In his 2000 novel Boiling a Frog, the Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre introduced a villainous PR man who tries to change an entire political culture. Professional spinner Ian Beadie’s exposes of the sex lives of celebrities and politicians aren’t selling any more in the liberal late nineties: trying to push a story about a gay environmentalist, Beadie is told by one editor that ‘It has no bearin’ on his job, Ian, or on this campaign… The suits upstairs are sayin’ this sort of thing is turning off the readers.’ To save his business, Beadie offers his service to the Catholic Church. He wants to make their brand of puritanism more influential so that people in the public eye who break sexual taboos will become big news again.
Asking a priest how many Catholics there are in Scotland, he gets the response: ‘You mean baptised, Catholic-educated, that sort of thing?… probably in the region of 700,000.’ Beadie replies: ‘There you are, then. That’s your figure. Well, actually, 700,000 – might as well say three quarters of a million. And if you’re saying three quarters of a million, might as well round it up to 800,000.’
Let’s recap. On September 16 Britain will receive a head of state who has overseen and facilitated an organisational culture of child rape, breaking several articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Not only will the new government welcome him with open arms, it’s also paying for his visit. At a time when the top government priority is to cut the £156 billion deficit, and when working class families are being hit hardest by slash-and-burn economic policies, we are spending £12 million on the papal visit at the very least. (The figure is dubious: police sources estimate security costs at around £70 million.)
It’s at this point that former Catholic Herald editor Peter Stanford complains in a leading national newspaper that Catholics face an ’assault on their spiritual leader’ and that ‘[t]o stand up publicly and be counted as a Catholic in Britain right now can be to invite a tirade’. Later he quotes the Catholic composer James MacMillan, who has described ’the current wave of anti-Catholicism as ‘the new antisemitism of the liberal intellectual’. To which Stanford adds: ‘why don’t other Catholics follow MacMillan’s example and speak up more often in their own defence?’
We’re used to Islamic bigots hurling the word ‘Islamophobia’ at their critics’ feet to deflect scrutiny from their own vicious ideas. Now the Christian right is playing the victimology game with planted stories about Christians who have supposedly been denied their freedom of religion. Most often these cases turn out to involve people who have abused the authority of public sector positions to evangelise, or bigots who have fallen foul of basic equality legislation. This kind of PR is effective, though. You can’t blame a sectarian for trying.
There’s an interesting point by Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Tablet:
If you developed an interest in British Catholicism by reading the various ‘Catholic’ blogs that have sprung up in recent years, you would conclude that we are in the midst of vicious cultural wars… But when you get to the parishes, nobody seems to be at anyone else’s throat. The idea that there is a crisis is mistaken, though the church should nevertheless be asking itself why there are so many lapsed Catholics.
This made me think of the disconnect between the splenetic ravings of Splintered Sunrise and the Torygraph Catholic bloggers, and the discussions I’ve had with reasonable and intelligent Catholics I’ve known. Similarly, Stanford notes the decline in church attendance, and the slow pace of tickets to September’s papal event among Catholic communities. He could have gone further and acknowledged the anger at the Vatican among many Catholics. Read this piece by a Catholic priest speaking out against Ratzinger:
The biggest protest which will take place in Scotland will be a half empty Bellahouston Park. 300 000 turned up in 1982. This time, 100 000 tickets have been distributed. At least 50 000 have been returned.
Ordinary, working class, educated, ‘aware’ Catholics are boycotting the event in their tens of thousands. (In one parish in Fife the priest put up two notices, one for the Papal Mass, one for the parish picnic. 129 names went up for the picnic, 6 for the Papal Mass.)
As the National Secular Society head Terry Sanderson explained:
We are told that there are a billion Catholics in the world. This may be true in the sense that a billion people have been baptised by Catholic priests. But how many of them actually want to live by the teachings of the present Vatican hierarchy?
Like everyone else – except it seems the old men in Rome – modern Catholics want to live in the modern world. They want to take account of scientific advances and knowledge. They love their church, but they don’t hate homosexuals. They like their priest, but they feel uncomfortable at the Vatican’s unrelenting opposition to contraception.
So, Protest the Pope is not anti-Catholic, it is anti-Pope – this pope.
But to acknowledge this would be to admit that Catholics are as angry about child rape as anyone else and that the accusations of anti-Catholic racism are no more than attempts to divert attention from what are very serious issues.
Stanford does find room for a quote from our old pal Joanna Bogle. ‘Yes, I write passionate things sometimes,’ she says. A trawl through the Bogle archives turns up some real classics. On the question of gay adoption: ’Golly, some readers of this blog are an odd lot. Some comments – which I have not published – have come in from people who seem to think we should emphatically do nothing to stop the Government forcing Catholic organisations to accept adoption of children by active homosexuals’. On civil partnerships: ’No Catholic can in good conscience take part in such a ceremony, and a Catholic in public life has the extra responsibility of giving scandal by celebrating the ‘gay lifestyle’, ie active homosexual lifestyle, in this way.’ Not even Bogle’s local library is safe from the gay menace:
Meanwhile, over in the educational section, a large stack of books on Islam and a smaller one of Christianity. Glossy illustrated book, thick with quotes from Hans Kung and Matthew Fox (no, I’m not inventing this, either), big chapter on homosexuality and lesbianism: ‘Reflection – I am a gay Christian….The Church’s teachings are, without doubt, hypocritical….’ section on ‘feminist theology’ and one on ‘liberation theology’, nothing whatever putting the ordinary Christian teaching and message. Some critical material on the Catholic faith and teachings but nothing simply stating facts. This rubbish is published by ‘Heinemann Educational’ and I suppose its’s used as propaganda in schools.
Now, if you get angrier by the thought of two men holding hands than by some men torturing a child, then you’ve got a right to your views, and to argue them in public. But I’m not ready to hear, from this nasty and raucous minority, that it’s those who want the Pope held to account who are on the side of bigotry and prejudice.
Bogle at her glorious best