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The ordeal awaiting us – watching all and sundry pontificating on all matters Papal and religious

Must we endure the ‘experts’ on Catholicism?

By on Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Pope resigns

The Pope announced his intention on laying down his burden on 11th February, World Day of the Sick, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The see of Peter will fall vacant at 8pm on Thursday 28th February. The Conclave will meet in mid-March, and if the modern trend continues, we may well have a Pope the next day – maybe 17th March will be the day. Thus so far the timetable is shaping up.

Naturally there were good reasons for the Pope to announce his resignation in advance. It gives people time to prepare, and it gives the Pope time to prepare for his departure from the Papal Apartment. It also means that the Cardinals, who must elect his successor, have an added two weeks to think, reflect and pray – or as some people would love to put it, to jockey for position, to intrigue and to campaign. And there lies the disadvantage of these two weeks and a few days: the media coverage, which abhors a vacuum, will do its best to fill this space.

This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for Catholics.

The challenge will be in having to watch the airwaves fill with a whole load of people who are very marginal to Church life, and yet who will be invited to pontificate on all matters Papal and religious, giving it their own particular slant, which they will advance as a mainstream view. I haven’t yet seen Hans Küng grace our screens, but he is just the sort of person I mean: a man whose theology is greatly at variance with what Catholics believe, and yet who will perhaps pop up as a Catholic expert. And yet we all, in a funny way, like Professor Küng, and we have grown used to him over the years. The milk of human kindness may however turn sour at the sight of the lawyer who was interviewed on Newsnight last night, a man who has apparently written a book about the Pope, and who seemed to promise, with his reference to General Pinochet, that the Pope could expect to be harassed in retirement by lawyers like himself wanting his arrest on unspecified charges. Whereas Professor Küng is a theological critic of the Pope, as is his right, this lawyer seems to be a professional Pope-hater, which is rather different. I fear we may see more of that.

But there is an opportunity too. The BBC has to maintain balance. So for ever Pope-critic or Pope-hater, there has to be someone who is Catholic, at least in theory. And here some excellent Catholics who get the call to appear on Newsnight and other programmes will have the opportunity to put the case for the Church – to let the Church appear as it really is, not as the professional Pope-haters would love it to be. We must wish them well in their task – for many of them it will be a descent into the lions’ den – and pray unrelentingly for them.

Incidentally, the Catholic commentators will have one huge advantage. The Papal election to come, even though it really only features a tin chimney pot as its only visible sign, really is the greatest show on earth. I am almost tempted to fly out to Rome and stand in that Square! But more on that another day.

  • teigitur

    Exactly Father. I tend to ignore most of it.

  • scary goat

    For what my opinion is worth….which may not be a lot….I believe that the Holy Catholic Church is the same as it has always been.  Then we had Vatican II (which may not have been a problem in itself) then we had “the spirit of V II” and the abuses of V II.  It was a “blip”, albeit a 50 year blip.  The Church is now in the process of getting back on track….The Church….not an individual Pope.  The Church is not politics where things sway backwards and forwards with the trend of the moment. The Church is doing what needs to be done.  She is stabilizing after a blip.  So I think the media can argue till they are blue in the face about what sort of Pope we will get this time….liberal/conservative etc etc but The Holy Spirit will continue in His work and I am sort of assuming that we will get another Pope in the same vein as Benedict XVI. I hope and I pray.

  • Tshock

    Great article. The Pope haters are being wheeled on to our screens here in Ireland also. What a vile bunch they are. No anti-Papal cliche will be left unturned. God grant me patience.

  • AnneMarieTherese

    Ordeal is right. I’m already cheesed off with the inane and ludicrous coverage.

    Ooh look, here’s more:

  • Zen37563

    I hope the BBC does allow some balanced views to be aired: I too saw the Pope-hater, and the BBC have also wheeled out Catherine Pepinster and Robert Mickens. Where is the balance in that?

  • Jonathan West

    I know nothing about any of the possible candidates to replace Benedict XVI.

    Whoever is chosen, it seems to me that a high priority is to restore the church’s moral authority in the eyes of the laity, and that means taking decisive action on the child sex abuse scandal, making it abundantly clear by word and deed that those who commit such crimes and those who cover up such crimes have no place in the church.

    Perhaps a start could be made by ensuring that the former Abbot of Ealing Dom Laurence Soper is found and handed over to the authorities so that he can face justice for his alleged crimes.

  • Sandy

     I heard the Pepinster on the BBC, frantically improvising meaningless drivel.

  • Mr Grumpy

    No place in the church for sinners? Well, that’s me out, but I’m sure Jonathan will make a splendid Pope.

