THERE is one astonishing fact about Pope Francis's interview
last week that won't be obvious to civilians: it was the record of
a conversation between two men who were interested in elucidating
the truth. There are occasional interviews, it's true, where one
party or another has this as their main aim. But it is really
unusual when both have.
The resulting text had an extraordinary vivid clarity. The
length and breadth of the interview made entirely obvious what he
did not say. It was impossible to draw from it passages to
countermand the thrust of his remarks, or to suggest that he wasn't
reversing the attitude of the past 20 years.
I particularly liked the squashing of the pretence that nothing
much had changed at Vatican II. "Vatican II produced a renewal
movement that simply comes from the same gospel. Its fruits are
enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform
has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the gospel from
a concrete historical situation.
"Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity,
but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the gospel,
actualising its message for today - which was typical of Vatican II
- is absolutely irreversible."
Note that he puts the hermeneutics of continuity and
discontinuity on a par with each other. So much for the orthodoxy
of the previous regime, under which it was only "continuity" that
was acceptable. There could not be a clearer marker against the
flirtations with the Lefebvrists that characterised the pontificate
of Pope Benedict XVI.
The passages about art and music were fascinating again, because
they were an example of someone talking not to market themselves
but to explain themselves.
The other point, which media minders should consider and shudder
at, is that, releasing a really carefully worked-out text,
translated by five people and rigorously checked, made it
impossible for the Vatican spokesdroids to explain that the Holy
Father had not meant what he very clearly had said.
MUCH of the British coverage was really disgraceful. Nick Squires,
in the Telegraph, described as "characteristically
startling" the Pope's announcement that he was himself a sinner.
You would have thought it more startling if he had said he wasn't
one - but I suspect that the figure of the "cleric" in the public
imagination is meant to be sinless.
The Mail was even more confused, making "Pope opposes
abortion" into a news story: "A day after telling Catholics not to
obsess with abortion, the Pope encourages doctors NOT to perform
ON THURSDAY last week, I went to a panel discussion on the media's
treatment of the Middle East and of the plight of Christians there.
It was organised by Lapido Media and Douglas Murray, of the Centre
for Social Cohesion, a body regarded with great suspicion by all
the Muslims I know. It brought up issues that have resurfaced in
the light of the Peshawar and Nairobi bombings. In particular, why
is it that the media ignore, or seem to ignore, Islamist violence
directed at Christians?
This is a good question, but the answers don't actually stand up
as conspiracy theories. I don't think there is any doubt that, as
Tom Holland, the historian, said, we may be seeing the end of
Christianity in the Middle East.
The question is what we can do about it. Since the Iraq war,
which made the situation of Christians very much worse, the answer
has been perfectly clear. We can do nothing to protect the
Christians of the Middle East, any more than we can protect anyone
else out there. Probably, angry denunciations by US politicians of
the persecution of Copts in Egypt would make their persecution more
likely. And no one really wants to read about disasters that they
are powerless to imagine or to change.
Similar arguments apply to the way in which the Nairobi atrocity
was very widely covered while the equally shocking attacks in
Peshawar were not. The victims in Peshawar were murdered for going
to church. The victims in Nairobi were murdered for shopping in the
Readers, to use an old-fashioned term, are obviously going to
identify with the victims who are shopping, because that's what
normal people do. Besides, the pictures from Nairobi were very much
more dramatic, and Westerners go on holiday there.
Once you publish on the web, you know exactly which stories
interest your readers and when. You can make very well-educated
guesses at why, as well. If the media ignore the sufferings of
foreign Christians, this is not because of our undoubted
secularism, but very largely because the Great British public
prefers us to do so.