Look, if I’m going to do my weekly penance, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be inflicted on you lot as well. So, as part of the public service ethos of this blog, we’re going to take a race through this week’s Tablet, reading it so you don’t have to. With any luck, it might spare me a bit of time in purgatory.
Let’s begin at the beginning with the week’s big feature, as Ma Pepsi herself undertakes a remarkably sycophantic interview with Chris Patten – ex-cabinet minister, ex-governor, ex-EU Commissioner, all-round governmental troubleshooter and Tablet trustee. One suspects that either the questions weren’t very challenging or Patten completely ignored the questions and delivered a monologue – perhaps both – as we don’t learn very much except that Chris Patten is a wholly admirable Renaissance man. We may perhaps note this closing exchange:
“Like every other tortured liberal Catholic, I’m a huge admirer of Paul VI,” he said.
So is this tortured liberal Catholic also a huge admirer of Benedict XVI?
There is the slightest of pauses: “Pope Benedict has been far more open to debate than his public reputation suggests. I’m thinking of his debates with Jürgen Habermas [published as The Dialectics of Secularization]. And I’m cheered that someone like Timothy Radcliffe should speak so warmly of him.”
Hmm. Kudos to Patten for mentioning the Habermas debate, which is worth anyone’s time. Tim Radcliffe I can take or leave alone.
Next, Luke Bretherton has a rather longwinded discussion of “Dave” Cameron’s Big Society programme. Apart from providing excellent material for a game of Buzzword Bingo, I was not much clearer at the end of the article what the Big Society was, apart from an employment opportunity for thinktank honchos like Geoff Mulgan and Richard Reeves, who seem to be bucking the trend towards small government. There’s also a nod towards “community organising” in the American style, with a big shout out to Citizens UK, the faith-based community umbrella group that organised that big eve-of-poll hustings. At the time, a lot of people scratched their heads and wondered what exactly was this “Citizens UK” which had suddenly appeared from nowhere: they obviously hadn’t been reading the Tablet, which ran a solid four pages of advertorial for it, with two pages each contributed by two of the main movers and shakers behind it, James Purnell and Austen Ivereigh.
Since the election, Citizens UK, based on its actually existing relationship with Boris Johnson, has been slotting itself into the Big Society concept of the voluntary sector taking over from a retreating state. I therefore wonder – and I raise this merely as a point of discussion – whether it’s in the best interests of the trade union movement to fund Citizens UK, given that it’s union members’ jobs that are going to be privatised as part of the Big Society. I know the unions do like to fund worthy causes, but perhaps “extending the global reach of James Purnell and Austen Ivereigh at the expense of our members’ jobs” is stretching the concept a bit.
We now move onto dear old Clifford, who offers us a discarded Thought for the Day script beautifully crafted column on civic virtue, with particular reference to the English bishops’ pre-election manifesto Taxation for the Common Good. I mention this only because there’s a bit of backslapping of the Tablet‘s favourite priest, Tim Radcliffe. I swear, between Radcliffe and Schönborn, I don’t know what’s going on with the Dominicans these days, and if Cardinal Browne rotates any faster in his grave he’ll be tunnelling to New Zealand. If you think two separate references to Tim Radcliffe by page 7 looks a bit like an old boys’ club, award yourself a cigar.
Skipping over Jonathan Wynne-Jones on the Jeffrey John saga, which is perfectly all right but out of date by now, we happen upon this week’s mandatory Good Article. This is one on the theology of B16 with reference to its roots in the Tübingen School, by hotshot Australian theologian Tracey Rowland, who, having written two good books on the subject, is as well qualified as anyone. And yet, Tracey is a bit too, well, orthodox for this kind of milieu, and furthermore is a protégée of good old Cardinal George Pell. Incongruous is the word I’m looking for.
Next up is Rome correspondent Bobbie Mickens, profiling Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who’s going to be heading the spanking new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation. There’s plenty of tendentious stuff in there about how much Bobbie really doesn’t like B16, but I would like to highlight this bit:
There had been talk for months in Rome that [the Pope] intended to create a department for the “new evangelisation” under the direction of Archbishop Rino Fisichella. However, it was surprising when the Pope officially appointed the 58-year-old theologian as the president of the new office even though he had not yet issued the motu proprio to erect it judicially.
