Popes and Jokes

As you may all have noticed, the Catholic Church has recently been creaking under the weight of its own paedophiles. That’s what happens when you keep hiding them. The glare of the media must have spooked the Church, because in the tradition of all large amoral institutions they’ve been trying to distract us with a story about virtually nothing. Well, I think they have… maybe I’ve just assumed it was down to them because it was so perfectly timed. It could just be coincidence that one moment everyone was shaking their heads in disgust at the sexual abuse of children and the next they were shaking their heads in disgust at a civil servant making a condom joke. I don’t know. There’s been a lot of Catholic-originated disgust and anger about in the papers, denouncing this affront… a few weeks ago every prominent Catholic was quiet for fear that the righteous fire of popular anger would burn their face off. 

I really can’t get to grips with the psychology at work here. Maybe the newspapers just get bored:

Journo 1: I’m sick of this abuse stuff…

Journo 2: Let’s drown the readership in a load of inane crap about a civil service memo then instead!

Journo 1: Yeah! Woohh! *types on keyboard enthusiastically*

This kind of thing pisses me off. Now, my lack of knowledge about newspaper offices aside, something dodgy is going on here. I don’t care who is responsible, but all I know is that right at the moment when something serious and important is happening in this country, right when popular opinion finally comes into line with reality, suddenly everyone seems to take a left turn and run down the “I can’t cope with this serious stuff anymore” alley of shite:

Citizen 1: Wow, the Catholic Church is really fucked up and corrupt isn’t it? I am so disgusted and angry. They need to do something about it.

Citizen 2: I agree. It is an ancient and unaccountable institution that is completely morally bankrupt, and it is about time that society as a whole woke up to the situation and did something about it.


Citizen 1: Being serious has made me tired and uncomfortable.

Citizen 2: Hey, some civil servant made a rude joke about the Pope!

Citizen 1: What a fucker! Someone should do something about this disgusting event!

Citizen 2: I’m going to write an obnoxious letter to the Telegraph… *types on keyboard enthusiastically*

It depresses me, it really does.

For those who don’t know, this “disgusting” memo was circulated through Whitehall by a group of civil servants brainstorming ideas for the Pope’s upcoming four day visit. To me, it seems like a tongue-in-cheek joke, but it could be a genuine result of a “blue-sky thinking” session, where they were trying to come up with as many off-the-wall ideas as possible. Either way, to take genuine offence at the memo requires a serious dysfunction in the reality centre of the brain. And the humour centre. Hell, it requires a serious dysfunction in the brain in general. (I feel I’m really nailing my colours to the mast in this one)

Here’s some of the suggestions in the memo for your reading pleasure:

1 – Starting a helpline for abused children

2 – Opening an abortion ward

3 – Sack ‘dodgy’ bishops

4 – Preside over a civil partnership ceremony

5 – Perform forward rolls with children (?!?)

6 – Apologise for the Spanish Armada

7 – Meet Susan Boyle

8 – Start up his own range of Benedict-brand condoms

9 – Sing a song with the Queen for charity

Now, as I’ve already indicated, the main problem with this whole debacle is that the memo is obviously silly. There should be no “disgusted” response. Even for those suggestions which people may feel skim too close to the Catholic bone, if you look at them objectively without the Catholic overtones they’re quite reasonable suggestions for a high profile and supposedly moral figure such as the Pope: starting helplines for the abused, raising money for charity, preventing unwanted pregnancies… All good things. They’re only bad to the warped priorities of the institution of the Catholic Church. We don’t have to kowtow to those priorities, even if we’re Catholic. Reality is outside the window. Let it in.

I am just angry at the level of offence some people seem to take at this memo, like they’ve forgotten the last few months of abuse revelations. This is not a serious issue: this is diplomats making a gaffe. They didn’t firebomb the popemobile, just their careers. I can understand the Foreign Office making an official apology after the memo was leaked, which they did, but beyond that it’s simply shrug your shoulders time as far as I’m concerned.

But no: Malcolm McMahon, bishop of Nottingham, said the memo reflected: “appalling manners… I think it’s bad that we invite someone into this country – a person like the Pope – and then he’s treated this way.”

What way? The Pope was never supposed to read the memo. Plus, I’m sure he’s got a thick skin. He’s still coming to Britain for his visit, anyway.

