Saturday, 25 September 2010


I think that Cardinal was quite wrong to claim the crowds at our airports resemble a third world country. It is so much worse than that. The sight of multi-uncultured Britain at play, wrapped in swaithes of dreadful denim, fills one with loathing. A rough rule of thumb: if the hair is combed and the clothes ironed, it is foreign. It makes one wonder whether the journey from the trees to the airport foyer was worth all the trouble.

However, the sight of a patently amiable old man tootling round his adoring flock in his Immaculate Contraption does the heart good.

As a shy man, it must be agony for the Pope, but he stands in the ashes of his religion and says the right thing about the evils of his own countrymen, his fellow priests and the world that is his parish. He deserves praise even from non-members of his club.

Does he get it?

In a pig's ear. He gets a gaggle of purse-lipped harridans, a covey of self-regarding cranks complaining the Queen should not have welcomed him. We shouldn't, they say, spend a fraction on his visit of what we spend on dog food because the Vatican isn't a state within the meaning of the act.

We are living in the world of Gulliver's Travels.

As a a Buddhist Presumptive, it really has nothing to do with me but I cannot help wondering why Pope Benedict XVI is being blamed for being a catholic. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest intellects to have held that office in several centuries, a man of great philosophical scholarship, rigour and originality, as well as an accomplished writer, linguist, practical administrator and musician.

The black mark against him, but not oddly against his papal predecessor the more popular Pope John Paul II who shares the blame, is that he tried to cover up evidence of child abuse. If one spends one's life in an institution one's instinct is to protect it, even against evidence.

To enforce celibacy is to attract the sexually malajusted. Reason could resolve. But the mincing mob would rather pile imaginary faggots round his feet and set fire to him. I must say as one who spent his childhhood being groped by a teacher, as were the rest of our class, I do not sense harm done. I would have been more upset if I had been the only child in the class who wasn't.

Successive popes have been covering up shameful acts since Pope Joan, who posed as a man and had a baby on what is still known as "The Street of the Woman Pope" in Rome. A shrine to Pope Joan on the street was moved on the orders of the Vatican.

In the Middle Ages Adam of Usk writes of a ceremony where new popes sat, before the congregation, in a seat with a hole in the middle whilst a cardinal explored their private parts. Asked by the congregation, "Does he have testicles?" the examiner replies cheerfully, "He has two and they hang well." In Latin, of course.

Give the opportunity, the Catholic Church always leaps to absurdity.
In subsequent centuries the Vatican insisted the female pope was a myth. However, Peter Sandford in his illuminating book "The She Pope" published a photo of the "seda secoriara", a throne with a hole in the seat as Adam describes, which is kept in the Vatican Museum.

Pope John XXII (1316-1334) committed repeated incest upon all his illegitimate children, male and female. He was charged by 37 clergy and witnesses with fornication, adultery, incest, sodomy, simony, theft and murder. He maintained a convent-cum-brothel in Boulogne of 200 girls. He personally murdered a number of these girls and nuns during and after sexual encounters as part of satanic rituals within cathedrals and the main churches of Christianity. He has been called the most depraved criminal who ever sat on the papal throne.

The Church writes its own history. Even so, the beatification of Cardinal Newman is puzzling. The church abhors homosexuals but there is considerable doubt about Newman's sexual orientation.
Some believe Newman may have come close to the line — if not in actions, then in preference.

"It's not unreasonable to think he might have been homosexual," says the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of 'My Life with the Saints'. "His letters and his comments on the death of one of his close friends are quite provocative."
He asked to be buried on top of his lifelong friend Ambrose St John. When it was clear Newman was on the path to sainthood, the Catholic Church ordered the cardinal's body to be exhumed and the corpse moved to a grander resting place in Birmingham Oratory church.
"The idea of pilgrims coming to the grave and seeing John Henry Newman on the tombstone and, above him, the man he lived with for 37 years, the Rev. Ambrose St John, gave off bad vibes," wrote the Rev. Martin. It was certain to raise eyebrows, he said.
One would have thought on these grounds alone the Pope would have found favour with Stephen Fry. Not so. That hedgerow intellectual led a crowd of cranks in complaining the Vatican was not a sovereign state because it was created by Mussolini. Does that mean we should slow down Italian trains and dig up the autobahn because they are the creation of dictators? Forget Shakespeare. The good men do lives after them, surely?

It must have escaped those mighty brains that Germany and Italy were not sovereign states until the 19th century when they were created, like the Vatican, by elected Heads ofState.
Frankly, none of these messages from the past bother me. As an outsider, I am more impressed by the hundreds of priests, like my friend Father Brian, who loved their fellow man in a more conventional way. But, as I say, it's nothing to do with me. We don't even venerate the Lord Buddha. He told us not to.


A documentary on the Wellington bomber reminded me of George Thomas, a Chester friend who had been a navigator in one.
Returning home from a bombing raid on which they had been badly strafed and holed, the pilot radioed the crew: "We'd better jump out before we fall out,"
My friend said it was a pleasant summer day and he enjoyed the descent. He was interested to see he was going to land in a holiday camp. In fact he landed in the camp's paddling pool. The moment it touched water the life-saving equipment moved into rescue mode. The rubber dinghy on his back inflated and turned him over. Legs in the air like an upturned tortoise, he made stately circuits of the pond. Next, the container on the dinghy opened and a purple dye spread across the pool, making it easier to spot him from the air. Then the aerial of the beacon on his chest soared into life and began the loud transmissions of a radio signal.
My friend had been too engrossed with these happenings to look about him. A rousing cheer attracted his attention and he saw the pool was ringed by a jubilant crowd who made no attempt to pull him out, so much were they enjoying the show. Eventually he scrambled onto dry land where was accosted by the manager:
"I dunno who you are," he said, "but if you can drop in like that every Saturday you are on to a fiver a week."