Monday, March 23, 2009

Well, what exactly did you expect the Pope to say?

It is absurd to expect him to move with the times.

By Gill Hornby
Last Updated: 8:20PM GMT 23 Mar 2009

When is a crowd of a million fans, fainting in the heat and being trampled to death in excitement, a sign of unpopularity? When you are Pope Benedict XVI, that's when. Despite the fact that his week-long tour of the African continent has been playing to record numbers, the Pontiff has had nothing but criticism from the First World press. He's a "disaster", he's "out of touch with the real world", his whole operation needs "a radical shake-up".

The failures, according to his critics, lie both in his medium and his message. The present Vatican has yet to come to terms with the worldwide, 24-hour blogosphere. The press office shuts up shop for the day at three in the afternoon. No one there has got to grips with Google. Stories leap out at strange times of the day and night, and they hadn't seen any of them coming. Bless… but who can blame them? It's a rum old world in which Jade Goody reaches near-sanctification for her telepathic relationship with the media and the Pope gets rubbished because he's baffled by it.

His message that Aids "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even aggravate the problem" has infuriated health workers the world over. But what exactly is a Pope for? Is he there to make public service announcements in accordance with current scientific thinking, or is he there to stick up for what his Church has long believed in? The relationship between Catholics and condoms was strained long before Benedict XVI got the job. Millions of Catholic couples take the independent decision to practice contraception, but that is no reason for the Pope to change what he preaches. It is absurd even to expect him to move with the times. He's a religious leader, not an interior decorator.

Pope Benedict has yet to say anything I agree with. I don't think rock music is the spawn of the devil; it seemed to me barmy to take back into the church the bishop who had denied the Holocaust; and I wouldn't dream of taking contraceptive advice from a bachelor in his seventies. But then I'm not a Catholic. The Pope, it transpires, is. Deal with it.