Thursday, 16 September 2010
Very well, so we can briefly have a laugh about the red Prada shoes and the handsome personal aide, but it's not evidence. Irreverent humour is no doubt one way of dealing with the more absurd aspects of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives on our shores with all his usual pomp (and at an estimated £11m to £13m cost to the taxpayer) today. I’m not going to buy the above book, in which respect I may seem like those staunch Catholics who denounced Peter Tatchell’s Channel 4 documentary without having even seen it. My loss perhaps: I may be missing out on some shrewd points.
But this is no time for jokes. What we need are facts, quotations, eloquence and fierce indignation to clarify what so many of us feel is wrong about the Vatican today. Not the Catholic church here, which has done a great deal more to express its abhorrence of recent scandals, nor the individual Catholic worshipper, whose right to reach towards a sense of the numinous in his or her own way should never be mocked or trampled over . And there are of course those Catholic priests like Father Shay Cullen in the Philippines, most potent and simple speaker on the Tatchell documentary, who seem to be emulating Christ’s example in serving the poor, not being served.
Clearly more of the finer detail is revealed in Geoffrey Robertson QC's treatise.
Again, I'm putting it forward without having read it - having, in fact, done what I usually deplore and taken the nub of it from the Financial Times book review. But there is a middle way between frivolity and earnestness, as I propose below.
In the meantime, one gentleman who’s posted here and others closer to home have suggested I really ought to read some of Ratzinger’s more complex religious treatises. I think I’d rather delve into the Gospels and find out what Jesus is supposed to have said which directly contradicts the powerful hierarchy of the Vatican. Never mind all the ridiculous statements that Benedict’s right-hand man and cardinals have made over the past few months; the problem which seems to loom largest is the interference in the conduct of the daily lives of millions of poor and uneducated people. Keep them poor, foist on them a dozen children they can’t afford to support.
That, I guess, is what made me angriest of all in Tatchell’s whizz through the issues. I do think he’s a human rights campaigner who’s pulled off so many stunts around the world worthy of our admiration. But he’s not, perhaps, the most eloquent or fact-careful speaker. So you can imagine how delighted I was to find this 2009 debate featuring Stephen Fry, shaking with passion and anger but declaiming with all his usual eloquence and humour.
If you want to get to grips immediately with what was so offensive about Ratzinger's 2001 letter ordering bishops, on pain of excommunication, to handle the child abuse scandal ‘in the most secretive way, restrained by perpetual silence’, and why Fry as a proud gay man resents being told that his sexuality is oriented ‘towards an intrinsic moral evil’, you could start at Part Two. But I recommend the whole of this searing speech as one of the finest I’ve ever seen from anyone – and most politicians don’t begin to come close. Stephen, I salute you.