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One year on, minus a few days

14 March 2014

Pope-tastic: one of the offeringson Pope Francis's first year

Pope-tastic: one of the offeringson Pope Francis's first year

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 following Thursday.

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 weekly.

"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 Vallely's book.

 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 slums.

 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."

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