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The papal visit was a PR success: but no thanks to some anti-papal English Catholics

Are we now to expect a quiet undermining of what the Pope achieved?

By on Monday, 27 September 2010

The papal visit was a PR success: but no thanks to some anti-papal English Catholics

There are various perspectives from which we can view the papal visit: and one of them is as a PR exercise. That’s not to say, of course, that that is what the visit was actually about:but a failure in PR terms would have been a definite set-back for the Church. The ultimate PR pro, Max Clifford, has opined that the Pope “got better coverage in the British media than I expected. In the build-up to the visit there was far more criticism than praise and then after he arrived far more praise than criticism. The pluses far outweighed the minuses. From a PR perspective there is a huge amount that needs to be done, but the visit was a success – far more a success than I thought it might have been.”
We starry-eyed papalists might at this juncture be a little more enthusiastic than that about the fact that the whole thing was “more of a success than… it might have been”, but Clifford’s is on the whole a positive assessment from a wholly disengaged non-Catholic professional. 
The Tablet online assessment was much less positive than Max Clifford’s: if you didn’t know, you might have thought it had been composed by a member of Protest the Pope—an organisation which was basically reduced to complete insignificance by the scale of the Pope’s success everywhere but in the immediate environs of their demonstration last Saturday, but which continued to say what a success their whole campaign had been. 

Thus, the Tablet online: “Unfolding sex abuse scandals, the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop, and the Pope’s traditionalist leanings that have led him to relax restrictions on Tridentine liturgy while continuing to limit Catholic clergy to unmarried men had cost the Pope a degree of support he might have enjoyed from inside and outside the Church. Secularists and gay rights activists joined forces to create a “Protest the Pope” group and 10,000 people took to the streets of central London when the Pope was in town”. Nothing about the Pope’s success: incredible.
The Tablet print edition did better, opining that at the Hyde Park rally (which took place at the same time as the Protest the Pope demo by which their online writer was so impressed, and which attracted an attendance over ten times  less numerous). “British Catholicism” reads the Tablet leader “set out its stall, saying simply, ‘Here we are, this is what we do.’ It displayed its diversity, its contributions to the common good through its care for disabled and elderly people and for the education and welfare for young people, its inclusive concern for immigrants, strangers and refugees, its commitment to international development and to protecting the environment. This is precisely what the Pope, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, once called a “creative minority”. More enthusiasm there for “British Catholicism” (whatever that is) than for the Pope, but it was at least an attempt to be positive.
The Tablet online assessment, though, represents the voice of a certain kind of English Catholic, who like Grima Wormtongue in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings aims to sap courage and self-confidence by depression and defeatism, and who as we see is already finding once more its insidious voice. That voice has always been fundamentally anti-Wojtyła and anti-Ratzinger; and it surely will find it a lot more difficult now to be heard. But it is not yet a thing entirely of the past: be on your guard.

  • Tiggy

    I dont think anyone is fooled into thinking that “The Tablet” is Catholic anymore. Just the people whom it suits.

  • m banks-wilkinson

    Damming with faint praise

  • W Oddie

    I couldn't possibly comment

  • AndyFrankophile

    Why must a person be enthusiastic about a particular pope to be a catholic? For one catholic journalist to suggest that another catholic journalist is actually aiming to sap courage and self-confidence by depression and defeatism does not itself sound either catholic or christian. A type of triumphalism that tries to use the success of a papal visit to silence the voice, and attack the catholicity, of those who still believe there should be changes in the church, is rather a depressing feature of another type of British Catholic well illustrated by one or two of the comments your blog has received. This avid Tablet reader like the Tablet welcomes the success of the papal visit.

  • MaltesePapist

    The loyalty of Catholics in Britain to the Pope and the evident joy shown at his presence was so uplifting and encouraging for Catholics all round the world . It was fascinating to watch Pope Benedict being driven past the cheering crowds on TV and reading about the success of the Papal visit in the UK. Wonderful indeed – and so much better and liberating for the spirit than reading or hearing about depressing news day in day out.

    When the Pope visited Malta in April this year at the height, or rather, nadir, of the abuse crisis, he was given a rousing welcome by us all in order to show our solidarity and support for him . I remember hearing one Maltese woman accompanying a group of English people chuckling at the happy and hearty cheers of the people lining Republic Street in Valletta and saying ` Well, he certainly won`t be receiving this type of welcome in the UK . ` How wrong she proved to be ! How far from the dour and cold reception we were half – expecting to see – and how much more heart- warming and encouraging for us all world-wide !

