Archive for April 20th, 2005

White Lines: Don’t Be At It

At Christmas time I travelled North, and in now established tradition went out for a few pints with a couple of old friends in my old local. Until recently the pub was neither glamorous nor demi-monde, but just a typical unassuming small-town pub where the biggest attractions were the pool table out the back and the midweek quiz. After a bit of a makeover comprising an extension and decoration with local memorabilia, it had started attracting a younger crowd, although many of the older faces were still there.

Nothing remarkable or particularly new so far, but what was definitely new was the group of local guys in their mid-twenties doing lines of coke on the cisterns in the toilets. It is not that I have any particular objection to people doing it, as that is a matter of personal choice, but I thought it a rather strange place to do it.

Once people start doing cocaine in small-town Northern pub toilets on a wet and windy night in December, you can draw the following conclusions:

a) There is too much of it about.
b) Delusions of grandeur abound.
c) Buckfast has lost its allure.

There are enough shite-talkers in Ireland as it is without having to put up with every bogman and redneck revelling in their new-found ability to hold forth with their opinions, in fully formed sentences, after 12 or 13 pints.

Which is why I welcome this.

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Benedictus Qui Venit

Yesterday, on seeing that that Joseph Ratzinger was going to be the new Pope, I disconnected from the internet and darted out the door, pushing past the crowds huddled round his TV image, where he was singing his first papal hymn. I was late for my train.

What do I know about him so far? Only what I have read in newspapers and on-line commentary. I know that he had a reputation as doctrinal enforcer for PJP2, that he had been dubbed the Panzer Cardinal due to his forcefulness, and that as a boy he had been in the Hitler Youth. And for some reason he reminds me of Ernest Borgnine.

Public reaction to his appointment will be shaped largely by his portrayal in the media. After a homily described as hardline and stern earlier this week, it looks as though this Pope will have a more severe and austere public image and reputation than that of his immediate predecessor, even though there may be little doctrinal difference between the two. Much space will be dedicated to his conservatism, his tough line on abortion, contraception and sexual morality. The implications of his membership of the Hitler Youth will be scrutinized continually, perhaps for the duration of his papacy.

But how do you properly define the importance of a Pope? When consuming most news articles and TV programmes about the Catholic Church, or indeed any religious institution, we receive information filtered according to the Church’s role in a continuum defined by the media: one of urgent political concerns and contemporary lifestyle considerations. In general, these opinions and images are given coherence in terms of decades of living memory. It is on that basis, and not from the pulpit, that a Pope’s image is formed in the public eye. The terms of reference for PJP2’s papacy were the Second World War and the downfall of Communism. Ratzinger’s papacy, assuming he lasts 6 or 7 years, will be framed in the Western media by other events, perhaps the AIDS epidemic in Africa, maybe the rising influence of Latin America, although the Second World War will of course still loom large.

But it is not the role of any Pope to be popular or to fit into neat historical categorisations. Objecting to the Pope’s position on contraception, homosexuality or women priests because these are contemporary issues that should be addressed misses the point. They can only be addressed in accordance with more enduring concerns, on the basis of doctrine developed over many centuries. A reminder for this is found in the compelling pageantry of white smoke/black smoke, seemingly outlandish garments, and Latin proclamations.

Who Are You?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, I reckon.

Update: I was right. It is the old boss.


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