Saturday, 11 May 2013

Pathetic Propaganda

Yesterday I happened to be driving in the afternoon, and caught the Radio 4 Afternoon Play.

You can listen to it here.

This is the BBC's synopsis:

The Guest of St Peter's

Not since the Middle Ages have two Popes been alive at the same time. One reason why no modern Pope until Benedict has ever resigned is the danger that a living ex-Pope would become an alternative locus of power and influence within the Vatican.

The Guest of St Peter's imagines just such a scenario.

Thomas Perret is supposed to be dead. Two years ago he resigned as Pope Paul VII, citing old age and illness that made him incapable of carrying out his duties. He has lived ever since in almost total isolation in a small monastery within the grounds of the Vatican City. It was widely assumed that Perret wouldn't last long, but he shows no signs of dying any time soon.

Perret's successor, Pope Leo XIV, has a big problem. A hardline conservative, he has excommunicated a group of liberal American Catholic priests who were offering contraception advice to their parishioners. The Americans have defied him, and have rapidly attracted support from progressive Catholics all over the western world. Leo's authoritarian stance has backfired. Decades of disillusionment with the Vatican's unwillingness to change has boiled over, and Leo now faces the very real risk of a split. At the very least, the absolute authority of the papacy has been gravely undermined. It needs desperately to be shored up.

Cardinal Sastre, the Vatican secretary of state, has a plan. He visits the old Pope in his monastery and appeals to him to make an intervention.

As sides are taken and battle lines drawn, Sastre realises that he has embarked in a dangerous course. The Vatican, after all, is a house of cards, and his actions are in danger of bringing the whole thing crashing down...

Apart from the obvious bias and silliness: 'Decades of disillusionment with the Vatican's unwillingness to change has boiled over,' the play was extremely badly written. None of the characters sounded like senior prelates.  The heroine was (of course) a virtuous lesbian journalist, the centre of moral good in the play.  

Even were the Church run according to the crude notions of power assumed by the playwright, they would be expressed in spiritual terms, not in the gauche language of this drama.

It seems to me quite telling that the BBC should think this worthy of broadcasting; the plot, I suppose one could argue, was worthwhile and topical, but the treatment was ill-informed and unconvincing. The characterisation was full of prejudice and lacked any subtlety or sophistication, still less spirituality.  Given that Radio 4's drama is normally of a high standard, this was particularly disappointing.

Essentially this was propaganda, urging the Vatican and orthodox Catholics to get with the plot, and change practice on celibacy and doctrine on contraception and  homosexuality (though nobody in the play seemed to understand the difference between discipline and doctrine), so as to stay in touch with real Catholics in the real world.



Patricius said...

Judging by the name of the director I should not be surprised if this show was put together by renegade ex-Catholics. There is quite a tradition of apostates playing up to and working to confirm the prejudices of non-Catholics.

Ben Trovato said...

Yes, I'd noticed that... The writer's name, Hugh Costello, was also suggestive.

Anonymous said...

At times BBC radio drama and 'Tablet' editorials have so much in common.

Ben Trovato said...

I think that's a bit harsh. BBC Radio drama is often very good: well written, though-provoking. This one really was an exception, in terms of quality.

The themes are sometimes closer, though, I'll allow that...