Reporting the Pope

I’m no fan of the Pope but I do think he should be given a fair crack of the whip, so to speak. At least we might expect him to be described accurately and with a genuine attempt at objectivity by our more intelligent news organisations. Alex Thompson on Channel 4 News last night, over pictures of the Pope saying mass and following some vox pops of evidently thrilled worshippers:

Millions see him as the embodiment of evil; millions also, though, see him as infallible, the embodiment of God.

The sort of sentence I can’t imagine a reporter getting away with when reporting on much else.

Making the ‘millions’ who apparently see him as ‘the embodiment of evil’ at the very least commensurate with those ‘millions’ who see him as ‘infallible’ seems to lack proportion, to put it kindly (there are over a billion Catholics in the world). It’s also a balance along an unusual scale: an inclusive compromise might conclude that he’s infallibly evil.

And, then, what’s this about his being ‘the embodiment of God’? I’d always thought that was Jesus’s prerogative, the Pope’s role being merely representative. He’s something of a Roman emperor in many ways, but not that one. Not exactly an informed summary of the beliefs of those one billion-plus Catholics.

It can’t be easy to get so much careless prejudice into a single sentence of what I’m sure was intended as a balanced report. But when The Guardian – a paper that used to know a bit about religion being founded by Manchester non-conformists – has a Religious Affairs Correspondent who can tweet her ignorance of how to describe the taking of Communion, what can we expect? (If you look at her Twitter Bio she seems pretty incredulous herself that she’s doing the job: “No, really”. Or, perhaps, she’s amazed the job exists at all).

There’s plenty of this sort of slapdash, implicitly disdainful stuff about. However, I don’t think Britain has become more anti-Catholic as some of the Pope’s defenders allege: anti-Catholic bigotry was far more prevalent and pointed fifty or a hundred years ago. What does seem true, though, is that the reporting of religion is more intellectually lazy than it’s ever been. Which is perverse, in its way, as religion is getting more important in the world, not less.

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16 thoughts on “Reporting the Pope

    September 17, 2010 at 16:30

    Good for you Gaw, C4 news for the past two nights has been at it’s twitching psychotic rudest, they seem to either hate religion, the pope and maybe all of us. Bennie has become a figure who must be criticised, with what appears to be mainly ignorance and lies.
    While the church seems to have a recruitment crisis and has some major problems to sort out it represents for many people the bedrock. What the Dawkinites intend replacing this with is unclear.
    Who would do the old boys job, yesterday the poor sod steps off the plane and bumps into Phil who appeared catatonic, then he meets Madge and has to sit through another in her series of toffesque talks. Then he has to mingle with a bunch of Holyrood tossers and misc freeloaders, Salmond and co and a bunch of the Edinburgh in-crowd. We played I spy, didn’t last long, Phil, Madge, Alex, that odd bloke from Canterbury with the beard who likes to have his photie taken standing next to B.Appleyard then there were four or five young priests who are often seen hanging around that gay bar down from the Playhouse and that was it really. Then the Papa is tooled along the M8 to Glasgow, Glasgow mark you, the west coasts very own west bank, hope he was issued with a stab proof vest.

    Anyhow, if he’s so worried about his straying flock he should just hurl the book of revelations at the twerps, that normally sorts ’em out.

    David M.
    September 17, 2010 at 17:15

    “Vell, He’s just zis guy, you know…”
    Gag Halfrunt

    David M.
    September 17, 2010 at 17:20

    “First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.”
    Mark Twain
    [ …could almost have been said by Kelvin McKenzie ]

    September 17, 2010 at 17:26

    It has been a bad year or two for the left footers hasn’t it? I’m no fan of the Pope or the doings of the Church of Rome but even I feel a bit sorry for them.

    September 17, 2010 at 17:27

    Three points.
    1. So, I’m no fan of the Pope either but I am a bit baffled that he appears to be in trouble with the Media for promoting greater spirituality. That would appear to be his job.
    2. Can’t help but be disturbed by all those men, the Pope’s posse, who follow him everywhere, crowding around him while he made his speech on the plane. A institution so devoid of women – that can’t be right.
    3. These talks about unity – really, is there any point? Just don’t see it happening. Not when we’re still hearing about Sir Thomas More.

  6. September 17, 2010 at 19:10

    I am not familiar with the blogger Martin Kelly, but I liked his comment yesterday –

    “One sometimes feels that the best thing that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI could do for the United Kingdom would be to perform the rite of exorcism over it.”

  7. Gaw
    September 17, 2010 at 19:59

    Malty: Precisely. Commentators: read and learn.

    David: At least with the Rev Paisley you feel he’s really put the work in.

    Stephen: Me too. I can’t help feeling impressed with how starry-eyed the flock still are.

    Anne: Yes, who does he think he is pushing religion the whole time? But say what you like, the lot of them are amazing dressers. And those gorgeous red loafers – Quentin Crisp would have killed for them.

    Frank: I think they’ve got their hands full. This is from that impeccable authority on religious matters, The Mirror, earlier this year:

    The Pope’s chief exorcist has claimed the Vatican is possessed by the devil.

    Father Gabriel Amorth said a string of child sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic church are proof Satan is living among religious leaders [in fact, I think I glimpsed him at the back of the plane coming over].

    The 84-year-old, who was the inspiration for the spirit-busting priests in movie The Exorcist, added: “The Devil lives in the Vatican. He has won over the confidences of people.

    “The consequences are visible. We have cardinals who don’t believe in Christ, bishops connected with demons. We have these stories of paedophilia.”

