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.