  • kentgeordie

    You don’t exactly HAVE to watch and read all the junk dished out by the press and telly. Why not give up the media for Lent? BXVI’s timing, as always, is impeccable.

  • Rio

    The Universal Church does not belong to Roman Catholics but to the world it serves. Catholics need to be glad that those ‘outside’ the church still consider themselves to be part of and touched by it. The election of a new Pope is not a narrow sectarian affair.

  • OldMeena

    I can understand Fr Alexander L-S’s feelings when he speaks of “the ordeal” awaiting him and other knowledgeable Catholics as the media get their teeth into this. The same might be said for almost any other matter of which one has some special interest or knowledge. When the media, or others, start kicking it about and pontificating on the subject, you need to either switch off or plug your ears, and grip the edge of your chair, gritting your teeth – it can be very stressful. 

    But the event of a new pope is of interest to everybody because the Church, in several ways, is still a significant influence in the world. A new man at the top will inevitably mean change of some kind, and everyone will hope for the best.

  • Jonathan West

    Going by what you say, anybody would think that you believe child sex abuse doesn’t matter.

  • spudbynight

    I thought Pepinster was the oft mentioned Ma Popehater?

  • Ben’s dad

    Do the Swiss Guard have a plain clothes section?

  • Ghengis

    The emotional insults of bigot and discrimination must be used against the very people that use them the most. When someone is anti-Catholic we must accuse them of being a bigot and of discrimination. Turning the other cheek has gotten us no where; courageous defense of the faith is the only solution.

  • Tom

    Once you start to view the Pope as a Chief Executive retiring from a post because of age and infirmity, the mystique is irreparably damaged.  This act has demeaned and devalued the Papacy and with it the Roman Catholic church.  It is a decision that will haunt the church for decades to come 

  • Cjkeeffe

    We should all avoid the waste of time that is Pop(e) Idol trying to pick teh next pope from a list drawn up by experts, experts who missed Ratzinger of their lkist.

  • ConofChi

    What and give up Fr Alexander for that would be mortification indeed!!

    Question for Fr. A.:  I thought ANYONE could become a Cardinal, Michael Walsh said just clerics..clarification please.

  • polycarped

    Yes, what a load of twaddle. Perhaps Cardinal Cormac could take a leaf out of the Pope’s book and go off and find a cloistered monastery that needs an occupant – at least for the next few months – and stay away from journalists….thank goodness he doesn’t get to vote at the conclave.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Anyone can be a Cardinal. In practice it has only been clerics for decades. Some in the 19th century were in minor oders, so not priests…

  • Parepidemos


    Whilst I certainly agree that those clerics accused of crimes should – like any of us – face trial, to say that they “have no place in the Church” is unacceptably harsh. Christ did, after all, come to call sinners and I join Mr Grumpy in declaring my membership. Perhaps you meant that those found guilty of commiting (or covering up) such heinous crimes as child abuse have no place in the leadership of the Church; if so, then I would concur.

  • Parepidemos


    Defence of the Faith is laudable, but only when done in a kind, non-judgemental manner and the approach you appear to advocate would fail in this regard. I certainly do not believe that insulting those who insult us would bring anyone closer to Christ. Besides, did not Christ Himself tell us to turn the other cheek? I hope you don’t consider His own example of doing just that got Him “nowhere”.

  • Jon

    Nicely said. I was typing a response to Ghengis when yours popped up.

  • Mark

    Your interpretation of scripture is incorrect (Jon and Parapidemos); “the turn the other cheek” was meant as warning against revenge, not as an excuse to passively accept abuse upon oneself. If someone is an anti-Catholic bigot we must called him that as a matter of fact- it is not revenge but reasonable self defense. The Bible says we must “love others as ourselves;” if we don’t defend ourselves we don’t love ourselves, and if we don’t love ourselves we can’t love others.

  • John_Seven

    Is the Catholic Herald is going to remain silent, then, until the result of the Conclave is known?

  • JabbaPapa

    The Conclave will meet in mid-March

    hmmmm … as far as I can tell, there’s no reason why the Cardinals cannot meet in Conclave immediately after the Pope’s abdication …

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    and that means taking decisive action on the child sex abuse scandal

    Your suggestion that no such action has occurred is irrational.

  • Kevin

    “here some excellent Catholics who get the call to appear on Newsnight and other programmes will have the opportunity to put the case for the Church”

    I did hear Christopher Ferrara on BBC Radio recently. He would be an excellent choice.

  • Parasum

    Good points – but, in a way, His teaching did get Him nowhere. Maybe that is one of the lessons we are meant to learn. STM the OP wins on points.

