Yesterday I offered some comments on the shoddy journalism provided for us by the BBC on Monday night with its ‘Panorama’ programme, today I want to offer some comments as to the purpose behind it. Those involved are all well-educated, highly intelligent men, and the agenda they were pushing clearly, at least in their own minds, justified what they were doing.
If you start from the premiss that clerical celibacy is somehow ‘wrong’, then intellectually, it is easy to take the short-cut to seeing what someone without such a bias could not see – why the fact that St Pope John Paul II had a long epistolary relationship with a distinguished woman philosopher should be an argument against it. Whether or not the philosopher concerned might have fallen in love with the Pope, it is clear that the relationship between them remained within proper boundaries, and if John Cornwell or Ed Stourton has discovered a way of stopping women falling in love with handsome, charismatic men, they should tell the world about it. There is only one reason it could be considered an argument against clerical celibacy – fidelity to the vow would stop the priest abusing his position. Is that really what they want? If so, why not be honest about it, why the guff about ‘loneliness’? Do they really think that relationships between men and women have to have a sexual element? Perhaps single-sex boarding schools for boys are a bad idea? As the continuous emphasis on the fact that she was ‘beautiful’ shows, there is an element of schoolboy smuttiness in their reaction which shames only themselves – the old ‘Carry on matron’ spirit will not die whilst such men live.
Clerical celibacy is indeed ‘just’ a discipline in the Latin Church, and it could, indeed, be set aside. The Church has not seen fit so to do. It is legitimate to argue the case against it, but to base it when Stourton is basing it is not an argument, it is an excuse to scratch an itch which actually discredits those using it.
There is, of course, a wider agenda here. The authoritarians on the liberal wing of the Church, who have suddenly in Pope Francis, discovered the joys of obedience, spent the best part of three decades alternately sulking and whining about the authoritarianism of John Paul II and Benedict XVI – and when I say whining, just remember that the Tablet’s Rome correspondent actually cried when Joseph Ratzinger became Pope. They objected to the successor of Peter daring to disagree with their desire to turn the Catholic Church into the American Episcopal Church – and they continue to be frustrated that their ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ Pope is not moving fast enough in the desired direction – old men in a hurry all of them.
No doubt, in their own minds, if by a drip drip of innuendo they could leave the impression that that great hero of Orthodox Catholicism (odd how they always forget Assisi) John Paul II had feet of clay, it would help their cause. I suspect that all it really helps, is their own biliousness with the great Pope – their reactions to him are reminiscent of that of the British Left to Mrs Thatcher. Unable to win the debate during the life time of the two great figures, the frustrated old men need to express a lifetime’s bitterness before they pass on to their reward. Quite why the BBC might pander to such men does not need a public enquiry, but it does raise further questions about why those who own a TV should be required to support it through the licence fee. Those with a taste for that sort of thing have the Tablet and the Guardian to relieve their loneliness.