Wednesday, July 21, 2010

IRELAND - Irish Times - Church needs a sense of proportion and a little spin

Church needs a sense of proportion and a little spin


The Catholic Church goes around shooting itself in the foot and Peter Mandelson offends the masses

AH, THE Catholic Church: the only organisation left in the modern world that manages to conceive without spin. What, one wonders, is the opposite of spin. Is it, perhaps, thud? Anyway, in the era of media management, corporate- speak and public relations overload, the Catholic Church is pretty singular in its ability to be seen shooting itself in the foot at any media outlet near you. Doctors, it was once said, bury their mistakes; the Catholic Church buries its successes, and that makes them rather hard to find.

Therefore, the news that the Catholic Church included sanctions against those who ordain women along with its first major review of how it deals with clerical child abuse in almost a decade, came as no real surprise. One appreciates that ordaining women is a so-called “sacramental” crime, as opposed to child abuse which, as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor explained on Thursday, is defined as a “moral” crime – but still, lads. Still.

The whole thing is further ruined by the fact that in the document, Normae de gravioribus delictis, which was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, disciplining those who ordain women as priests was lumped in, not just with the child abuse procedures, but also with the misdemeanour of celebrating the Eucharist with a Protestant minister.

Perhaps the faithful should start praying for the church to be granted a sense of proportion. Last week only the former British cabinet minister Peter Mandelson managed to offend so many people. “Peter is his own worst spin doctor,” said Labour lovely Ed Miliband. “He seems to have offended just about everyone.” And all Peter Mandelson (now Lord Mandelson) had done was to write in his memoirs that Gordon Brown was barking and that Tony Blair was a sissy about confronting this issue. In fact, in talking about Gordon and Tony, Lord Mandelson seemed to have been describing a marriage gone sour, although he did not scruple to report hard talk about a whole lot of other people as well. The younger kids in the Labour family are not so keen on having the dirty linen washed in public. And of course there is also a leadership contest going on, in which it looks as if Peter Mandelson supports Ed Miliband’s brother, David. This has been deduced from the fact that David Miliband appears to be the only person whom Peter Mandelson was careful not to embarrass in his memoirs. He does not come out and say that he supports David Miliband, you understand, you have to work that out for yourself.

Peter Mandelson, like the Catholic Church, was once rather wonderfully skilled at public relations. When in the upper echelons of the British Labour government he was so tactful, so circumspect and so politic that George W Bush – who liked him, apparently – called him “Silver Tongue”, according to himself.

Matthew Parris described Peter Mandelson last week, rather witheringly, as “a natural courtier”. In his memoirs, however, Peter Mandelson, now out of power and with nothing to lose but zeros off his publishing advance, decided to dish the dirt. So one of the most trusted insiders got his revenge in first – specifically before the books that are being written by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Unfortunately we don’t know when or why the Catholic Church’s communication skills went for a hop. And an awful lot of people couldn’t give a flip – as Father Ted used to say – what the Catholic Church thinks about ordaining women priests, or even the measures it proposes to take against clergy accused of child abuse. In this case, as in so many others, the initials PC stand for Past Caring. In fact many of us are only surprised that the Catholic Church is still making headlines with this stuff.

On the subject of women priests there is little to be said, although personally I miss Sinead O’Connor in her clerical phase. She had many of the qualities that made up the ideal Irish priest: she looked terribly pretty in her dog collar and got on great with Gay Byrne. What more do you want? But leaving the whole women as priests thing aside, let us examine the de-skilling of the Catholic Church. Papists used to be a byword for slipperiness. There was a time when Catholics used to be pretty good at media manipulation – and not just during the Inquisition. Remember how, during the negotiations for the Belfast Agreement, the Protestants accused the Catholics – quite rightly – of being “Jesuitical” and using “weasel words”? Where on earth are all the Jesuits when you need them – gone to work for BP, I suppose. Where are the people who could come up with some weasel words and keep their organisation out of the mire? Where are the papist plotters and schemers who have been so venerated and so feared down the centuries? They should be in Rome, censoring the Vatican’s own documents before letting them hit the front pages of the world. Gatekeepers, as it were, but in this case preventing trouble from getting out, rather than preventing pesky outsiders and their problems from getting in.

Sad to say, it is the fact that the Catholic Church is so maladroit that is surprising, not the fact that it has been so unremittingly and unforgivably wrong on the issue of child abuse, and a whole lot else besides.


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