One probable long-term legacy from the papal visit was not, I have to admit, one I had foreseen. As the campaign against the Pope and the Church has gathered momentum, so has a parallel campaign to defend them, whether forcefully and with no holds barred (as in the Protect the Pope website), or coherently and persuasively on the broadcast media, as with Catholic Voices: all this will, I hope, remain in place after the visit is over.
Catholic Voices is a group of orthodox Catholics whose aim is to explain the faith by exemplifying Newman’s ideal (which you will find quoted in full at the foot of each page of its website) of “a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men [and women] who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it…”
I know nothing of the origins of this outfit: I came across it first on Sunday, when as a result of attempting to defend (on Radio 5 Live – see my previous post) the practice of clerical celibacy in the teeth of a BBC poll of British Catholics which purported to show them considerably more against it than for it, I was asked two hours later if I would go immediately to a BBC TV studio to talk about the same thing on the BBC News channel. As this would have meant missing either Mass or Sunday lunch with my family or both I said no.
An hour later, as I preparing to leave the house to go to Church, I turned on the TV to see if they’d got someone else already, and they had: a young woman from Catholic Voices (whose name I missed), personable, well informed, competent, agreeable in manner, persuasive, who kept her calm admirably in the face of aggressive questioning and who won from the interviewer the closing accolade: “Thank you. That was very interesting.” It was a splendid performance, and probably better than anything I would have been able to pull off.
Their website is also indispensable. It tells me for instance (I wish I had known this on Sunday) that the poll on which I had to comment for BBC 5 Live (like a later poll for ITV, also showing a substantial rejection of papal teachings) had ignored a crucial distinction between practising and non-practising Catholics.
As Catholic Voices says: “If these were the results of a poll of weekly Mass-goers, then … hard-hitting questions could legitimately be asked. But practising Catholics are less than a million – that’s less than a fifth of the total number of self-described Catholics. So the questions fall flat. You would hardly expect lapsed Catholics to have views close to the Church’s teaching. In fact, you would largely expect their views to be identical with those of their non-Catholic neighbours. So this survey really shows nothing at all significant.”
It was ever thus: the little tricks of the broadcast media, and especially the BBC, were only to be expected. I confidently expect all that to be swept away by the visit itself.