LEAKS, financial improprieties, and the machinations of a "gay
lobby". Not since the sudden death of Pope John Paul I has there
been such extravagant gossip surrounding the inner workings of the
Vatican. Last Thursday, The Report (Radio 4) got in on the
act, with an investigation by Mark Dowd into the real reason for
Pope Benedict's resignation. Why did the ageing Pope feel that he
did not have enough energy for the role; and what were the
challenges that were sapping that energy?
The three elements to this investigation might be said to form a
template for modern-day conspiracy theories. There was chaos in the
Vatican, with leaks springing every day - most of which found their
way into a book by a journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi. There were vested
financial interests, intent on preserving the unregulated workings
of the Vatican Bank. And then there was the personal intrigue: the
network of homosexuals within the Vatican, which, we were told,
controls access to patronage.
Of the three, the latter was most thinly supported by Dowd's
documentary; while the case as a whole comes up against one
fundamental question. If Benedict was forced to resign, who was
supposed to benefit? By electing a cardinal from outside the
Vatican as Benedict's successor - a successor showing every
intention of reforming these moribund practices - the intransigent
forces of conservatism appear to have made a massive
miscalculation. Or did Pope Benedict perform a selflessly strategic
act that blindsided his opponents?
Whatever the answer, what this story plays to is our enthusiasm
for stories of decadence and reform, of decay and renovation.
Cardinal Francis Arinze described the event with charm, and an
innate sense of the dramatic. He also laughingly admitted to
reading the "Vatileaks" reports, saying that while he disapproved
of the leaking, he felt that something good had come out of them.
"God can write straight on crooked lines," was how he put it.
Perhaps this is the phrase that apologists for the new Universal
Credit scheme will use if it all comes tumbling down. Living
With New Welfare (Radio 4, Monday of last week) suggested that
the stresses predicted by opponents of the scheme were already
being experienced by those involved in the pilot schemes running in
places such as Torfaen, South Wales.
Felicity Evans interviewed six people who are trying to cope
with the housing-benefit element of the reformed system, whereby
rent money is paid to the benefit claimant rather than to the
social-housing landlords. The result in Torfaen was a sharp rise in
arrears - a problem that was alleviated only when those people
having the difficulties were brought off the pilot scheme.
If these are crooked lines, then the straight message - one that
is hard to dispute - is that it is generally a good thing for
people to feel financially empowered. But, as Evans so eloquently
put it, the big moral and political arguments are going to happen a
long way away from the people who are affected most seriously. In
temporarily empowering those people through this programme, Evans
has done them a great service.