By Dan Hodges
Monday night’s Evening Standard was a keeper. “Pope Quits”, screamed the splash, while alongside the masthead a smiling Nancy Dell’Olio looked down serenely. Nancy was discussing her new role as the Angry Vagina in the Vagina Monologues, which was a shame, because I would have loved her take on the day’s Papal bombshell.
Whatever you think of Ms Dell’Olio, she’s a savvy PR practitioner, which is more than can be said for whoever is currently in charge of public relations for the Holy See. I don’t know the real reason why Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in 600 years to voluntarily lay down his ferula: nor do any of us. And thanks to the way yesterday’s announcement was dropped on an unsuspecting world, we’ll never know, because his resignation is about to unleash a febrile miasma of conspiracy theories, rumours, blogs, books and The Da Vinci Code sequels.
PR isn’t really modern Catholicism’s strong point. As an avowed agnostic, I’m not qualified to comment on Benedict’s theological legacy. But in image terms, the poor bloke sucked.
In a few weeks time they’re going to establish a new Papal Conclave, and when they do, they really need to get Alastair Campbell in there, or Simon Cowell. Because last time they had a shocker: “OK guys, child abuse is still killing us, we’ve got the condom/Aids thing, the Vatican Bank makes Lehman’s look like the S&L from It’s A Wonderful Life, and the kids don’t want to know. Who do we go with?”. “I know, what about that old, frail-looking German guy who had the stroke and was press-ganged into the Hitler Youth?”. “Perfect. Get the white smoke going”.
Technically the selection of a Pope is supposedly a reflection of God’s will. In which case, this time round God needs the services of a good strategic recruitment agency. Or alternatively, He could just appoint Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.
Catholicism needs a game changer. More specifically, it needs people to start saying “It’s an anachronistic, reactionary religion and … oh wow, look, a black Pope!”
Yesterday, when I first expressed excitement at the prospect, I received several “There have been black Popes before, don’t you know,“ tweets. Great, then show me his picture.
Apparently, the last “black Pope” was Gelasius I, in 496AD. Well I looked him up on Wikipedia, and if the guy on there is black, I’m Malcolm X.
Today, if it isn’t on YouTube, it never happened. And unless someone pops up with a film of Gelasius knocking out a rendition of Public Enemy’s Louder Than A Bomb, Turkson would be the first black Bishop of Rome in living consciousness.
Admittedly, I may be ahead of myself. At the time of writing, Paddy Power has Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada at 3-1 and Turkson at 7-2, with Richard Dawkins fading out at 666/1.
I officially have no horse in this race. But if I did, I would have this advice for the College of Cardinals; do what your enemy least wants you to do.
A black Pope is the liberal establishment’s worst nightmare. Like Margaret Thatcher becoming Britain’s first women prime minister all over again. Only worse.
If moral relativism is the Left’s Achilles heel, then racial moral relativism is the Left’s broken metatarsal. Dine out in north London, and you find yourself tripping over veterans of the protests against Apartheid. Seek out veterans of the protests against the Mugabe regime, and you’ll be disappointed. Unless you’re dining with Peter Tatchell.
Pope Turkson would mess with the Left’s head. A Ghanian becomes the most influential black man on the planet. But he also rejects the use of condoms to fight the spread of HIV. Yet he’s a fierce critic of global capitalism, and a strong advocate of banking reform. But he’s also dismissed African homophobia as “commensurate with tradition”. The Occupy movement wouldn’t know whether to adopt him or picket him.
Turkson would still have his critics. But they’d be quietly marginalised, like those people who bang on about Barack Obama’s drones. “Yeah,” the mainstream Left says. “It’s a bit naughty. But they’re not George Bush’s drones.”
The liberal intelligentsia will fight it. But if Turkson’s Papacy comes to pass, they won’t be able to help themselves. “The young tearaway who’s in the running to be the next Pope” was the Independent’s billing of the “handsome, modest and very intelligent” Turkson back in 2010. “A renowned champion of the poor and marginalised” was the description on the Left Foot Forward web site yesterday.
The selection of a Pope should be more than an exercise in PR. But let not pretend PR doesn’t matter. In the last 48 hours the position of leader of the globe’s largest Christian religion has been invested with all the authority and majesty of a Blue Square Conference manager.
But wait till people get a load of Peter Turkson’s Easter Message doing the rounds on YouTube. Can Catholicism get to grips with its image crisis? Yes it can.
Pope resigns: Peter Turkson reveals vision for the Church and 'alternative lifestyles'
Ghanian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson Photo: AP
By Malcolm Moore, Rome
8:50PM GMT 12 Feb 2013
Cardinal Peter Turkson, a 64-year-old Ghanaian prelate, is the bookmaker's early favourite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.
He told The Daily Telegraph Tuesday that his biggest challenge, should he be elected, would be to maintain an orthodox Catholic doctrine while "at the same time knowing how to apply it so that you do not become irrelevant in a world that has continuous changes".
Cardinal Turkson, who holds one of the most important jobs in the Roman Curia and has been repeatedly promoted by Pope Benedict, was quick to take a conservative line on gay marriage and other "alternative lifestyles".
"We need to find ways of dealing with the challenges coming up from society and culture," he said, adding that the Church needed to "evangelise", or convert, those who had embraced "alternative lifestyles, trends or gender issues". He added: "We cannot fail in our task of providing guidance."
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Cardinal Turkson has caused controversy in the past both by screening a video claiming that Europe faced being overrun by Muslims and by insisting that condoms were not the solution to preventing HIV.
The African prelate said he had reflected on the enormous personal burden of becoming the leader of the Catholic Church. "It would certainly mean a lot if I had to be a pope," he said. "If I was elected pope it would signal a lot of [personal] change. Very big change in a lot of regards. I have been an archbishop, which involved a certain amount of leadership and now having to do this on a world level, the dimensions expand almost infinitely.
"It is going to be a life-changing experience and I think that is what it has been for Benedict and those who have gone before us. The challenge will also be with the individual to want to make his mark, not trying to fit into anybody's shoes but finding his own shoes to wear."
Cardinal Turkson also said the Vatican needs to "restore and repair" an image that has been "badly compromised by recent scandals".
Pope Benedict's eight-year papacy saw controversies over paedophile priests, a tense relationship with the Muslim world, and the conviction of his butler for stealing documents that revealed corruption at the top of the Vatican.
"[We need] to relevantly address issues and the credibility of our own ministry and leadership," said Cardinal Turkson. "The Church, if you adopt the imagery of a boat, is going through quite a bit of a storm and it does not appear to be over yet," he said.
"In Europe, churches are getting empty, the population appears not to relate much to the Church and to religion and all of that –that is an issue to deal with. In the new churches, Latin America, Africa and Asia, where the Church appears to be growing there is also the challenge of being able to maintain membership. Whoever succeeds Benedict will not lack challenges and they are an invitation to creativity and innovation."
He acknowledged that he will be in the running when 118 cardinals enter into a conclave in the Sistine Chapel next month to select their next leader.
"It is a possibility [that there will be an African pope]," he said. "Already at the last conclave there was a move to have a candidate from the southern half of the globe," he said. But he pointed out that there is constant speculation over the idea of an African pope.
"Before I got here there was a young African cardinal called Arinze from Nigeria. And at every conclave everybody was talking about him as an emerging candidate. Arinze is now 80 and actually there is no way he can participate in the conclave. So after Arinze another African shows up in the Vatican, now there are actually two of us, there is a cardinal from Guinea. So again there is speculation."