“I’d love to know,” wrote Damian Thompson in his Telegraph blog a week or two ago, “if various media organisations have decided which paedophile scandal they’ll unveil to coincide with the papal visit. And will they produce their headlines just before the trip… or as the Pope’s plane lands on the tarmac? I suppose we’ll just have to wait to find out.”
I think we’re all a bit nervous about that: that’s why I’ve been writing blogs to try and get it into people’s heads that though of course clerical abuse of minors is utterly indefensible (and the handling of the problem by far too many bishops equally so), nevertheless this is a problem which is characteristic not of the Catholic Church but of modern society as a whole.
It now emerges that it isn’t just Catholics who are uneasy about the visit. This week, uniquely as far as I can remember, not merely a major British newspaper but the entire Telegraph Media Group has put its weight behind a joint editorial of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. The headline is “The success of the Pope’s visit matters to all of us” and the subheading reads “Telegraph View: Any attempts to humiliate the Pontiff during his visit would damage Britain.”
Anyone who has written regularly for both newspapers, as I have, knows that the Sunday Telegraph isn’t just the Sunday version of the daily, but a rival newspaper. A joint leader in, for instance, Peregrine Worsthorne’s time as editor of the Sunday would have been over his dead body.
So this is a very unusual event. The article addresses the accusation of covering up clerical child abuse: “This charge – levelled obsessively by sections of the media – falls apart under scrutiny… Even so, a double misconception has taken hold. First, that the Pontiff is complicit in crimes of paedophilia; second, that in welcoming him here, the Government, and therefore the taxpayer, is turning a blind eye to wicked abuse.”
The papers fire a warning shot across the bows of the BBC: “Freedom of speech must be respected; but it would be wrong for the licence fee or any other public money to be used to pay for biased and mean-spirited attacks on the Pope… Benedict XVI’s arrival is an opportunity to celebrate a culture that planted our Christian roots; for it was a pope who sent St Augustine to Britain.”
The more anti-papal elements in the media have thus been put on notice: if they try to get the Pope during his visit, they will not go unchallenged by a powerful non-Catholic voice. I find this hugely encouraging. But I have to admit that I will still be relieved when the visit is safely over, especially if we have been allowed to rejoice in the Holy Father’s presence without further harassment. We must all watch, and pray; and be ready for battle if it cannot be avoided.