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On Benedict XVI, the BBC is already writing the first draft of history

The Catholic liberal elite dominate the corporation

By on Monday, 18 February 2013

Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI

When I heard that Radio 4 was replacing the Moral Maze with a special programme about the Pope on Saturday night, I thought “That should be interesting.” Then I discovered that the programme would be chaired by Ed Stourton. Well, it’s Lent and charity matters so I will only say that he summoned up a predictable group of his chums and their remarks were what one would expect: largely predictable. Hans Küng, that most aged of aging liberals, spoke in his heavy German accent to ask what had happened to the youthful (and fellow liberal) Ratzinger since the heady days of the early 1960s; he decided that he must have suffered a “trauma.” John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, echoed Küng: the young Ratzinger, appalled by the student riots of 1968, had retreated into conservatism; otherwise, how could the man who had written such a hopeful book about Vatican II have morphed into the watchdog of orthodoxy?

Much was made of the Pope’s time as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith. According to Wilkins he had had a “close bond” with John Paul II. He made it sound sinister: the meeting of minds of two deeply conservative men, both determined to turn the clock back, one a Polish Pope and the other the “Panzer-Kardinal” with a fearsome reputation. Fr Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominicans, was wheeled on; he said he had been called to the CDF to be interviewed by Cardinal Ratzinge, making it sound as if he had had a brush with the Inquisition.

Marco Politi, a Vaticanologist, who has trained his beady, critical eye on the Vatican in the same way that other people gaze at the stars, thought this was the “paradox”: personally Benedict XVI could be gentle and charming – but when it came to defending principles he could be “very tough.” Gentle and tough: I always think of Christ as being gentle (with sinners) and tough (with the other lot); perhaps a little bit of his divine master has rubbed off on Ratzinger?
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, onetime rector of the English College in Rome, gave as his opinion that Ratzinger “got worried” by the new theology. He was surprised when the Cardinal was elected Pope; he had thought him “too old.” Professor Tina Beattie of Roehampton University felt the Cardinal saw the new theology as “a threat.” Michael Walsh, papal historian, referred to the Vatican Bank scandal and to “Vatileaks”; he felt the Pope had handled these badly. Then Benedict’s gaffes were mentioned: the Regensburg Lecture; SSPX Bishop Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust. Stourton opined that the child abuse scandal had “cast a long shadow over his pontificate.”

Just as I began to wonder if we would hear anything that has not been aired many times in the media I discerned the invisible but unmistakeable presence of the Holy Spirit in this discussion: the speakers turned to the Papal visit of 2010 and despite their previous caveats, criticisms and cautionary tales, they were clearly moved by its impact. Lord Sacks, outgoing Chief Rabbi, who had been very worried by the Bishop Williamson affair, felt “the sight of this deeply humble man dispersed the clouds” and that meeting him was like “an epiphany.” Tina Beattie thought Benedict hadn’t “put a foot wrong in his visit to Britain”; and Mark Dowd, former monk and now a TV producer, had knelt on the grass in Hyde Park in tears when singing the Tantum Ergo. I was waving and cheering in the Mall that same afternoon and know just how he felt.

Next time Radio 4 decides to put together a programme about Pope Benedict I would like to offer them a few suggestions so that listeners are not served up the same tired old menu. Instead of Tim Radcliffe, why not invite fellow Dominican, Aidan Nichols, who is a heavyweight theologian and who might well have insights to offer? Instead of Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, why not Bishop Egan of Portsmouth or Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury who have been appointed during this pontificate? Instead of Professor Beattie, why not Josephine Robinson, who has run the Association of (contented-at-not-being-ordained) Catholic Women for many years? Instead of Michael Walsh, why not Dr Joseph Shaw of the LMS, to talk about Benedict’s “reform of the reform” of the liturgy?

