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Cardinal Napier arrives for morning session of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Respecting Chalcedon’s steering clear of the Catholic Synod until we actually hear what it is going to say, I want, nonetheless, to comment on one aspect of what is happening. I can recall the Second Vatican Council, and if you wanted any idea of what was occurring during it, you got a copy of the Catholic Herald or The Tablet, or even the Church Times and you’d get some news, and then, for those interested, you could read the documents when they were published. Now communication is instant, and the spectacle of Fr Rosica blocking twitter accounts which dissented from his ‘spin’ was both amusing and instructive: the former because it showed he had no idea how modern social media works; the second because it showed the impulse to clericalism still runs strong. If the fellow could ban people, he would – but in the modern world it isn’t so easy.

One thing striking me about all this is that fellows my age and a bit younger, simply fail to grasp the nature of the communications revolution that has hit us all. Back in Luther’s day the Church discovered it no longer had a monopoly over communications – Gutenberg’s invention made reading matter more easily available, and folk could print pamphlets and get their message out there whilst a conclave of Cardinals was taking its leisurely time in the old way of things. Likewise, those who are engaged in political intrigue can no longer do so under conditions of privacy which mean that it will only be years later that anyone will learn what they’ve been up to; things get out, and when they do, Twitter gives it a world-wide audience within moments. The idea of a press officer thinking he can stop this by blocking people is actually quite funny – but a bit sad, as it suggests the poor old chap hasn’t a clue – and as another poor old chap without much of a one, I sympathise – but then I’m not supposed to be running a media operation for a global church!

We can see how all of this explodes the ‘usual ways of doing things’ if we see what happened to Cardinal Kasper last year. He was quoted saying disobliging things about Africans by a reporter and denied doing so. Unfortunately for Kasper he’d been recorded. Still, the fellow didn’t apologise for telling lies – he’s a prince of the church and so criticised the journalist for recording him – and then wondered why many folk thought him a bit of a wide boy – that, of course, would have been on the basis of ample evidence. It’s clear that without the tape recorded Kasper would have simply kept on denying that he had said what he said (technically we call this lying, but perhaps for a Cardinal there is a Latin term which means he was telling a white lie with his fingers crossed?) – but he couldn’t. Equally, those who are trying to fix things can’t move without someone spotting them. Of course, some folk spot conspiracies where there are none, but that’s the price we pay for freedom – everyone has an opinion.

The Roman Catholic Church has always been big on authority and uneasy with it being questioned. For all his rambling ways, Pope Frank is no exception, he clearly doesn’t like being criticised, not least by his own side. Well, welcome to the modern world old chap, deference is dead, and all you’re going to get by trying to impose clericalism is criticism. Of course, he could always try sticking to what the Church has always taught – but that would upset Kasper and the Germans might take their money away. Quite what they are using their money for as the pews empty is another question.

My one piece of advice would be hand the thing over to the Africans, they believe in Jesus and in what the Church has always taught.