Comments: Pope: Tuesday

I had already read Almond's piece in the Guardian and had dispatched my e-mail about its inaccuracy to the readers' editor before seeing today's TA update.

Why are the news media (and professors of modern history) so clueless about religion? Almond attributes to "Paisleyite Protestants" a tenderness towards adultery which I'm sure that they would condemn as woolly-minded liberalism.

He also claims that the late Pope would not have blessed Chazza's nuptials with Camilla, like +Rowan. Last year the Prince of Asturias married the divorced Letizia Ortiz, not with a "blessing after a civil marriage" but with Pontifical Nuptial Mass celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid in his cathedral church. I assume that His Eminence took some advice from his gaffer before conducting this cermony!

Posted by Alan Harrison at Tuesday, 5 April 2005 at 5:07pm BST

For a trenchant, translated article by Hans Kung in Der Spiegel, before the Pope died, 26 March 2005, see: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,348471,00.html

Posted by Graham Kings at Wednesday, 6 April 2005 at 12:28am BST

I'll bet the Princess of Asturias's first marriage had been annulled before his Eminence of Madrid committed matrimony on the heir to Franco's throne. I don't think the future Duchess's has, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

Posted by Rodney McInnes at Wednesday, 6 April 2005 at 3:03am BST

Rodney may be right, but I suspect that more probably His Eminence (after consultation with his boss) decided that the civil ceremony under which Dr Ortiz had contracted her first marriage was not holy matrimony in the eyes of the Church.

Mrs P-B's case is quite interesting. The C of E has no way of granting an ecclesiastical annulment. However, Colonel P-B is, I believe, a Roman Catholic and the first marriage may have taken place in a Roman church. Now, what would be the situation if either Colonel or Mrs P-B acquired a Roman Catholic annulment?

Posted by Alan Harrison at Wednesday, 6 April 2005 at 3:24pm BST

What a malicious pleasure to see Mr Harrison nodding. Always so keen to lecture us poor journalists on our faults from his lofty perch in that acme of academe, Brunel University, he seems not to have noticed that Parker Bowles does not have a hyphen...Tut,tut: pull your socks up Harrison!

Posted by stephen bates at Thursday, 7 April 2005 at 10:22am BST

I don't begrudge Stephen Bates his "malicious pleasure" at my aberrant hyphen, although I suspect that in the present context he could learn something about malice from his colleague Polly Toynbee, to whose piece of egregious nastiness about the late Pope you refrain from linking.

I also erred in failing to spot that the gallant and unhyphenated officer to whom Mrs P B had previously been married had been kicked upstairs to Brigadier.

For the benefit of those ill-attuned to sarcasm, Brunel University, where I work, is a middle-ranking institution which does a great job in helping ordinary kids from Hounslow, Staines, Ealing and similar unfashionable places to get decent degrees. It does now aspire to be the "acme of academe" to which Mr Bates refers, and I am one of the insufficiently research-active lecturers lined up for the sack to achieve it.

The fact remains, however, that the article by Almond to which I referred does contain the two grotesque errors I mentioned. The subsequent British television coverage of the Pope's funeral does little to make me repent of my view that journalists aren't really very hot on religion - with both the BBC and ITV managing to misidentify cardinals of the eastern rite as Greek Orthodox and a specialist "Catholic" journalist identifying the master of cermonies as Cardinal Ratzinger. (That was in the first ten minutes!)

Posted by Alan Harrison at Monday, 11 April 2005 at 10:41pm BST

Perhaps Mr Harrison should have spent more time on his research and less in scanning websites for others' error. Had he spent less time pointing out the mistakes of his evident intellectual inferiors he might perhaps have had more time to spot his own shortcomings.
As it happens, I did not like Ms Toynbee's rant any more than I presume he did. I thought it tasteless, erroneous and bigoted: but then she didn't seem to like her colleagues' coverage either. I am not sure what we were supposed to do about it: ignore the events in Rome altogether, or the death of the spiritual leader of one sixth of the world's population, or just sneer at the credulity of the multitude who flocked to pay their respects last week.
Her article was largely what I would expect when it comes to her views on religion generally and Catholicism specifically. One advantage of working for a newspaper such as mine however is that a range of views is allowed to flourish. Thus last week Eagleton and Toynbee but also Garton Ash and Clifford Longley and, on other subjects, Richard Chartres and Rabbi Jonathan Romain.
I tend to share the view of one of our letter writers after a previous Toynbee rant: another of her attacks on religion, must be a major Christian festival coming up.....

Posted by stephen bates at Tuesday, 12 April 2005 at 12:08am BST

Hmm, I do seem to have rattled Stephen Bates' cage. I'm pleased that at least I can agree with him about Polly Toynbee's article. As she attacks a range of targets from the late Pope to Bob Crow, maybe Mr Bates could use his inside knowledge to tell us if there is anyone the woman actually likes!

Mr Bates writes, "Perhaps Mr Harrison should have spent more time on his research and less in scanning websites for others' error." Err, not quite. Nowhere on this thread have I referred to a website, and no "scanning" was needed. The articles by Almond and Toynbee appeared in his own newspaper, and the coverage of the Pope's funeral on national television.

