ONE of the minor pleasures of this job is tracking the usage of
the phrase "devout Christian". It usually means "total weirdo", and
I don't think it will be easy to top a story I found in the
Daily Mail about a primary-school headmaster who had a
"The pupils of Horsmonden Primary School in Kent . . . watched
open-mouthed as their headmaster 'snapped' when the electronic
organ he was trying to play refused to work. Enraged, Malcolm Hayes
smashed and punched the keyboard before wrenching it off its stand
and telling his pupils to follow him as he stormed outside.
"Once in the car park the 49-year-old, a devout
Christian [my italics], smashed the instrument again - before
jumping in his car and repeatedly driving over it."
It turns out that Mr Hayes has previous form in the
Mail, after he left his wife for a 16-year-old
foster-daughter ten years ago. It appears that this second wife has
now left him, which is why he took his frustrations out on the
school's instrument, even if that's not the organ that had been
giving him trouble.
NOW, as it happened, I spent part of last week advising a group of
clergy in County Durham about how to deal with the media, and this
scenario did not once come up.
It turned out that many of them were frightened of dealing with
the media, and suspicious of the result, but what they had in mind
was a catastrophe such as being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman rather
than anything more likely. So it was interesting to explain to them
that the local media really don't try to pick holes in your
stories. The difficulty is getting them to listen at all.
RIGHT up at the other end of the business, there was a wonderful
piece by Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books blog,
on the way in which both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are
to be made saints, as if to keep the party balance in heaven.
"Though John Paul II is not as hotly resented by liberals as
Pius IX, he is still subject to deep criticism. He presided over
the Church during its worldwide pedophile scandal, and he gave the
handling of that problem to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of
the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith - the very man who,
succeeding him, would waive the time-lapse needed to begin his
predecessor's canonization. (Who can think that a saint in heaven
ever protec-ted a predatory priest?) John Paul had treated as
'irreversible' his stands on matters such as homosexuality, married
priests, and women priests. He is a symbol, for some people, of
things that need remedy in the Church.
"But - not to worry - the 'good Pope John' is again being
pressed into service. He was beatified to take the sting out of
Pius IX's promotion. He is now being canonized to make a joint
heavenly pair with John Paul II. To rush John XXIII forward, Pope
Francis is even waiving the normal requirement of a second miracle
for canonization. John XXIII is the feel-good pope in a time of
turmoil, even though he is being used to sanction the turmoil
caused by John Paul II."
Wills does not stop with those points, which were all fairly
obvious, and made by a number of commentators. His deeper and
sharper criticism is of the way in which the canonisation process
strengthens, by its nature, the authority of the Pope who performs
it. It is the Pope, and the Pope alone, who certifies, in the last
analysis, whether a miracle is authentic. It is the Pope who here
has the power to declare what is going on in heaven - that such and
such a one of his predecessors is hearing the prayers of the
faithful and is well-placed to intercede for them. This is the
vision of heaven as a gigantic bureaucracy, not entirely unlike the
Vatican, where sainthood is a senior and influential rank, and
where the Pope, on earth, is the all-powerful spokesman who can
discount all unauthorised leaks.
This is perhaps best read in conjunction with a piece by the
Vaticanologist John Thavis, who quotes Pope Francis as saying that
he is still living in the Vatican guest house so as to avoid being
dominated by his staff and, especially, his secretaries.
Wills concludes: "It is a bit sad to see Pope Francis, who has
been doing wonderful things in his short time at the Vatican, play
the old game of self-certification at the top of a saint-making
factory. Many hope he will make needed changes in the Church. But
in promoting John Paul II he is exalting a man who fought every one
of those changes."
It will be fascinating to see how that plays out. More
interesting than any of the upcoming rumbles at Lambeth Palace.