Archbishop Fisichella was thus named to head an office that, canonically, still does not exist. A similar incident happened last November when Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, held a hastily summoned press conference to present a yet-to-be-published document that would create structures for Anglican communities that joined the Catholic Church en masse. The document Anglicanorum Coetibus was published three weeks later. The reason for these backwards sequence of events, whispered Vatican insiders, was to make sure that papal acts “still in progress” could not be derailed by opposition either inside or outside the Curia.
For shame! What a bounder that Ratzinger is, trying to stop Vatican factionalism from sabotaging his initiatives! And forcing Bobbie Mickens to pretend to be a stickler for Curial protocol, too! I can see the poor wee soul reaching for his handkerchief…
On the letters page, one Ben Andradi inveighs against Keynesian economics and calls for government policy based on “the dominant mood of the financial markets”. Nothing intrinsically interesting in that, but I vaguely recall that Ben Andradi is involved in the Catholic Voices project. It’s a small world, indeed.
Skipping lightly over the review section, which is usually not bad, we come to that great source of zingers, the international section, and we are immediately rewarded with a double-header from Christa Pongratz in Vienna. Speaking of whom, Andrew Brown really should invest in a little quality control on CIF Belief. One understands that the Grauniad is obliged to support liberal Catholics, and one may forgive Christa her personal eccentricities, but this is just unforgivably batshit. Anyone who believes that Christoph Schönborn is poised to take the next conclave by storm – well, it’s about as likely as James Purnell being acclaimed Labour Party leader as the candidate of the left.
Unsurprisingly, we have yet another paean to Cardinal Wingnut, who definitely wasn’t slapped down at his recent meeting with the Pontiff, at least according to sources close to Wingnut. But Christa’s main article is about the new Christian Unity czar, Archbishop Kurt Koch of Basel, and… well, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I get the feeling Christa doesn’t like him very much. The thrust of the article is that Koch agrees with the documents of Vatican II, which is not the same thing as what some people mean by the “spirit of Vatican II”; and he gets on well with the Eastern Orthodox, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate’s ecumenism czar Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. For Christa, of course, this is absolutely terrible.
And so we turn to Bobbie Mickens’ weekly “Letter from Rome”. Bobbie doesn’t like Kurt Koch either, and mentions him not getting on very well with the Wir sind Kirche crowd, as well as him once having been a bit rude about the Greatest Living Switzerlandman, Hans Küng. What a shocking reprobate! Bobbie also tells us of the Pontifical Mass at St Peter’s celebrated by Vice-Pope Tarcisio Bertone to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. Bobbie gives us some Hello!-style gush over all the dignitaries and celebrities who were present, but notes that “the cardinal – like the Pope – distributed Communion on the tongues of those who knelt before him.” Why, one would almost think Bertone had touched a nerve.
As we enter the home straight, page 35 features an article by Elena Discourteous on the theme of the-threatened-descent-into-chaos-of-the-papal-visit-is-all-sorted-out-not-that-it-was-ever-descending-into-chaos-in-the-first-place. The guts of this is a recap of the joint press conference between Chris Patten and Vincent Nichols, but at the end we get a little teaser on that Eland House seminar:
Around 50 civil servants attended a briefing session on Catholicism in Britain and the life, thought and influence of Cardinal Newman hosted by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Among those addressing the meeting were Mgr Roderick Strange, rector of the Beda seminary in Rome, and Canon Jonathan Goodall, ecumenical secretary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as input from Dame Helen Ghosh, Permanent Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs and a Catholic, who is chairing the lead Whitehall committee on the papal visit.
With charming modesty, Elena does not tell us that Ma Pepsi was a featured speaker, nor that Helen Ghosh is a Tablet trustee.
On page 37, Elena gives us a bit of puffery for Andy Burnham, now anointed “the Catholic candidate for the Labour leadership”, which I suppose is the case given the other four candidates are all atheists, although you’d never guess it from his voting record. It helps that the Tablet gave Burnham the Hello! treatment a couple of weeks back. For slightly more downbeat accounts of the hustings Elena is describing, see here and here.
Finally, we have Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton opining, not for the first time, on how the Catholic Church is irrelevant these days. I often find +Kieran’s argumentation hard to follow – perhaps he’s too clever for me to understand – but I take him to be saying that the Church is offputting by dint of many people associating it with Catholicism, while it really needs to be more relevant and appealing to Protestants, agnostics and Wiccans. Incidentally, +Kieran is the bishop in charge of evangelisation, which might explain why not much evangelisation is happening.
Well, that’s that for another week. I can’t help thinking that Opus-style mortification would be less hassle.