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
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