I SUPPOSE we could have saved ourselves quite a lot of time by
publishing all the "Pope Francis: one year on" pieces the moment he
was elected. The weekend papers were full of anticipation of his
anniversary, though it didn't fall until yesterday.
This reflects two things. The first is the importance and
independence of the Saturday papers, which deliver a huge
proportion of the remaining print advertising, and so require
content to justify this. Figures just out as I write this show
that, next year, the mobile advertising market will overtake the
shrinking print market, and competition for what remains is fierce.
And, obviously, no Saturday paper wants to write about things that
its rivals covered last week.
Second, this was one of those rare cases where there was no
discrepancy between getting it fast and getting it right. If you
were wrong about the Pope on Saturday, you'll still be wrong the
The New York Times, as befits a really huge
organisation, beat everyone by putting its main story up a whole
week early, with a poll on the "Francis Effect" from the Pew
Research Centre. Like a very orthodox Roman Catholic young man,
this effect turns out to be all mouth and no trousers: "Enthusiasm
has risen, with a quarter of American Catholics saying they were
'more excited' about their faith, and 40 per cent saying they were
praying more often.
"But the poll showed that church attendance had not shifted in
the past year, with 40 per cent saying they attended Mass at least
"As for confession, only 5 per cent of Catholics said they went
more in the past year, compared with 22 per cent who went less.
Volunteering in the church or community has not increased among
Catholics, and the percentage of Americans who are Catholic, 22 per
cent, is the same as a year ago."
I love these stories, just as I love the polls that came out of
the Westminster Faith Debates, because they tell us things we
didn't actually know. They also require far more resources than
most news or comment pieces, since they must be carefully designed
and checked afterwards - after all, the papers are full of fake
polls and bogus research.
SOME comment, of course, is worth having. John Cornwell had a
summarising piece on the Pope in the Financial Times
magazine, and picked up on something that the Pope's
anti-capitalist fans largely ignore:
"Capitalism, he told Abraham Skorka, a prominent Argentine
rabbi, in a 2010 book of their conversations, is the reason that
'hedonistic, consumerist and narcissistic cultures have infiltrated
Catholicism'. And globalisation, he continued, 'is essentially
imperialist and instrumentally liberal, but it is not human. In the
end it is a way to enslave nations.'
"Francis preaches that poverty is a virtue to be cherished and
practised for its own sake. . . There is, however, a queasy paradox
in his conviction that people should both espouse and value
poverty, and at the same time be taken out of it."
PETER STANFORD had the longest and most thorough of all these
pieces, in the Telegraph on Saturday. He had actually gone
to Buenos Aries and talked to the Pope's admirers, and one of his
few remaining critics who have not decided that the politic thing,
now Bergoglio is Pope, is to shut up and bask in his glory. The
detail about the accusations against him in the Dirty War was
considerable and, I thought, very balanced.
It was astonishing to see a London newspaper devoting so much in
terms of time, and money, and space, to a story that was
unashamedly religious, but hardly dealt at all with sexual matters.
Admittedly, the Argentine Dirty War entailed much more overwhelming
moral dilemmas than anything newspapers usually concern themselves
with seriously - Graham Greene rather than David Lodge - but
Stanford rose to the occasion with a really fine piece of long-form
journalism, the most interesting on the subject since Paul
hat I had not known is that, in 2005, when Benedict XVI was
elected, and Bergoglio came second, an anonymised dossier had been
sent to every single cardinal-elector accusing him of betraying the
two fellow-Jesuits who were taken and tortured by the military when
he was the Provincial and they defied his order to move out of the
tanford cannot find out who was behind the dossier, but raises
the possibility that, without it, he might have been elected nine
years ago. It does not appear that a similar dossier was circulated
in advance of last year's election, although a remarkably fruity
denunciation of Pope Benedict's inner circle most certainly was.
This presumably shows that Bergoglio's enemies thought that they
had dished him for good. But, in today's Argentina, almost all his
enemies have all disappeared. As one of Stanford's taxi- drivers
told him: "Oh, he's a good man, and, best of all, he's not a
Brazilian. It's like we've won the World Cup."