Instead of John Wilkins, why not Mgr Keith Newton, who is in charge of the Anglican Ordinariate? Amazingly, these imaginative, original and pastoral aspects of Benedict’s pontificate were never mentioned during Saturday night’s discussion. Instead of Mark Dowd, why not Fr Tim Finigan, whose widely read blog, “The Hermeneutic of Continuity”, was actually inspired by the election of this Pope? Instead of Marco Politi, why not Fr Ian Ker or an Oratorian priest, to talk about the influence of Newman on the Pope? And finally, instead of Ed Stourton, why not our own William Oddie to be the chairman -just in case the discussion needs to be livened up and the ghosts of elderly liberals put firmly back in their sarcophagi?

Just a few thoughts.

  • JFJ

    Francis, Thank you for this.  Too right!  On this day when the BBC ‘journalists’ are on strike (thank God for little favours), I do wish they would make you director of programming and perhaps you could produce the right programme with the stellar line up you propose.  Of course, Fr. Kerr will probably not ever make it on to speak about the Holy Father since he had the audacity to cut Peter Tatchell off at the knees in various articles, following Tatchell being given completely free reign by the BBC (not to mention the Mail and the Independent), sans critical analysis to accuse the Blessed John Henry Newman of being homosexual.  Fr. Kerr would never be allowed on, he is too intelligent, too aware of the machinations of the BBC and the entrenched liberal bias and is too much of a force to be reckoned with for that – he would simply not put up with their nonsense.  But that is the way it is, I looked back at your article on this affair from 2010 and perhaps it should feature.  But, back to the subject, I was surprised not to see Lavinia Byrne’s name among the BBC’s great and good for this programme.  They have all but beatified her, or so it seems.

  • andrew young

    I think you have answered your own question!

  • Markmangham

    As a Benedictine educated Roman Catholic I thought Edward stourton presented a very informative balanced and excellent programme. The tone of your article which descends into the sort of polarised tribalism from the first sentence i had imagined to be the acme of US secular politics. clearly not so. as a catholic i am continually surprised at the defensiveness of your comments – each time you tweet you miss a powerful opportunity to persuade me by descending often immediately into focusing on the partisan rather than areas where you might persuade me!

  • scary goat

    ” how could the man who had written such a hopeful book about Vatican II have morphed into the watchdog of orthodoxy?”

    I always worry about people who DON’T morph.  Morphing is what we are supposed to do, surely?  It’s called learning from experience, developing and maturing.  Also a certain amount of humility is necessary for morphing.  It’s the ones who keep banging their head against the same old wall, long after the evidence shows their theories don’t work in practice, that end up looking like “the oldest swinger in town”.  Pope Benedict has aged gracefully, in more ways than one. God bless him.

  • Peter

    The abdication of the Pope is a symptom of the seismic shift that is occurring in the world.

    For the first time in history, science is demonstrating that historical Catholic doctrine has been right all along.  The existence of God, for centuries a matter of faith, has now become a matter of reason.

    The realisation that the Church holds the deposit of truth has raised the stakes enormously.

    Suddenly the Church is the focus of renewed attack from within and without, an attack so frenzied and vicious that it has never ever been preceded in history.

    The old ways of letting an old Pontiff become ineffectual and gradually fade away have gone forever.

    The Church must be far more alert now than at any time in history.  As holder of the deposit of truth, she cannot allow herself to be rudderless for too long.  A strong hand needs to be present at all times.

    Canon Law is prophetic.  It allows for abdication.   Now is the time when an ailing Pope should step down to let a stronger Pontiff take over.

    The stakes are far higher now than at any time in history.

  • AlanP

    I found the programme reasonably well-balanced, but then I’ve never been convinced by this claim that the BBC is dominated by some mysterious “liberal elite” (nor have I by the claim by some on the left that it has an inherent bias towards capitalism).  My experience over 50+ years of BBC-listening and watching is that it is overwhelmingly well-balanced, both politically and religiously (certainly more so than Channel 4 for example).  Regarding JFJ’s comment below, they DID actually have Lavinia Byrne on The Big Question (BBC1 on Sunday) discussing the Pope’s legacy, though she was counterbalanced by a couple of “traditionalists”.

