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When in doubt go for Satan

31 January 2014


WHAT is the difference between "speculation" and "intense speculation"? I suspect that it has something to do with the rage and greed of the newsdesk. How else are we to explain the discrepancy between the report in the Telegraph that "A religious reliquary containing blood from the late Pope John Paul II has been stolen from a remote mountain church in Italy, with speculation that a Satanic group could be behind the theft." and the New York Post's belief that "About 50 Italian policemen with sniffer dogs searched the area around a tiny mountain church for a religious relic stained with the late Pope John Paul II's blood - amid intense speculation that it was stolen by a satanic cult."

Where did this speculation - moderate to intense - come from? Funny you should ask. It appears to have been the creation of "an Italian anti-occult group" whose prominence owes much to the quick-wittedness of the Telegraph's Rome correspondent, Nick Squires, whose story started the hare running: "'It's possible that there could be Satanic sects behind the theft of the reliquary,' said Giovanni Panunzio, the national co-ordinator of an anti-occult group called Osservatorio Antiplagio."

When something like this happens, there will be people who blame it on Satanists. There will be others who blame it on the Jews, the Freemasons, or even Microsoft. All will have equally convincing evidence for their theories. The skill of the hungry journalist is to decide which one to ring up for a quote. The moral of the story is clear: when in doubt, go for Satan.

By Tuesday lunchtime, Google was reporting 5000 variations of the story that Satanists were behind the theft.

THIS made a nice match with the Mail online's story, lifted from the Indianapolis Star, that "A nine-year-old boy walked back-wards up a wall and ceiling as startled medical staff looked on after his mother claimed he and his two siblings had been possessed by demons, according to official reports.

"The unlikely-sounding event was detailed in official documents after a child services case-worker and a nurse both said they saw the boy 'glide' backwards on the floor, wall and ceiling.

"Both were shocked to see the boy apparently float after their mother had been subject to months of scepticism when she claimed her home in Gary, Indiana, was haunted and all three of her children were possessed by demons."

An exorcism by the local Roman Catholic priest appears to have stopped the problem.


I DO NOT doubt that this will get a thousand times more readers than the account, from the Guardian, by a Roman Catholic prison chaplain in the neighbouring state of Ohio, of an execution he witnessed there using a novel cocktail of drugs:

"At 10.27am, the syringe containing the untested concoction of midazolam and hydromorphone was injected into him. At 10.30am, three minutes into the execution, he lifted his head off the gurney, and said to the family who he could see through the window: "I love you, I love you." Then he lay back down.

"At about 10.31am, his stomach swelled up in an unusual way, as though he had a hernia or something like that. Between 10.33am and 10.44am - I could see a clock on the wall of the death house - he struggled and gasped audibly for air."

But that is not the sort of suffering that it gives normal people a thrill to consider, and it was not inflicted by demons.


I THINK I will skip the Pilling report altogether. "Church, by a heroic effort, agrees to go on talking about a problem that it cannot solve" is a difficult story to sell, even if you were to sprinkle it with grated Satanists, and none of the papers seemed to care very much.

Instead, there is one last Roman Catholic story, from the Financial Times online, which had found a spectacularly bankrupt diocese in Slovenia. Thecause here seems to have been simple greed, rather than sexual misbehaviour, though naturally there is someone available to blame demons for this one, too.

An enterprising Monsignor, Mirko Krasovec, managed to pledge the cathedral at Marbor, the church of St Aloysius, "assorted vineyards, an organ workshop, and a disused monastery" as collateral for some ingenious investments:

"Through the two Zvon funds, the diocese stood astride an investment empire spanning publishing, paint manufacturing, glassworks, water parks, telecommunications, Croatian property and a slaughterhouse in Buenos Aires.

"The final tally from the failure is hard to pin down. Although total claims lodged in the bankruptcy process exceed €1bn, a more accurate figure is perhaps roughly €500m in net loans from banks. By comparison, the Holy See's annual administration budget is about €250m."

All at once I feel much happier about the Church Commissioners.

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