Jim Murphy, the cabinet minister overseeing the Pope’s visit, and a practising Catholic, said the memo was: “absolutely despicable. It’s vile, it’s insulting, it’s an embarrassment.”

No, it isn’t. It’s a joke. I think Mr Murphy seems to be confusing irony about an institution’s pisspoor response to the systematic abuse of children with the abuse itself. Even if the letter was meant seriously, there’s nothing remotely at the level of “vile” or “despicable” there. Get a grip. Opening a childline for abused victims of the organisation you are supposedly the figurehead of is “vile”? It’s the least he could do! Especially as he’s done fuck all so far except write an insultingly weak letter which did nothing to address the reality of the children raped under the care of his Church. If the Pope had been the head of a company or a government minister, he would have had to resign by now as a matter of course, as a symbol of the organisation’s shame and its willingness to do something in response to a serious situation. No-one would dispute that decision to resign.

Speaking of the Pope’s letter – a far more “disgusting” document than the memo – in that letter the Pope suggested that the victims of the abuse should seek the comfort of Jesus. That’s all the response he bothers to give them, other than “well, we at the Catholic church will try to do better in the future, honest, guv, we feel really bad about the whole thing… ” The abused children didn’t find the comfort of Jesus in the Church where it’s supposed to be mediated, so how are they going to find it elsewhere? Passing the buck much, Pope Benedict? The letter also makes no suggestion of the abuse victims who killed themselves. Presumably as suicide victims they’re not eligible for Jesus’ love. Now, I think it’s worth pointing out that the Pope is quite literally supposed to be Jesus’ representative on Earth. So shouldn’t he be comforting them himself to start with? Or is he just going to sit there?

I wonder.

The Pope could actually step down if he wanted. There’s nothing in the Church’s rules that says he can’t. No Pope has stepped down in 300 years, but that would just make it a more profound gesture. Considering the gravity of the situation, it would be perfectly appropriate. Any gesture would do, really, considering the lack of them so far. To go back to the memo’s suggestions, opening a childline would be a minor act of kindness, not something “vile”. It would be a charitable act. It would make Jesus proud. Maybe the Pope could man the line himself, being Jesus’ representative.

To me, the daftest thing to have come out of all this is the Foreign Office’s response to the staff involved in writing the memo. It sent them on ‘diversity training’. Diversity training. What for?

A Foreign Office spokesperson said:

“The idea is to instill in people the need to treat others with respect, whatever their background.”

This isn’t about background, it’s about ideologies. The memo took the piss out of  what are dangerous and morally bankrupt views held by the Catholic Church. It did not disrespect the Pope’s background. If this is an issue about background, then so is any joke about anyone ever: everyone with an opinion has a background.

Ultimately, my concern is with perspective. If something so serious can be deflected by something so trivial, then something is very wrong with our collective sense of perspective. Hopefully, the real issues will come back to the forefront and not just float away. I don’t know, but I hope.


  1. #1 by Stu on May 10, 2010 - 09:50

    As far as I’m concerned the memo didn’t go far enough.

    How about some diversity training for the Nazi?

    Apology for the Armada? Could we have an apology for the condom genocide in Africa? Or the Inquisition etc, etc, etc?

    He could also divert the vast wealth of the church into stem cell research. How many lives could that potentially save?

    With reference to a previous comment of mine, he could even pay for the LHC. If it did it’s job properly everyone would know the pope is redundant.

    Anyone with any sense of decency would sign the petition at http://petitions.num…ProtestthePope/ and get the dangerous/genocidal/misogynistic/homophobic (etc, etc) individual (I’m trying my best to be restrained here) arrested as soon as he touches down outside the vatican!

  2. #2 by Stu on May 10, 2010 - 09:53

    The above link will available soon. You can google until then. Apologies.

  3. #3 by Ross C on May 12, 2010 - 21:49

    Listened to your podcast on this, where you seem to suggest the Church is mounting some sort of campaign to suggest this is all a catholic-bashing exercise and that this is being milked to give bad publicity to the church.

    I’d like to point out that you are wrong in suggesting this is a recent development. For many years the Catholic Church has been resolute in its message that no matter what anyone does, it is a mortal sin to bash this or any other bishop.

    Keep up the good work guys!

  4. #4 by Stu on May 19, 2010 - 16:09

    Everybody should read the following: http://huff.to/afUHmy

(will not be published)