IN THE line of papers
laid out in The Guardian's offices on Tuesday morning, the
front-page photos went Pope, Pope, Pope, Pope, bosom, Pope, Pope,
Pope. The odd one out was that stronghold of decency the Daily
Mail, which preferred to illustrate the question whether
Helena Bonham Carter has the equipment to play Elizabeth
About the news itself
there was little to say, except that it was almost a complete
novelty. The obvious stories, which all the papers managed in one
form or another, were those looking back to previous resignations
and looking forward to the next Pope - where, frankly, anyone's
guess is as good as any other's. The bookmakers put out press
releases - four in the past 24 hours to ensure that they got their
names in the papers, and all, for obvious reasons, played up the
candidacy of the Ghanaian Cardinal Turkson.
The wild thrashing
around, both future and past, was wonderfully summed up in the last
line of one of the Telegraph's stories: "Speculation on
the next Pope was already in full swing in Rome today. Some say the
papacy could return to an Italian for the first time since 1978,
while others suggest it could go to a non-European for the first
time since 731."
Divergence came with the
leader columns and the assessments of Benedict's reign. Geoffrey
Robertson QC wheeled out his outrage from the time of the papal
visit in The Independent: "Yesterday's resignation by Pope
Benedict was merely expedient - he has become too old to cope. It
would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago,
had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had
for 30 years turned a blind eye - the rape, buggery and molestation
of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care."
In The Times,
Diarmaid MacCulloch was elegiac and much more informatively
damning: "How disappointingly undistinguished Ratzinger's time has
been, considering that he is probably the most talented theologian
to have held the papal office since Gregory I in the sixth and
seventh centuries. Perhaps in future, stellar theologians should be
gently discouraged from taking the highest positions in the
Church." Who else could he possibly be thinking of?
"Benedict undermined the
good that he might have done through his hysterical reaction to the
rapid changes in Western social mores. Witness the huge sums that
the Catholic episcopate has spent, and the huge amount of noise
that it has generated, in opposing same-sex marriage, all to no
effect: each time some British or American bishop opened their
mouths to rally the faithful, it converted hundreds more to the
cause of social equality.
"Perhaps the greatest
humiliation that the Vatican has experienced in recent months was
the re-election of President Obama, when it was quite clear that
most of the American episcopate were doing their best to boost the
chances of the Republican Party."
THE mention of the
Republican party is, of course, the cue for Damian Thompson's
remarks in the Telegraph, which concluded: "This is no
occasion to score cheap points, but traditionalists are unlikely to
lose much sleep over the absence of a liberal English cardinal in
the Sistine Chapel."
For the Financial
Times, the answer was that the next Pope needed to be more
like a businessman: "Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have
ensured through their appointments a deeply conservative bias in
the College of Cardinals. There will also be some who push for a
candidate from the developing world. This would be historic.
"But geography should not
be the deciding factor. The Catholic Church needs a pope with
enough youthfulness and energy - in effect a tough chief executive
- to shepherd 1.2bn faithful in a world that is changing with great
In other words, this
year's fashion in church leaders is a Welby, not a Williams.
leader quoted the late Cardinal Martini to brutal effect: "The
thoroughness of the process that John Paul II initiated at the
higher levels of the Church, coming close at times to a purge, will
take years to modify, let alone reverse. This leaves the Church ill
equipped to cope with the situation the liberal cardinal Carlo
Maria Martini bleakly described in a last interview before his
death last year.
"'The Church is tired in
Europe and America. Our culture has aged, our churches are large,
our religious houses are empty, and the bureaucracy of the Church
climbs higher, our rituals and our clothes are pompous.'"
The paper was not hopeful. Martini was the last of his kind.
"Liberal clergy have been isolated, shunted off to marginal jobs,
or simply not advanced, leading to the situation today, in which
not a single liberal candidate to succeed Benedict can be