IN A generally grim week, it would be wrong not to start with one of the best stories of this papacy, from The New York Times, datelined Rome: “The cardinals seemed to be everywhere, checking their cellphones as they sat on parked mopeds, petting dogs and wearing plastic bibs over their pectoral crosses as they waited in line for lunch on a small street outside the Vatican.”
A Canadian tourist asks one for a selfie, which she gets, and then a blessing on her St Christopher medallion . . . and only then does the “cardinal” explain that he and all his colleagues are movie extras, filming a Netflix series about the transition between Popes Benedict and Francis.
This did provide the opportunity for one of the great clunker phrases of journalism-by-thesaurus: “This week, a confluence of ersatz eminences trafficked the streets around the Vatican.” The same technique would make Benedict today an eremitical eminence in ermine.
ELSEWHERE, fewer laughs. I suppose if you take the royal wedding as a technically comic performance there is no need to feel sorry for the cast, but it’s very hard being an extra. The Daily Mail’s treatment of Meghan Markle, whom many of its readers hate with a frightening passion, has been wholly untrammelled by decency or shame.
It may be less awful offline, but on the website, as I write, there are pictures of her as a teenager fooling around in a one-piece bathing suit, alongside the “sidebar of shame” where women are variously captioned: one “displays MAJOR cleavage as she makes a show of her ample bust at NHS awards”. Of course, it’s not all breasts. That would be discrimination, and the Mail Online is proud to cater for readers who like to look at every part of a woman’s body.
And in this loathsome stew of lechery and envy they simmer the perfectly ordinary — and, so far as one can tell, unexceptional — parents of the bride, along with every man who can be tracked who ever dated her.
Her father, who has been mercilessly papped as he goes about his life, then accepts an offer of money from a photographer — why shouldn’t he? — and is immediately pilloried for cashing in on his position by papers who have done nothing but cash in on his life since he came to their attention.
Then he is reported to have a heart attack. This, obviously, is the cue for even more intensive coverage. Then he decides he cannot face the pressure of ceremony, and that, of course, is an excuse for even more intensive coverage, condescending sympathy, and breathless coverage of Ms Markle’s mother.
Let’s hope she has more inner resources and gets more help from the Palace’s press operation. Frankly, both parents should have been protected in a safe house in the grounds of Balmoral for the past six weeks.
THE New York Times spent some time excavating the beliefs of the preachers whom the Trump administration sent to inaugurate the embassy in Jerusalem. One, the Revd Robert Jeffress, has already featured in this column for the grovelling sermon that he preached at President Trump’s inauguration: “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.
“And the first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall” (Press, 27 January 2017).
And, though Trump’s great wall against Mexico will never be built, it would have served the same purpose as the wall that imprisons Gaza. This imaginative or emotional congruity is far more important than such trivia as Mr Jeffress’s view of Judaism, which is that “you can’t be saved being a Jew. You know who said that, by the way? The three greatest Jews in the New Testament: Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ. They all said Judaism won’t do it. It’s faith in Jesus Christ.”
His fellow preacher, John Hagee, said in the 1990s that the Holocaust happened “Because God allowed it. . . God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” How very flexible a concept anti-Semitism turns out to be in the hands of the present Israeli government.
YET there was some cheering news from London: long, sympathetic profiles of Bishop Sarah Mullally in The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Harriet Sherwood’s Guardian piece made me think that all clergy should have worked as nurses. It makes perfect sense to think of this as a training that’s simultaneously pastoral and practical.