  • JFJ

     Thank you for this AlanP.  I didn’t see The Big Question but glad it was counterbalanced.  I suppose I am convinced about the BBC, but totally agree with you about Ch. 4. 

  • Markpetergray

    So, rather than the broadcast programme, the author would have liked an equally miopic programme, just from her own point of view? Hardly the kind of position that is going to bring the church, both moderate and reactionary, liberal and conservative views, together, as much surely be the task of the next pontificate.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    Thanks to the strike at the BBC, I heard the programme twice, and thought it was much as would be expected but not quite as bad as it  might have been. Most of the “Liberal Catholic” speakers stayed a step or two back from direct criticism of condemnation of Benedict: the line seemed to be he was very brainy and quite well intentioned and sincerely anti-Nazi (for example), but a bit unworldly and lacking in administrative abilities. Then the BBC came in with a few examples of what it thought were banana-skins. The interviewees did all seem to have been picked from the same pack of cards.

    As a Catholic, I object to these people being passed off to listeners as representative of expert Catholic opinion. They are not.

    You do wonder how many centuries of criticism it will take before the BBC starts to select speakers who represent a viewpoint other than that of its own staff.

  • James Moriarty

     Yes, yes, yes, we get the picture. You’re a great fan of Kueng, Beattie, and the other heretics who have brought disgrace on the Catholic church in recent years. Now why don’t you actually address the point made in the original article? The coverage was grossly unbalanced, and the BBC didn’t even realise it was.

  • James Moriarty

     It’s not the contrast between moderate/reactionary or liberal/conservative. It’s the contrast between heretical/orthodox and liberal/Catholic.

  • Alban

    Got to agree with you Alan. I thought it was a well balanced presentation and it cannot be expected that a seasoned journalist and presenter would ignore the warts.

  • South Saxon

    The BBC either has its own agenda or it knows little of Catholicism. That is why it constantly misrepresents The Tablet as Catholic to listeners. 

  • Cestius

    I suppose they had to wheel out the usual liberal suspects including Hans Kung in order to achieve “balance” and to try to pretend there’s some controversy when really there isn’t.  The new pope will be almost certainly as conservative and orthodox as Benedict, the overwhelming majority of the church were comfortable with his leadership and had a great deal of affection for him, and God willing the next pope will be just as popular.  The only problem for the the politically correct liberal BBC that’s not a particularly interesting story.

  • rjt1

    It would only be well balanced if they had interviewed several people who were able to defend the Pope theologically to balance those who clearly dissent.

  • TheBlueWarrior

    My experience is that people find the BBC well-balanced when their worldview aligns with that of the BBC’s.

    Evidence of BBC bias in religious reporting:  Had the CoE House of Laity voted in favour of women bishops by six votes, they would have been hailed as heroes in an historic moment.  But because the majority vote went six votes in favour of maintaining the status quo, the House of Laity was pilloried by the BBC (and the rest of the media for that matter).  I challenge you to find one recorded BBC news story that covered this topic from the perspective of majority voters without resorting to language like “embarrassing failure”, “crisis in the church”, and generally portraying those not in favour of woman bishops as small minded and out-of-touch with reality.

  • W Oddie

    As soon as Im heard the name Edward Stourton, I switched off.  Sounds like I did the right thing.

  • Timt-robertson

    The suggestions in your last two paragraphs show how deplorably biased the BBC is against true and Real Catholicism. Those suggestions could only become reality if there was a change of heart in the BBC. But we know from years of their slanted reports how their hearts are set against portraying a fair and unbiased view of Catholicism, and that their only ‘Gospel’ is to try and turn everyone else away from the true vision of the Church that has been presented so brilliantly and movingly by Benedict XVI.  This is precisely the kind of mischief making for which the Holy Father has just the other day sharply criticised the media for its slanted reporting of Vatican II. The Holy Father’s marvellous teaching will inspire generations to come whereas the BBC’s  pathetic misrepresentations will soon be forgotten.

  • teigitur

    I could not agree more.

