The Capsule, digested

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.


  1. Policraticus said,

    July 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

    The inclusion of the renowned Tracey Rowlands writing for the Tablet isn’t really surprising since the strategy now seems to be one of ‘we need to sprinkle every edition as much as possible before during and after the papal visit with orthodox thinkers, so that the Tablet can mainstream [with Opus Dei help of course] ALL opinions especially those considered to be Catholic and conservative – thereby makign sure that those who hold utterly faithful opinions and praxis to the magisterium [especially on life and sexual ethics issues – e.g.. the Birmingham Three under exile] can be easily labelled ‘extremist and fundamentalist’ when the time comes to ostracise them permanently from the OD/Tablet paradigm’

  2. harpymarx said,

    July 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    “the Catholic candidate for the Labour leadership”

    Plus ‘ard working class roots has Andy Burnham. Funny how he never went into much details about those said roots before esp. about Miners’ Strike…..

    Thanks for link as well 🙂

    • birkenstock said,

      July 15, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      PS I can see that Dr Ivereigh is on the left and Jack Valero in the middle but who’s the other chap

      • Paul Priest said,

        July 18, 2010 at 12:32 pm

        That’s Kathleen Griffin – the Catholic Voices’ Andrew Ridgley/Pete Best/Bez from Happy Mondays/Ross from Friends/Mike from the Young Ones/insert appropriate analogy for ‘Uh!?”

  3. July 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I note you are opposed to everything the Tablet says. I am a tradionalist Catholic and deplore its attack on Contraception but it is quite entitled to publish its own views on Political matters even if you do not agree with them and unlike your good self, the sections International reports and News from Great Britain are very good as are the reports from Christa in Vienna. The letters are of variable worth but so are those in the Catholic Herald. I read it every week and when I am blogging comment on those articles which are anti Catholic and those worth reading (which are most) I am sorry you are taking the line you seem to be promoting. It does the Catholic cause no good.

    • Paul Priest said,

      July 18, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Fr I don’t think you’re seeing the bigger picture ; and would ask for you to for one second think back on your excellent exposes and chronicles of the 1980s – I truly believe that you need to be informed about what’s occurring in the upper political and ecclesiastical eschelons – they’e back, and this time there is nobody around up there to fight them ; and I think you’re our best unused assett ; because you are probably the most informed expert on how these people work; I am blue in the face begging for a general meeting of orthodox bloggers /commentators and journalists so that we can assess, assimilate and act accordingly – This is gloves off time ; we face a leviathan – shadow-machiavellian puppet-masters of the inept, the corrupt , the laodicean and the scoundrel…at the price of our very souls , the lives of millions of Catholics, the vulnerable who will be euthanised with our collaboration, the risk to our Pontiff’s life let alone credibility and the destruction of everything for which Catholicism has ever stood in this country. We need to unite – save our hierarchy and professional laity from themselves – and I’m sorry – but this means war….

      • magistra said,

        July 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

        I am not a Catholic, but anyone who starts telling me about people who need ‘to be saved from themselves’ or about ‘war’ immediately gets my alarm bells ringing. Can you hear how you sound to others, or why they might not want to listen to you?

      • ejh said,

        July 19, 2010 at 10:31 am

        What I wonder is how they sound to the blogger who is writing to attract an audience like that.

  4. Res Miranda said,

    July 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I take a different medication myself, the patient information leaflet for which states: “since the outer shell of the tablet is not digested by the body, you may see what appears to be a complete tablet in the toilet. However, this does not mean that the tablets are not working effectively”. Perhaps someone could tell me if this phenomenon is observed after digesting the majuscule version?
    PS: I see that the only issue on which Catholic Voices has commented since 3rd June is the menopause test – their sponsors must feel they are getting excellent VFM.

  5. Tom said,

    July 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    It wasn’t until I discovered the “Catholic apologetics culture” in the United States that I learned that some people admired Paul VI. You’ve added another one.

  6. birkenstock said,

    July 15, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Excellent post Brother Splintered. Honest hard working people are losing their jobs but no worries, Dave and his ‘Big Idea’ have London Citizens and community organising and all the other soi-disant empowering initiatives to fill the gaps. Who cares if the bin men are being laid off? Here’s Dr ‘I’m in love with Dave’ Ivereigh with a few illegals who will do it for nothing, just to stay here and live six to a room in Shoreditch. Thatcher would be proud.

  7. Richard said,

    July 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Is Timothy Radcliffe a Catholic? The man who stated that he had always voted Labour “because their policies are more likely to lead to a healing of our society”. The priest who was noted for his dress code of “slacks and sweaters”?
    Daily Telegraph journo, Graham Turner said (in 1989) that he “found it hard to believe that one is in the presence of holy men” (He included Fr McCabe as well as Fr Radcliffe in this statement). I tend to agree with him.
    As for the Blessed Clifford….please don’t get me started!

  8. leftfooter said,

    July 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Sir Splinteredsunrise’
    You have done us a great service. I hope you didn’t pay for your copy. Ma Pepsi et al. need to look for useful employment.

    For the people at The Tablet
    Life seems very tough.
    They publish, publish, publish,
    But no one buys their stuff.

    On tables, shelves, old, yellowing
    Unsold, the copies lie.
    “What can be done to save our jobs?
    What is there left to try?”

    The sun declines, the wine, undrunk,
    Grows tepid in the glasses.
    “Why don’t we imitate The Sun,
    Pitch at the unchurched masses?

    “We could be tabloid, topless, pert,
    Support the Hierarchy –
    Rubbish Hans Kung, attack the Prods
    Call ‘We Are Church’ mularky.

    “Proclaim Humanae Vitae and
    Damn heresy and schism,
    Show Stanford and that lot the door
    And plug the Catechism.”

    “Ok, you’re on, let’s seize the day
    No time for indecision!
    We’ll be with Benedict all the way.
    Maybe call for the Inquisition.”

    They did it all. Their phoenix rose
    And circulation rocketed.
    Their sad hearts quailed with guilt , but oh
    The profits that they pocketed!

  9. Delia said,

    July 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    This is fantastic – and it’s free!

  10. gb said,

    July 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    If you really want a free ride outta purgatory when you die, would you please start a similar fisk of the National catholic Reporter (& John Allen, while you’re at it) across the pond? No Catholic sites over here seem to have the stomach for it….but I keep consoling myself with the knowledge that everyone who currently reads it or contributes to it is a ’60s leftover so they’re on their way out. Deo Gratias.

  11. Daniel said,

    July 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Whoever you are I love your work. An intelligent Catholic realist is a wonderful albeit a rare thing. Your blog clearly demonstrates this is what your are. Hence it has been a pleasure to read it. You also help me enjoy being Catholic, which, as a disgruntled and rather disillusioned lefty, has become a rather important of my life.

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