  • Therese

    The Pope is the Vicar of the Church that Jesus, Himself, established. Those who feel it is their dutly/right to criticize him, privately or publicly have yet to learn the lesson of obedience that Jesus demonstrated so perfectly. Their arrogance prevents them from truly comprehending “truth in charity”. Fellow Catholics: it is not our place to be publicly finding fault with our priests and bishops. It is our duty to pray for them. If we have a problem, we are to address in a way that does not bring scandal – totally possible for someone who is sincere in their own humility.

  • FrHeythrop

    “Fellow Catholics: it is not our place to be publicly finding fault with our priests and bishops. It is our duty to pray for them. If we have a problem, we are to address in a way that does not bring scandal – totally possible for someone who is sincere in their own humility”……Tell that to the clerical abuse victims.

  • John

    We've tried. Too many victims use their troubles as “just cause” for rejecting all virtue within the Church. In particular, SNAP seems to revel in condemning bishops who didn't practically behead wayward priests.
    I've long been appalled by the willful lack of charity that many victims have demonstrated. I suppose it's a blessing of a sort that many don't bother claiming to be Catholic or Christian. Have grave a scandal it is for those who do.

  • jng

    It is not for me or anyone to dismiss the pain of victims of clerical abuse. There does, however, seem to be an element of malicious naivety in the expectation that the Church would totally escape this more extreme form of the pleasure pain society in which we live. However, the incidence of clerical abuse amongst the celebate Catholic clergy in England and Wales is extremely low, far lower than in many, if not all, other sections of the community. This does not help the victims but it is a fact which makes the constant coverage this, largely now historical, scandal gets on British TV indicative of more than news interest.

  • Damian Thompson

    Great piece, William. I didn't read that vile piece by the Tablet online. Ma Pepinster had the nerve to turn up at Westminster Cathedral. How the woman sleeps at night I do not know.

  • lokionline

    “That voice has always been fundamentally anti-Wojtyła and anti-Ratzinger; and it surely will find it a lot more difficult now to be heard. But it is not yet a thing entirely of the past: be on your guard.”

    Hmmm… does that sound just a tad paranoid to you?

  • Millie

    You clearly have no clue of the pain that the victims of sexual abuse suffer, many of them had the abuse dealt to them when they were small, frightened children and threatened in to silence. Will attitudes like this I don't blame them “for rejecting all virtue within the Church”. There is no virtue or compassion in this comment.

  • Anthony Symondson SJ

    I don't think Dr Oddie is being paranoid in making this statement. He is pointing out a depressing truth. These undermining views are held by an elderly generation and they still have a margin of influence. I am certain that the success of the Holy Father's visit was a disappointment to them and the warm welcome he received from people of all generations, but especially the young, positively galling. However, they have reached the point when largely they are talking to themselves.

  • EditorCT


    An interesting point of view. If true, it means that St Thomas Aquinas (who tells us that we sometimes have a DUTY to criticize prelates, even in public) and St (Cardinal) Robert Bellarmine who wrote about the extent and limits of a Pope's authority, pointing out that even popes can be heretics, not to mention the many other saints, including St Catherine of Siena who spoke the plain truth to popes about their duty to “rid the Church of the poison” caused by bad priests, all of these were arrogant souls. Really?

    Let's not lose sight of the fact that, while I agree entirely with William Oddie about the odious Tablet and their wholly negative take on the Pope's visit, this Pope's “traditional leanings” are not really any such thing.

    Pope Benedict is anxious to foster various “wings” in the Church, to make us much like the Anglicans. He wants to be all things to all splinter groups – schismatics even. Remember, the Anglicans who are being encouraged, we're led to believe – to enter the Church en masse, are not being asked to repudiate their prior errors, these being true schismatics. If, in fact, this takes place, it will be a monumental scandal.

    The admission by a commentator below that he is an “avid Tablet reader” is another indicator why we need a strong Pope (the next Pope) to crush the errors and heresies now rampant in the Church. The very idea that one can support, let alone be an avid reader of, such an anti-Catholic rag as The Tablet, is beyond belief, pun fully intended, yet that is the way things have been under the lax post-Vatican II popes – and yes, Pope Benedict is indeed lax when compared with the pre-Vatican II popes. That is to say, when compared with those popes who ruled the Church dutifully, he leaves, sorry to say, very much to be desired. Can you imagine Pope Saint Pius X welcoming Protestants into the Church without ascertaining that they fully hold to all that the Church teaches, and repudiates past errors? Can you imagine that great Pope saint permitting the bishops to ignore their duty in Canon Law to supervise everything published and sold in their dioceses, in order to protect the faithful from dangerous rubbish like The Tablet? No way!