    If insulting others was good enough for Christ and the Apostles, who are we to be kind ? Putting the boot in, & hard, works: “Kindness”, as St. Pius X so memorably said, “is for fools. [Some Catholics] want [the Modernists] to be treated with oil, soap, and caresses but they ought to be beaten with fists! In a duel you don’t
    count or measure the blows, you strike as you can! War is not made with
    charity, it is a struggle a duel. If Our Lord were not terrible he would not have given an example in this too. See how he treated the Philistines, the sowers of error, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the traitors in the temple. He scourged them with whips!”

    A bit too much of Christ the Terminator, but there it is. Catholicism has a long record nurturing the inner Arnie Schwarzenegger longing to emerge from its adherents – so  why bother with bilge about kindness ? The OP’s POV is solidly based on centuries of Catholic ferocity, like that in the quotation. Charity ? Fuggedaboutit. Pius X didn’t “do” charity – why should anyone else ? If saying (what amounts to) “Charity can take a running jump at itself” allows a man to be canonised, no-one else can be blamed for thinking charity is for wimps.

  • Parasum

     I’ve often said that :) Too bad Meena’s not a “possible”. Or Brendan O’Neill; he’s too philo-Catholic to be a “real” atheist: he’s not an immoral monster, such as the CH imagines atheists must be. OK, so they don’t believe in God: neither do a lot of priests. But let’s be ecumenical. Talking of which, the Dalai Lama should be asked to do the job. He’s old enough, & he’s a spiritual leader. His experience of life would be an immense asset. He may not be a Christian; but that seems to be optional anyway.   

  • Parasum

     They must get awfully hot in all that colourful get-up.

  • Rexie

    I’m considering putting £1 in the Missio box for every time I utter – with exasperation guaranteed - the phrases:




    In yesterday’s Daily Mirror, there was one hack who listed the dislikes of Pope Benedict XVI including Harry Potter, Rock Music and other things.

    Laughable, really, the ignorance of these people!

  • Kerriblu

    And so say all of us!

    Irish society and its successive governments have also had a hand in the industrial school and clerical sex abuse and the shameful chapter in its history – the Magdalene Laundries.

    When I watched Dail Eireann in the aftermath of Martin McAleese’s report, there was not one apology - either wholehearted or half-hearted - forthcoming from the very man who had the audacity to vent his ignorant venom at the Roman Catholic Church – Enda Kenny.

    You might ask what have my previous paragraphs have got to do with your post? The answer is that Irish society as a whole has not seen fit to take the plank out of its own eye in these matters. Instead, they go into victim/spoilt brat mode and shout ‘Blame the Catholics! Blame the Vatican! Blame the Pope!’ yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda!

    It has to be said, Tshock, that when it comes to reporting religion – especially the Roman Catholic Church – RTE and others churn out uninspiring, ill-researched, condescending, drippy, cliché-ridden drivel. You’d be ashamed and embarrassed.

    Comparing the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication in the UK’s Daily Telegraph with another Irish newspaper, the DT’s coverage was far better quality.

    Everything you have commented is spot on, especially ‘No anti-Papal cliché will be left unturned.’

    Time for a game of lingo-bingo. Write a list of all the papal clichés on a piece of paper and, when you hear a pundit/professional atheist utter them, tick them off!

    You’ll be guaranteed a full house.

    The only way to deal with the devil is to laugh at him! It gets his mad up!

  • Anton

    Yes, those guys in black suit and ties who flank the Popemobile are security guards from the Swissguard contingent

  • Anton

    Watchout for the ABC (American and Australian) and CNN professional Pope haters. They creep into the news as “Rome correspondents”

  • OldMeena

    Vatican (the dome of St Peter’s, I think) has been struck by lightening.

    PS: Remember York Minster?

  • LocutusOP

    Let us pray that the cardinals use this time for reflection, remembering their duty towards Christ and His Church. Let us pray they will not be influenced by the enemies of God.

    In other words, let us hope they ignore the media and political pressures entirely.

  • Cestius

    Trouble is, trading insults is sinking to their level, if you get down in the mud with them you just end up covered in mud. You can point out the illogicality and irrationality of their arguments and slurs, but always try to be charitable where they are not and the world will see the difference.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, no place in the priesthood certainly, no matter how humble that position might be. Among other things this means that the practice of setting up a “restricted covenant” for an abusing priest, which allows him to remain a priest but does not permit an active ministry has to end. Abusers should have no place at all in the clergy. Immediate laicisation should be the universal practice.

    And no known abuser should be allowed into any position of lay authority within the church, such as a teacher in a Catholic school.

