Earlier today, I responded to a tweet by Deacon Nick Donnelly (@protectthepope) by saying 'Plus ça change.' That was in response to Nick tweeting 'The Tablet’s Paul Vallely spins Pope Francis as criticising Church’s small minded rules on abortion, gay marriage...'
To be honest, I hadn't read Nick's article, still less Vallely's on which he was commenting. My tweet was simply a 'Queen Anne's dead' comment. That may betray a terrible prejudice on my part against The Tablet, but discerning readers will already have noticed that prejudice, and will no doubt have their own views on the validity or otherwise of it.
However, Paul Vallely tweeted me to say: The spin is yours. That is not what I say. Read what I actually say in the Tablet - not someone else's precis of it. Fair point, I suppose, though I don't think I had spun anything, in fact. So I went to the Tablet's site, but it was down.
But with that intellectual tenacity for which I am renowned amongst the cognoscenti, I found another piece by Paul Vallely in The Independent. Here, I think, Vallely is demonstrably spinning that Holy Father; and to be clear, what I mean by spinning is presenting a narrative that fits a pre-determined position, and presenting it in such a way as to support that position, ignoring or glossing counter-evidence. Vallely's thesis here is that the Holy Father is a revolutionary, in marked contrast to his conservative (boo, hiss) predecessors.
Apart from the problem, to which most commentators seem to succumb, of trying to fit popes into political frames that don't work (and here I can exclusively reveal that the 'conservative' John Paul ll is one and the same chap as that Karol Wojtyla who supported Solidarity - honest, no drill!) he also makes his case very poorly.
To take just one example, he writes: His softening of Rome’s attitudes to gay people – “Who am I to judge?” – grabbed the headlines.
Here he contrasts a specific quotation made by a specific individual with 'Rome's attitudes'. The implication is that Francis is saying something nicer than either of his conservative (boo, hiss) predecessors.
I would find this more convincing if he were able to quote anything said by either about gay people that was less kind.
In fact, if one tries to find what 'Rome' says, I suppose one could turn to the Catechism: 'They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. ' (CCC § 2358) Harsh words indeed!
Actually, I think the Holy Father's 'who am I to judge,' may be, if anything, less kind than the Catechism. It is reminiscent of Our Lord's rhetorical approach. Whilst He refused to be drawn into the debate on the woman taken in adultery in the terms it was put to Him, in private He was quite clear: Go and sin no more!
I think that may be where our Holy Father is. He does not want to answer the questions journalists pose on their terms. He knows how that goes; and he has different priorities. But he is also very clear: the Church has taught and he is a son of the Church (somehow that didn't make it into Paul Vallely's article).
However, he is also clear that the first message, the foundational message, is the redemptive love of Christ. That is what he wants to preach first: it is even more important than the moral law, and it is only in the light of God's love for us that the moral law is truly comprehensible. So he will say that we should not obsess about abortion (for example) as though it were the most important thing (it is not) but (and this is another example of the counter evidence that Paul Vallely seems to overlook in his piece) the very next day issue the most passionate appeal to those to whom it is truly relevant to have nothing to do with that great evil.
He really doesn't fit the simple narratives of left or right. Deo gratias!