Readers will remember the concerted attempt (now abandoned) to portray Bergoglio as an intellectual – beginning with the ‘Pope Francis Lexicon’ and culminating in the eleven slender volumes of ‘The Theology of Pope Francis’. They will also recall Pope Benedict’s elegant put-down by refusing, at Mgr Dario Vigano’s invitation, to endorse the enterprise,
Vigano, then supremo of Vatican communications, refused to take ‘no’ for an answer, doctoring Benedict’s letter in so flagrant a manner that it sparked widespread condemnation and his own resignation. But now – proof positive that cronyism rules in the Court of Francis I – Dario has re-emerged as second in command and Vice-Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, with a specific competency in the area of communication.
The list of new elevations to the cardinalate looks at first sight as though it is random. But not so. It has a predominant flavour, and that, in view of the age of the present pontiff, is significant.
A quick glance at the CVs of the latest bunch convinces one that they are intended – at the next conclave – to confirm the Bergoglian succession. We are, sadly, in for more of the same.
Perhaps the most significant development in jurisprudence of the last twenty years is the axiom that victims of abuse are always to be believed. Spreading from cases of rape and inappropriate sexual treatment of women, the axiom has increasingly been applied to child abuse and paedophilia. Two cases come readily to mind.
In the United Kingdom, ‘Nick’ (aka Carl Beech) accused a group of distinguished figures (including a former Prime Minister and a former head of the Armed Services) of child abuse and murder. His evidence (according to the new axiom) was deemed reliable by senior police officers. Raids were made on the homes of the accused. No corroborating evidence ever emerged. Eventually the case was dropped, and the ‘victim’ was himself uncovered as a fantasist and paedophile. But not before reputations had been trashed and immense hurt and harm had been caused. The police action was costed at over two million pounds.
In Australia the leading cleric (rated third in rank in the Vatican) was accused of molesting two boys in the sacristy of his own cathedral many years previously. One of the boys subsequently died – but not before allegedly denying to his mother that he had been abused. According to the new axiom, in the case of Cardinal Pell, the complainant was believed, and the accused (after two jury trials) was convicted. On appeal, the conviction was upheld by two of the three judges. In a two-hundred-and-fourteen page dissenting summary, the third judge questioned both the evidence and (by implication) the axiom. The case awaits appeal to the High Court.
There are notable similarities between the two cases. In both the police were officious in pursuing the matter; and in both they managed to produce no corroborating evidence. In both cases it is to be suspected that their enthusiasm was fuelled by the excitement of anticipated high profile convictions.
It is to the credit of the British judicial system that the accused in the Carl Beech case have been paid damages for the unwarranted intrusion into their lives. Though the damage to the credibility of the Metropolitan Police Force has been considerable. The reputation of the Victorian judiciary awaits the result of the final appeal in the case of Cardinal Pell.
Following the surprise announcement of the installation of ‘one-armed bandits’ in the Sistine Chapel, the French Ministry of Culture has unveiled the final designs for the rebuilding of Notre Dame. The Ministère de la Culture et des Communications (Minister: Ms Marie Montpetit) explained the designs in an exclusive interview with BBC.
‘During its long history, Notre Dame has been many things: Catholic cathedral, Temple of Reason, tourist destination. The tragic fire has presented us with a God-sent opportunity. It is our determination that Notre Dame should rise again, not as the focus of an obscure cult to which a minority of our diverse and inclusive country belongs, but as a Pleasure Palace for all the family.
‘Your English viewers will better understand what we have in mind if I describe it as a combination of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Tate Modern and the Eden Project. There will be animatronic dinosaurs under the vast glass roof, bungy-jumping in the new glass spire, a Quasimodo Experience in the western towers and a white knuckle ride in the nave. We have been fortunate in securing, as consultants, the Deans of Rochester and Norwich Cathedrals in England, who are experts in adapting such venues to contemporary use.
‘The project is expected to be completed by February 1023, and will be opened jointly by the President of the Republic and His Holiness the Pope (who will dedicate the new structure to the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, the world’s first cathedral to be so named).
What is a liturgist? Someone wholly innocent of anthropology; numb to the meaning of bodily gestures and the tones of human voices; ignorant of the subtleties and the many registers of language; a blank for solemnity; with no sense of drama, no feeling for silence; someone whose idea of poetry may be found on a greeting card; someone who will lay on your back the burden of a sham hospitality; someone whose very smile sends all deep thought and feeling into an abyss of indifference.
It was announced today that, sponsored by the UN Conference on Climate Change, and accompanied by Swedish teenager and candidate for canonisation, Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis will be travelling to the forthcoming Amazon Synod on a raft made entirely of recyclable and renewable balsa wood.
The raft, powered entirely by solar panels, will be propelled by two sails made of a fabric specially woven from bamboo-fibre. The Holy Father will be accompanied, on this voyage (the first of its kind by a reigning Pontiff) by a small crew of senior Vatican officials including Cardinals Coppopalmerio and Maradiaga (as chief cook and bottle-washer respectively).
The crossing from Civitavecchia is estimated to take twenty-six months, during which time there will be no opportunity for press interviews. The date of the synod will be adjusted according to the time of arrival. The voyage will add nothing to current carbon emissions.
Inevitably this bold initiative has come in for criticism. ‘A cheap stunt takes nothing away from the damage done by the carbon footprint of a Synod drawing bishops from all parts of the world to a conference in the heart of the rain forest,’ said a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth.
Said Fr Antonio Spadaro: ‘With only ten years to save the planet, a dramatic, meaningless gesture like this was just what we needed.’
Kind readers have enquired as to the cause of my recent silence.
Truth is that I fell into the clutches of our wonderful NHS.
On discharge from the hospital I was provided with an assessment form (‘How Are We Doing?’). Among the impertinent questions which it asked were some about my sex: Male? Female? Other? Some about my ‘sexuality’: Heterosexual/Straight? Lesbian/Gay? Bisexual? Other?