    Whether you want to allow a child abuser to attend mass and receive the sacrament is up to you. As I understand it, for that to happen, there must have been a full confession and absolution of sins. In the case of child abuse, in effect this would also require a fixed determination on the part of the sinner to do all in his power to avoid repeating the sin, which would in turn involve a voluntary renunciation of any position of authority which could be used to groom victims.

    There are former child abusers who realise that to avoid harming any further children they have to keep themselves as far as possible from situations where they might be presented with opportunities. Almost by definition, an abusing priest who wishes to remain a priest is not in that category.

  • scary goat

     Well said Cestius.  It’s not always easy….but we should always try.

  • scary goat

     There is a bit of a snag with that Mr. West.  “Laicisation” basically means that a priest is relieved of his ministry.  He will, however, always be marked as a priest.  And just “chucking them out” means that they are “on the loose”.  I prefer the idea of sending them to a monastery. Take responsibility for them.  Keep them away from children and give them plenty of time to repent.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, in as far as the fact that somebody has been ordained cannot be said never to have been a priest, I agree with you. But for all outward indications of the status and authority to be removed is the least that the church can reasonably be expected to do.

    As for sending them to a monastery and looking after them, that is what Abbot Martin Shipperlee thought would be best with Father David Pearce – to keep him at the monastery attached to Ealing Abbey where he could keep an eye on him and where he could be looked after.

    Pearce went on to abuse again and was ultimately convicted in 2009 of a string of sexual offences against children spanning 36 years, and sentenced to 8 years (later reduced on appeal to 5 years).

    Abbot Martin Shipperlee is certainly complicit in the coverup. In 2006 a former pupil of St Benedicts School took out a civil action against Pearce and Ealing Abbey. he won and was awarded £43,000 in damages. The Abbot gave evidence of Pearce’s behalf at the trial, even though he knew perfectly well that Pearce was an alleged abuser and that Shipperlee had been Pearce’s immediate successor as headmaster of the junior school at St Benedict’s when Pearce had had to “retire” in order to damp down a scandal about his having abused boys at the school.

    The church is simply not competent to handle abusers. The bishops and abbots don’t have the training and expertise, and they have to close a personal and professional relationship[ wit the abusers that they would supervise.

    If abuse is going to be stamped out as far as possible within the church, then both abusers like Pearce and enablers of abuse like Shipperlee must have no place in the hierarchy of the church.

    Shipperlee is still Abbot of Ealing and a governor of St Benedict’s School, which I think is a complete scandal.

  • LS

    Dear All,
    Am I the only Catholic who thinks it is a travesty that the Papal decision is made solely by men.
    How can the most important decision in the Catholic faith have no female influences?
    Catholic congregation numbers are in decline, I no long attend mass because of the churches outdated attitude towards women and their place in the church.  Maybe it is time to rethink things and finally acknowledge that God would want women to be treated equally.
     Yes the Apostles were men but that is reflective of the period of history not of the value that God puts on women.

  • LS121

    Dear All,
    Am I the only Catholic who thinks it is a travesty that the Papal decision is made solely by men.
    How can the most important decision in the Catholic faith have no female influences?
    Catholic congregation numbers are in decline, I no long attend mass because of the churches outdated attitude towards women and their place in the church.  Maybe it is time to rethink things and finally acknowledge that God would want women to be treated equally.
     Yes the Apostles were men but that is reflective of the period of history not of the value that God puts on women.

  • Carmel

    A world in which everyone must shut up, except those who claim they have the exclusive right to  a voice,  is a totalitarian one.   You are privileged to live in a pluralist society, and you reap the benefits of it every day of your life,  along with the disadvantages  —   which are slight, since nobody forces you to read anything you don’t wish to read;  and you can always turn off your set, or turn down the sound.   Evidently, moreover,  you would deny Kung a voice before he has even said anything:  I get the idea  —   don’t listen to him, even if he says nothing:   just listen to ME ME ME.     Well, I’ve been listening to you alongside many other voices,  and while you pretend to be speaking out of love for the Pope,  you are really talking about yourself.  

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Who said everyone must shut up? Not me!

  • John_Seven

    Ah! Do you come under the heading of “all” or “sundry”?

  • Jonathan West

    My reply seems to have disappeared, but if you view the source code for the page, you will be able to see it.

  • Ronk

     I thought Blessed John XXIII brought in a rule that only bishops can be Cardinals. There have been a few since then who were ordinary priests when named, and they had to be consecrated as bishops before becoming cardinals, though a couple of them have received a dispensation from this because of age and infirmity.