    So, great article, William, but don't make the mistake of thinking this papacy is as good as it gets. Just let's wait for the next conclave when right order will be restored in the Church.

    Oh and if you're wondering how I know, why not read Father Paul Kramer's excellent, recently updated book The Devil's Final Battle. Indeed, it's so recently updated that I'm not sure it's on sale yet, but keep an eye on the following website for news of publication – a must-read

  • EditorCT

    And tell that, too, to parents of children who have not been taught the Catholic Faith in its purity and entirety but have been exposed to bad priests and teachers, with bishops sitting idly by doing nothing to protect the faith of these innocent children. Much MUCH more serious than any other kind of abuse. Nobody ever went to Hell for being a victim of physical or sexual abuse. Ignorance of the truths revealed by God leads many souls astray. Let's get our priorities right.

  • EditorCT

    Abuse by Catholic priests – lamentable thought it be and totally scandalous – is a fraction of the abuse committed by youth workers, teachers and other groups.

    You are right, jng, to highlight this fact.

  • EditorCT

    Well said. I'm also curious about those who make big bucks out of their abuse. Colm whatsisname, the Irishman, who is wheeled into television studios at every possible opportunity, always so relaxed he's almost asleep half the time, has, I'm reliably informed, got himself a very nice bank balance as a result of his writings on the subject.

  • EditorCT

    Maybe some of us think it's about time we got realistic about this subject, Millie.

    After all, without exception, every time there's a Muslim terrorist attack, the media jump through hoops to tell us that Islam is a peaceful religion and that these suicide bombers are the exception. Anyone who even uses the term “Muslim terrorist” is labelled guilty of Islamaphobia.

    Yet, we're supposed to accept the propaganda that every Catholic priest, just about, is a potential danger to children – no questions asked, no study invoked as evidence.

    Yet, more Protestant clergy have been found guilty of child abuse than Catholic priests; and doctors, youth workers and teachers are well ahead of Catholic clergy in this vice. Indeed, Catholic clergy are at the very bottom of the list of child abusers, according to a published study in the USA – published, by the way, not by a Catholic but by a Jew.

    I've posted a copy of a leaflet containing this information and more, on our website, so visit our Priesthood page at to read the whole thing.

  • EditorCT

    Please don't forget, though, that one key reason why the Pope's visit was such a “success”, is that he did what the UK bishops told him – which was to NOT rock any boats. Diplomacy, not Truth, was the order of the day.

    I wanted to hear strong words coming from the Pope to correct, not the secularists and atheists, they are not his remit, but the bishops, clergy, cohabiting laity, and those who think it is acceptable to live in a homosexually active partnership and still receive Holy Communion.

    Signed: Sister Walter Mitty…

  • AmatorVeritatis

    I fully agree. The Tablet is a disgrace and I've long thought it should remove the tag 'Catholic' from its subtitle. They have set up their own blog but do not respond to any criticisms or comments. I have the impresson that the journalists and other contributors are happy talking among themselves complaining about 'Rome', about the way 'gays' are not welcomed, about how the Church does not give in to feminism, etc. It may be that most of the journalists have a very tenuous relationship with the real Church, the Church that faithfully worships every Sunday, whose parents valiantly bring their reluctant children to Mass, which tries to live out the very serious demands of the Gospel as interpreted by two thousand years of Tradition. The Tablet thinks the 'real' Church is the Church of those who rarely go to Mass, who 'have problems' with parts of Church teaching (this is code word for its sexual morality), but who are committed to various 'good causes'.

  • Ratbag

    I am right with you on this, EditorCT, in everything you have said. I'm sick to the back teeth of the puerile anti-Catholic non-arguments when it comes to our faith. We can jump through as many hoops as a circus dog on guarana to tell people to see the wood for the trees as far as our faith is concerned – yet certain sections of society will obstinately insist that we are all the same. We need to ask Our Lord for the grace to keep plugging away, even when it appears like we are flogging a dead horse. Our priests deserve our love, support and prayers at all times. Gently does it, like our beautiful Holy Father!