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The real Council is revealed

22 February 2013

Proposal: a visit to the Peterborough mosque in The Sunday Times

Proposal: a visit to the Peterborough mosque in The Sunday Times

I AM rather glad, in a selfish way, that the Most Revd Vincent Nichols has not got a Cardinal's hat. It has saved us endless articles suggesting that he has a respectable chance of becoming pope. They would appear only in the British press, of course. Every other country would be plugging its own candid- ates - and also Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, whose reign would certainly make good copy.

So far, he has told at least two reporters that he stands ready to make the great sacrifice of becoming pope, and done an interview with CNN in which he explained: "If one does not have access to ordination, it's not in any way a verdict on . . . one's own sex or gender." Perish the thort, as Molesworth would say.

The Cardinal went on to explain that Africa had been protected against the child-abuse scandals by its "strong cultural taboos" against homosexuality. Look how well the same taboos worked to prevent child-abuse in Ireland and to save the Church there from scandal.

Mind you, Cardinal Turkson's view may well pass for common sense in the Vatican, to judge from an extraordinary farewell address that Pope Benedict gave to the clergy of Rome, and only Ruth Gledhill picked up. He launched into a riff about how the real Second Vatican Council was the one without intrigues or political conflicts, where no one had wanted to devolve power to the bishops or to the local churches. All that, apparently, had been got up by the media.

"There was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media.

"While the whole Council . . . moved within the faith . . . the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith.

"Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivialising the idea of the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith.

"This Council of the media . . . created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialised . . . and the true Council has struggled to materialise, to be realised: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council."

And so the mystery is solved: the media is to blame for the ghastly leaden quality of modern Roman Catholic liturgy, written as it is by Guardian journalists, who dress up as curial officials every day, and sneak into the Vatican to sabotage the translations.

Some day, I hope to be released from my vow of secrecy and to tell my own part in this struggle. But I know how proud Polly Toynbee will be when she reads this testimonial to her hard work. She really looks most fetching in a mitre.

MEANWHILE, there is a wonderful example of the British press at work, which has nothing to do with the Pope at all. The confected storm over Hilary Mantel's remarks about the royal family could have arisen only in bad faith. No one who could read her piece in The London Review of Books all the way through and suppose that it was an attack on the Duchess of Cambridge should be trusted to drive a supermarket trolley, let alone a keyboard.

The piece is a long and subtle movement from the uneasy distrust that almost everyone on the Left feels about the royal circus to a recognition of their humanity. It ends, more or less, with this passage:

"It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn't mean that when we look at it, we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don't cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. . . . I'm not asking for censorship. I'm not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I'm asking us to back off and not be brutes."

For this, Ms Mantel was rebuked by David Cameron, clearly a man who had not read her piece even as far as the fourth paragraph, which ends: "It is sad to think that intelligent people could devote themselves to this topic with earnest furrowings of the brow, but that's what discourse about royals comes to: a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken."

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