On leaving bad enough alone

Not clever for the Vatican to raise a fuss about that dumb Foreign Office memo suggesting that the papal visit to England include “a harder line on child abuse.”

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

7 thoughts on “On leaving bad enough alone”

  1. The Church is interested in rallying and keeping its base. In that light, they are probably not overplaying their hand. Their actions do not have to poll well in the general populace, only increase the likelihood that the faithful stick with them (and keep the money flowing).

  2. On the contrary: they need to keep on digging. The Church is in desperate need of deep reform, and that will only come about if its authoritarian-conservative factions completely discredit themselves.

  3. The Church is in a hole, and its officials need to stop digging.

    "Digging?" Is that what they're calling it, now?

  4. I think it is really funny that they have reassigned him (I assume it is a him – the joke is lame enough) for this rather than firing him. Sort of like moving them to another parish isn't it?

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