shops here. It is actually against Italian law to discount stock at any time other than the end of the autumn/winter and spring/summer retail seasons, and so real bargains are to be had.

After Christmas, I got some really comfortable shoes for sanctuary and other clerical service: smart black Prada slip-ons. As holidays beckon, a pair of soft brown leather moccasins with the same tell-tale red flash on the heel have marked me as what my friends are now calling a Prada priest, conscious of the irony that it is, in the words of a recent novel and film, what the devil wears.

The fact that the Pope’s shoes are reputedly by Gucci softens my designer guilt somewhat, and encourages my disappointment that the sales do not extend to the clerical outfitters — discounted Gamarelli or Barbiconi “fashion items” are just too good to be true.

A tat sale would also provide the perfect opportunity to fulfil a sartorial goal set for the Anglican Centre here by the Rt Revd Peter Carnley, the former Primate of Australia, and recently Acting Director of the Centre during the sick leave of the Rt Revd John Flack. Attending an open-air papal audience in prima fila with the midday sun beating down, he was uncomfortable at being obliged to don a panama hat with his purple cassock.

The search was on for suitable Anglican episcopal summer headgear. It was in Gamarelli’s that Bishop Carnley spied a black straw soup-bowl model, which he considered would be rendered appropriate by the substitution of its green and black cord with a simple magenta band. A supply of them left at the centre for visiting bishops would guard against even greater millinery solecisms than the panama — just the thought of a baseball cap will describe the gravity of the situation.

As far as I know, Bishop Carnley returned to Oz without having made the purchase. Bags I do.

Motu proprio paradox
The Roman Church’s latest pronouncement on ecumenism, deriving from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, A Clarification of some Questions . . . (News, 13 July) is virtually a repeat of Dominus Iesus, published in 2000, in which the defectiveness of non-Roman Churches is expounded at painful length. I had to agree with the document’s own comment that, in the light of this teaching, the Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism might well appear paradoxical.

It is not the only puzzle to have emerged from the present pope’s Vatican. Last year, by motu proprio (a document, appointment or decision to issue directly at the pontiff’s initiative), Benedict XVI subjected the Franciscans active in Assisi to the direct control of the local bishop — a natural out-working of Vatican II theology, one might think, where the anomalous status of such ecclesiastical “liberty” is rationalised.

Now, by the exercise of the same “immediate sovereignty over the universal Church” claimed for the Pope by code of canon law, Benedict has taken the decision to allow priests to celebrate mass in the Tridentine rite (i.e. using the Latin text) out of the hands of the local bishop (News, 13 July). What was a pastoral exception now becomes an enforceable right. Is the Vatican off-message, or is it just that motu proprio is the Pope’s tool to express his personal likes and dislikes, whether internally consistent or not?

The Revd Jonathan Boardman is Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.

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