    Father Amorth, who has conducted 70,000 exorcisms in his 50-year career, also said the 1981 attempted assassination on Pope John Paul II and the attack on Pope Benedict XVI at Christmas Eve mass were the devil’s work.

    September 17, 2010 at 21:45

    Great choice of photo, Gaw. Is that the Guardian the Pope’s reading? He looks mildly amused anyway.

    Hey Skipper
    September 18, 2010 at 06:04

    I’ll bet Mr. Thompson is far more circumspect with regard to Islam.

  10. Gaw
    September 18, 2010 at 07:07

    Susan: He must be reading his notices, or previews as it was taken on his way to Oz. Or perhaps it was an op-ed by Polly Toynbee that was tickling him.

    Hello, Skip, and welcome to The D! Long time no comment. I think your assumption is a pretty safe one!

    September 18, 2010 at 17:58


    The last couple of years haven’t been so bad for the Catholic Church.

    The truly difficult years were between 1917-89, when the Church was ruthlessly persecuted, especially in Eastern Europe. You may wish to examine the recent histories of the Czech, Polish, Ukrainian and Croatian Churches.

    Notwithstanding the more relaxed atmosphere in Eastern Europe, things continue to be incredibly difficult for the faithful in China and Vietnam. As John Paul always reminded us, the Church had more martyrs in the 20th century than in all the previous 19 centuries.

    The Church in England and Wales is in reasonable shape. Attendances have been steady for five or so years, vocations are up slightly, and as this weeks visit attests, the faithful are very supportive of the current pope. This strength takes many forms. For example, my mother’s parish has enjoyed a huge influx of Brazilian catholics. Two masses are now said in Portuguese.

    Personally, I don’t worry about the Church. It has survived through the last two thousand years. It will still be around on doomsday,

    September 18, 2010 at 20:58

    More cracking insight from Riazat Butt from today’s Guardian. I get the impression the Papal visit has really inconvencied her plans for the weekend.

    “Hotfooting it to the cathedral for the first PA (papal appearance) of day three of Benedict’s Great British tour. Not going inside the cathedral however, as I would have had to be there at 8am, the Mass doesn’t start until 10am and hacks won’t be allowed to leave before midday.

    A colleague who did decide to take up a press spot tells me she is furious because the media are stuck behind a massive pillar and have no clear view of the altar. They are watching it on a big screen so what’s the point of being there? Indeed.”

    Hey Skipper
    September 18, 2010 at 23:36

    Hello, Skip, and welcome to The D! Long time no comment.

    I’ve been reading the Dabbler daily since its inception — wall to wall outstanding.


    In Spiked, Frank Ferudi has this to say:

    It is important to note the fundamental difference between the progressive demand for the institutionalisation of consent and the infantile gestures made by today’s anti-pope crusaders, who are actually demanding conformism. It is perfectly legitimate to criticise church doctrine on a variety of social and moral issues; no institution or individual should claim immunity from questioning and criticism. But adopting the ideology of ‘evil’ to dehumanise an individual and to pathologise his religion represents a form of Inquisition-in-Reverse.

    I’m not often found on the side of religion. I’m making an exception in this case.

  14. Gaw
    September 19, 2010 at 08:13

    Funny though, Jim, how during the Church’s truly bad years, when it was being actively persecuted in so many places, it was more popular (or at least, that’s what I’d argue on the basis of my memories of the ’80s.)

    Pope J-P was a charismatic man but what surely gave him his aura was his defiance of the Soviet empire. Perhaps the Church is always at its best when threatened from outside (as opposed to the self-inflicted damage of the last couple of years)?

    a: Not very dedicated is it? She sounds rather like the football reporter who slips away at half-time but files a report of the entire match anyway. Mind you, that’s probably more excusable than not really understanding the offside rule.

    Skip: It’s worrying to find oneself in agreement with what’s left of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

    September 19, 2010 at 14:39

    “Today,” he proclaimed, “our literary curriculum is under attack by educational reformers who … are planning to abolish the cultural tradition on which the West’s sense of its unity and identity is founded. They propose, in the name of multi-culturalism, feminism and political correctness, to replace such patriarchal and racist texts as Homer, the Bible, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe and Flaubert with works that will presumably direct the eyes of the young forward to the new world of universal sister- and brotherhood.”

    Professor Bernard Knox 1992

    Its interesting the so called “liberal Left” who call themselves such as the word “socialism” is slander, will point out the the police attracts a certain “type” of person, forgetting being a “journalist” attracts a certain type of person, thus you have a chorus amplified way beyond its circle through state sponsored media.

    Toynbee, Hari and the rest would never in a month of Sundays ever be able to earn a living in the real world of work, Instead we have to put up the their bullshit as they work to have religious views exorcised out of the public square, and I think that’s the agenda that Prof Knox is talking about.

    I dont believe I will I will survive my own death, In my view that makes me an atheist, I cannot add anything else to that observation, I find it hard to work up a head of steam to have a belief in an non-belief. I enjoy the carols though.

      September 22, 2010 at 15:49

      I dont believe I will I will survive my own death, In my view that makes me an atheist

      That may be your own view, but it’s not a logically necessary conclusion.

      The existence of a god (or gods), is perfectly compatible with the non-survival of human beings after death.

      Equally, the survival of human beings after death is perfectly compatible with the non-existence of god(s).

      (Admittedly the orthodox forms of many religions require belief in both, but that’s not the point you raised.)

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