  • AlanP

    Most Anglicans were extremely embarrassed by the Synod vote, so the BBC was simply reflecting most Anglican opinion.  In that particular example, the fault lies in the bizarre voting system, not in the BBC’s reporting of it.  (As you point out, the rest of the media, not just the BBC, reported that decision in a similar way.)
    I repeat what I commented earlier about BBC1′s “Big Question” on Sunday: it included prominently two “traditionalist” Catholics, one a lady from Catholic Voices, the other an articulate young(ish) male convert.  A very well-balanced programme actually.

  • AlanP

    The BBC’s coverage of the Pope’s visit in 2010 was excellent.  Do you not agree?

  • Mark

     The BBC is a disgrace of Marxist propaganda and should be denounced and shunned. They have contributed to the dictatorship of Political Correctness more than any other news organization. Even editors in this newspaper have censured commentaries for the sake of PC dominance. Its time we revolted against such nonsense as the essence of human dignity is freedom.

  • teigitur

    You are joking!? I have complained formally more than once. Of course they care not a jot as long as you keep paying them!!

  • South Saxon

    Agreed. It is always the “usual suspects”: Tina Beattie, Timothy Radclife, Catherine Pepinster, Lavinia Byrne, Robert Mickens, John Wilkins, Cormac Murphy O’Connor…

  • South Saxon

    Not forgetting Kieran Conry

  • AlanP

    You are paranoid about this.  “Marxist propaganda”?  Really?  When was there last a programme advocating Marxism?
    I am perfectly capable of detecting bias in any news organisation, regardless of whether I personally agree with the bias or not, and the BBC has, over many years, been just about the most balanced organ of comment, on both political and religious matters.  There are occasional lapses (for example in about 1972 they seemed to have an obsession with world population growth, and somebody called Dr. Paul Ehrlich was always being wheeled out), but overall they have been remakably balanced, and in fact highly FAVOURABLE to the Pope during his 2010 visit. 
    What would you consider to be a “balanced” organ of comment?  The Daily Express, for God’s sake?

  • MsAneem

    You must admit it makes a change from Charles Moore, Christina Odone, John O’Sullivan, Melissa Kite and several other writers in the Right-Wing press and journals (including the two that Fr L-S likes).

  • MsAneem


  • Cestius

    Yes, they did do a good job on that, although I got the distinct impression that their reporters had had to hastily change their prewritten stories about the visit (doubtless something about a cool reception with a nervous pope facing lots of heckling protesters) when it became obvious even to them that the pope was being warmly welcomed and the few protesters were drowned out and hardly to be seen amid the cheering crowds and all the yellow and white flags.

  • MsAneem

    And to cap it all the unspeakable BBC asked along the only English Cardinal…
    …just a smidgen too old to actually vote in the election of a new pope (did Benedict wait until after his birthday?).

  • MsAneem

    “science is demonstrating that historical Catholic doctrine has been right all along.”

    Been in the coffee-table books again Peter?

  • MsAneem

    “.. the House of Laity was pilloried by the BBC and the rest of the media for that matter”

    And the rest of the C of E too (“for that matter” – whatever that means).

  • MsAneem

    “Its time we revolted against such nonsense…. etc etc”

    Well you seem to be leading the way.

  • Peter

    Do you work for the BBC?

  • Nesbyth

    Lavinia Byrne was on the BBC Big Questions yesterday, which was concerned with “Should the Catholic Church be reformed?” or a question to that effect.
     It was a Bear Pit of a programme and the one charming priest (Father Paul Keane) they had on was not allowed to finish his remarks. Permanent interruptions by some very belligerent anti-Catholics. Byrne was well-behaved though and just spouted what you would expect her to. Moaning about women not being on a par with men in the Church. But she seemed not in good health I thought. Sort of trembly. 

  • Nesbyth

    I so agree with this post from Peter. He has it right.

  • MsAneem

    An excellent way to acquire a balanced and informed opinion about a controversial matter.   

  • MsAneem

    I have never worked for the BBC.

  • teigitur

    Absolutely spot on.

