The Protect the Pope website is still doing a good job, monitoring secular press and online coverage of the Pope’s activities: it is currently drawing attention to an article entitled “What the Pope really said in Spain” by the writer Colleen Carroll Campbell, posted on a US website called stltoday (based in St Louis, Missouri), which it says “is well worth reading in its entirety”.
So I read it, and it is. The whole thing gave one a remarkable sense of déjà vu:
“From the screeching headlines and sour press reports, you would think Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Spain was a colossal flop. What else could you call a visit from an 83-year-old cleric who spent two straight days ranting against gays and abortion amid swarms of angry protesters? And we all know that’s what happened, because the mainstream media told us so.
“Never mind that little in the transcripts or live television coverage of the papal visit supported that storyline. Or that those anti-pope protests trumpeted as the trip’s most newsworthy event were more minuscule than massive. The gay rights activists who staged a ‘kiss-in’ against Benedict in Barcelona numbered about 200. The pilgrims who gathered to cheer him numbered a quarter million.
“Let’s not dwell on numbers. What matters are words, and according to the Associated Press, Benedict devoted his to ‘attacking’ and ‘blasting’ Spain’s lax abortion and marriage laws.”
The difference of perception for us is that here in the UK, where the Pope’s state visit was carried in its totality live on both TV news networks, and where huge numbers of people actually heard what the Holy Father said and how he said it, the press had to acknowledge that the atheist coalition had utterly failed in their attempt to seize the PR advantage. So the Pope’s visit was a triumph, even according to the secular media (with the exception, of course, of the usual anti-Catholic suspects, the Guardian, the Independent and the Tablet).
But the battle goes on for ever. The Pope has declared war on secularism: and the secularists are fighting back, often in the oldest way of all, by the simplest possible lies and distortion. The trick seems to be this: that whenever the Pope is speaking gently in defence of Catholic values, he is to be represented as ranting hysterically against whatever is their polar opposite.
Thus, at the consecration of Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Familia Basilica, the Pope naturally gave a homily on the spiritual meaning of the building and on the sanctity of family life. What he actually said among much else was that: “The generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end.” He spoke of the “sacred and inviolable dignity of human life”, and reiterated what everybody has always known, that the Catholic Church “resists every form of denial of human life” and supports “everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family”. All, you will note, positive statements. He attacked nobody.
So, naturally, according to the Associated Press, he devoted his sermon to attacking and blasting Spain’s abortion laws; he “railed against same-sex marriage and divorce” and “criticised policies allowing for abortions”. Of course, here in the UK, we know that this Pope never blasts or rails. He speaks gently and positively about what he actually believes: he does criticise (though much more rarely than the media often accept) but always courteously and respectfully.
In his Sagrada Familia homily (full text here) there are no criticisms of any kind; there is nothing but a luminous and joyful (and deeply moving) proclamation of the faith, with no negative element at all in it: it is particularly inspiring in its hymn of praise for the spiritual power of Gaudí’s majestic church.
So, according to the Washington Post, in the sermon what did he do? “He railed against same-sex marriage and divorce”, (where did the Post get that word “railed” I wonder?) and “He criticised policies allowing for abortions…” It was, said the paper, “the second time in as many days that Benedict had criticised the policies of Spain’s Socialist government”.
Read the text. Do you find criticism of the Spanish government there? Yet the Washington Post’s report implies that the main point of the homily was that he was “directly attacking Spanish laws that allow gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier access to abortion”. But there was no direct attack on anything or anybody. You might just as easily say that a political speech in favour of abortion and gay marriage is an attack on the Catholic Church; but if a Catholic said any such thing, he would rightly be called paranoid.
There is one consolation in all this, and it is a very real one. The simple fact that the secularist press is telling these lies so blatantly and so hysterically is a real sign that the Pope is getting somewhere in his crusade to resist and in the end reverse the onward momentum of aggressive secularism in western societies. If he were not, he would simply be ignored. That isn’t happening. In the end, he –we – will prevail. A luta continua.