So some overbred twenty-something twit in the UK Foreign Office reacted to being put on the Government’s Papal Visit Team by writing a schoolboy-prank memo outlining an agenda for an ideal visit that included launching a line of “Benedict” condoms, opening an abortion clinic, and “a harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops.” And then that twit, or some more senior twit, sent the damned thing around rather than shredding it, and some third twit gave it to the Sunday Telegraph.
Naturally, the UK government is falling all over itself to apologize, as it should, both for allowing the document to get out and for employing diplomats who can’t do funnier or more biting satire; the list is really pretty lame. Someone up the line got reassigned, the twentysomething got chewed out by his (I assume it was “his”) boss, no one got fired. So far, all pretty routine.
But it seems to me that the Vatican Foreign Office is overplaying its hand when it threatens to cancel the visit. Ten years ago, this sort of thing would have looked like just a recrudescence of traditional British anti-Catholicism, and the Vatican would have been in the catbird seat. But not now. Now you can’t mention the Pope without causing people to think about priests abusing children, any more than you can mention John Edwards without causing people to think of adultery. Whatever ink this story gets is much worse for the Church than it is for the Foreign Office.
The Church is in a hole, and its officials need to stop digging.