Politics & Policy

Lives of The Saint

Britain's lowly Guardian writes its own obituary.

At any given time in human history, there are always among us great men and women whose lives pass before us like magnificent spectacles, fabulous morality tales, heroic epics. None of them, however, appear to write for the Guardian.

At the best of times, the Guardian in full-rant is rarely burdened with good sense or good taste. Its twisted left-wing moralizing is often absurdly Pythonesque, sans laughs, and dully predictable, so most Britons shrug it off and buy another paper instead. But today’s issue puts the limbo pole of editorial wisdom flat on the ground and still manages to wiggle under it: There is apparently something about the death of John Paul II that has driven the paper mad. Crazy, too.

Take, for example, Terry Eagleton’s nasty obituary describing the pope as a “political operative” and a criminal with “blood on his hands.” This kind of talk might seem a bit hyperbolic even for a well-known “professor of cultural theory.” Still, being a cultural theorist only partly explains this kind of anti-cultural insight: “The Pope’s authority was so unassailable that the head of a Spanish seminary managed to convince his students that he had the Pope’s personal permission to masturbate them…” The bloody hands? The result of the pope’s refusal to endorse condoms as a way of preventing AIDs in Africa. Never mind that distributing cheap condoms is a great way to encourage the kind of behavior that leads to AIDs. To Eagleton, John Paul II’s disinclination to ditch church teaching is tantamount to slaughter. “The Pope goes to his eternal reward with those deaths on his hands. He was one of the greatest disasters for the Christian church since Charles Darwin.” Darwin? You’d think the pope had banned DDT or something.

Oh well, if you need more, the Guardian obliges: It takes two women–Sandra Laville and Suzanne Goldenberg–to point out what a terrible disappointment the pope has been to gay-rights activists, stem-cell researchers, feminists, abortionists, and disgruntled, liberal Catholics who don’t go to church. The paper’s editorial points out the “incomprehension and loathing” John Paul II inspired–and adds a little incomprehension of its own: “More divisive was his concept of a ‘culture of death’ as he lambasted both the death penalty and abortion, which alienated many potential allies for social justice.”

Maybe this is bad journalism, but excellent business: The Guardian seems to have the papist-bashing hate market all to itself as the rest of the world waits thoughtfully for the pope to be buried. Even the Independent, Britain’s usual repository of pseudo-journalistic idiocy, does no more violence to the memory of John Paul than a piece of boilerplate feature writing by one Peter Popham on the cult surrounding the pope–something Popham has just noticed, despite a quarter century of global appearances in front of mammoth audiences, every one of which made Woodstock look like an amateur hootenanny.

Most of the European press defaulted to convention. Usually, when one’s cultural and political adversary dies–in this case, a brilliant tactician in a war against the lethal excesses of an unthinking, hyper-secular modernism–a certain amount of restrained reflection is the stylish response. That was certainly the posture adopted by Le Monde, whose lead story headlined the widespread respect given to John Paul II, as did the coverage provided by the even more left-wing Libération. The International Herald Tribune ran with its parent paper’s editorial, an awkwardly nuanced and cautious semi-appreciation of the pope–peculiar for a paper that only last week was ranting about the “religio-hucksterism” of those who had been duped by the “God racket” into protesting against the needless killing of Terri Schiavo. Chief among those protesters: John Paul II.

In Germany, Die Welt reminisced about the good old days of thrown eggs and naked female protesters that had been part of the Polish pope’s German visits, while Süddeutsche Zeitung, critical of many of the pope’s policies, nonetheless acknowledged that John Paul’s suffering had at last united German Catholics. In Italy, almost everyone–including Corriere della Sera–had something kind to say about the pope–and especially about his cautioning against the war in Iraq, enough in itself to justify immediate canonization in the church of the sanctimonious European Left.

These monumental events–and the death of John Paul II is obviously that–usually cause European politicians to think straight for a sec and mind their manners. In Britain and Italy, for example, politicking has been put on hold out of respect for the pope’s passing.

But in Paris, somebody forgot to unplug Jacques Chirac’s phone. As a result, according to Libération, on Friday, as St. Peter’s Square filled with worried pilgrims who prayed beneath the darkened windows of the papal residence, Chirac got an idea and dialed the number for Hu Jintao, the president of China. Chirac promised to convince the EU to lift the arms embargo supported by the U.S. and others because of China’s human-rights record. That record, as the Cardinal Kung Foundation points out, includes the persecution of millions of Roman Catholics, tens of thousands of whom have been arrested and beaten. Catholic churches have been destroyed and elderly bishops and parish priests who refuse to join something called the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” have disappeared into Chinese labor camps. More than 100 Catholics have been killed. Their crime? They wished to give their religious obedience to the pope.

Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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