I make no claim to intellectual eminence in liturgical or theological scholarship. I'm just an intelligent layman (in the literal and metaphorical sense of the word), but the fact remains that I could spot several blatant factual errors including at least one (the misidentification of the MC as Cardinal Ratzinger) by a specialist in religious reporting(Cristina Odone).

My point is that if errors occur which are apparent to a non-specialist like me, questions must arise about the attention which the news media give to religion. Returning briefly to Ms Toynbee's other target, Bob Crow, and to an area in which I do claim expertise, industrial relations, Ms Odone's mistake is broadly equivalent to my misidentifying Mr Crow as the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. My doing so would call into question any expertise I might claim in my specialist field.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Tuesday, 12 April 2005 at 10:48am BST

It can't be easy being the Guardian's religious affairs editor -- like being the chaplain of an Oxbridge college where half the fellows are militant atheists .. I would have expected Stephen Bates to remain tight-lipped about his disagreements with his colleagues (tales out of school and all that ..), so I am surprised and impressed to find him publicly chastising his paper's best-known columnist for anti-Catholic bigotry. I hope he won't suffer for his frankness!

(Now, if Bishop A attacked the writings of Bishop B as 'tasteless, erroneous and bigoted', Mr Bates would doubtless be writing a piece on the impending schism in the Anglican Communion. And if Bishop A then explained that 'one of the advantages of being a member of the Anglican Communion is that a range of views is allowed to flourish', I doubt whether Mr Bates would be convinced. But of course the rules are different for journalists.)

However, I do think Mr Bates is being a little disingenuous in portraying the Guardian as a broad church where a hundred flowers bloom. We all know that the Guardian is a left/liberal paper -- that is its great strength. But its liberal sympathies mean that there is a huge swathe of religious opinion which scarcely ever gets represented in its pages.

Posted by Andrew Conway at Wednesday, 13 April 2005 at 12:45pm BST

Andrew Conway wrote:
"It can't be easy being the Guardian's religious affairs editor -- like being the chaplain of an Oxbridge college where half the fellows are militant atheists .. "
Glad you've joined us, Andrew. This thread was beginning to look very much like Harrison versus Bates. While I don't always agree with Stephen Bates, I think he makes valiant efforts to dispel the common feeling that the Grauniad "doesn't do religion very well".

I'm not so sure about "We all know that the Guardian is a left/liberal paper -- that is its great strength." While I'm a cross-grained old spike in the Anglican context, I'm a leftie in secular politics. My abiding memory of the Grauniad's political line was a visit by Polly Toynbee to my home town. While she was going to visit the new art gallery which had just opened, she couldn't resist a political swipe at a mate of mine whom she compared with Pol Pot - and the guy is just a left social democrat of the Tony Benn/Dennis Skinner type! There's an interesting web site called MediaLens with some fairly robust criticism of the Guardian from the left.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Wednesday, 13 April 2005 at 5:47pm BST

I didn't know there was a 'common feeling' that the Guardian 'doesn't do religion very well'. If so, it's not a feeling I share. I think the Guardian's religious coverage is very impressive -- and I don't object to pieces like Polly Toynbee's, because it is clear she is only expressing her own opinion rather than the editorial line of the paper as a whole.

But in religion as in other areas, I think the Guardian sometimes tends to over-estimate the popularity of the liberal position. A non-Catholic, reading the Guardian, might well get the impression that the current of opinion in the Catholic Church was moving strongly in a liberal direction, and was only being held back by a few reactionary cardinals. Whether this is true remains to be seen. But to me it is the classic liberal illusion -- believing that all thoughtful and intelligent people must necessarily share your point of view.

Medialens are to left-wing politics what the Wee Frees are to Protestantism. They may believe that the Guardian is part of the great right-wing media conspiracy, but I see no reason to alter my opinion that the Guardian is a left/liberal paper.

Posted by Andrew Conway at Thursday, 14 April 2005 at 10:52am BST

Andrew Conway wrote:
"A non-Catholic, reading the Guardian, might well get the impression that the current of opinion in the Catholic Church was moving strongly in a liberal direction, and was only being held back by a few reactionary cardinals. Whether this is true remains to be seen. But to me it is the classic liberal illusion -- believing that all thoughtful and intelligent people must necessarily share your point of view."

I suppose this is part of what I meant by "not doing religion very well". Another aspect is that I find it really difficult to get from the Guardian's coverage of disputes within Anglicanism any sense of the very obvious (to me at least!) difference between the American situation with a "conservative Episcopalian" grouping combining evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, allied with right-wing secular politics, and the rather less united English scene, in which conservative Anglo-Catholics, for example, wanted to put clear purple water between themselves and the evangelical campaign against Jeffrey John.

Regarding Media Lens, I can only disagree. It doesn't see a conspiracy but does see a tendency for even "liberal" journalists to become part of a rather cosy consensus which accepts the good intentions of "mainstream" politicians. A rather similar argument was advanced nearly twenty years ago by Schwarz and Fountain in their chapter on the news media in Beynon's book about the miners' strike.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Thursday, 14 April 2005 at 12:16pm BST

Are there any "pure" English, Scottish and Welsh Roman Catholics who are not converts? It seems to me that the R.C. community in Britain is almost exclusively Irish or of other foreign extraction, and as such of dubious loyalty.

Posted by Robert Sieger at Monday, 2 May 2005 at 10:27pm BST
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