  • majorcalamity

    We agree. I also worry when people don’t develop their ideas as they mature. Generally though they go forward rather than backward. I find it quite amusing that you identify banging your head against the same old wall as a problem. Don’t you think that is precisely what the traditional wing of the Catholic Church does all the time?

  • majorcalamity

    Don’t you think the traditional wing of the Church gets quite enough exposure and having a few more progressive voices is a very good thing? 

    Most non Catholics would find what they have to say much more reasonable and less likely to offend. As I would suggest that non Catholics would comprise most of the viewing audience that seems important. Maybe the trads just don’t understand how silly they seem to the vast majority.  

  • daclamat

    For those  for who understand French, le Monde and Golias are both looking at.  Benedict  diit exactly what he was chosen for: block any progress.  He will be remembered, paradoxically,for his one historical step: deciding to stop. Having packed the college of cardinals with like minded reactionaries, we can hope for more of the same. Ad multos annos…..

  • daclamat

    A well balanced programme I thought

  • MsAneem

    “We”. Are there two aristocrats on this website?

    But I agree. Perhaps the Church will morph – but I think a split is more likely.

  • MsAneem

    I see: they said nice things about Benedict and did a good job – BUT they REALLY wanted to say bad things and be nasty about him.

    That is known as paranoia.

  • David Kennedy

    But that’s what they went back to doing as soon as his back was turned, wasn’t it? The shows described above confirm that.

    In short, when Benedict was actually present, they couldn’t get away with their lies.

  • scary goat

     I meant it in the sense of “there’s no fool like an old fool”.  It’s normal for youngsters to have an element of rebellion in them, to think they can change the world for the better, youthful optimism.  But as time goes by we should discern which moves we made were correct and which were flops, and which might have been well intentioned theories but had snags we didn’t anticipate.  Going forwards isn’t necessarily good….not if we’re on the wrong path.  Sometimes we need to have the guts and gumption to stop and take stock and move backwards if that is better.  It is usually arrogance which compels people to keep moving forward even if it is destructive to do so.

  • David Kennedy

    There isn’t going to be any split. The liberal wing are completely parasitic on the institutional Church. If they did separate, they’d be out of business within a decade. 

  • MsAneem

    They were reporting on the visit – during the visit – and not commenting on some other issue concerning the Pope.
    I didn’t see anything of it myself. Not for any anti-religious reasons – I just don’t have any appetite for news of large crowds assembling to cheer and support people and to listen to their speeches – whatever the context.

  • MsAneem

    The Pope seeks immunity: The end of the Vatican could be near…

    Is this why he resigned?

    You will see that there is one (presently unnamed) European nation supporting this move.

    See: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-pope-seeks-immunity-the-end-of-the-vatican-could-be-near

    Is this a scam? Or is it real?

    “The historically unprecedented resignation of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope this week was compelled by an upcoming action by a European government to issue an arrest warrant against Ratzinger and a public lien against Vatican property and assets by Easter.

    The ITCCS Central Office in Brussels is compelled by Pope Benedict’s sudden abdication to disclose the following details:

    1. On Friday, February 1, 2013, on the basis of evidence supplied by our affiliated Common Law Court of Justice (itccs.org), our Office concluded an agreement with representatives of a European nation and its courts to secure an arrest warrant against Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict, for crimes against humanity and ordering a criminal conspiracy.

    2. This arrest warrant was to be delivered to the office of the “Holy See” in Rome on Friday, February 15, 2013. It allowed the nation in question to detain Ratzinger as a suspect in a crime if he entered its sovereign territory.

    3. A diplomatic note was issued by the said nation’s government to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on Monday, February 4, 2013, informing Bertone of the impending arrest warrant and inviting his office to comply. No reply to this note was received from Cardinal Bertone or his office; but six days later, Pope Benedict resigned.

    See: http://itccs.org/2013/02/13/pope-benedict-resigned-to-avoid-arrest-seizure-of-church-wealth-by-easter/

    Well, is this a scam, or not?