Published on 15 Sep 2010

Why Benedict is no John Paul

The excitement was palpable. As a young correspondent in Rome, I’d seen the white smoke that signalled the election of the youngest Pope in modern times – John Paul II, on 16 October 1978.

Now, less than five years later, after he had survived the assassin’s bullet, I was standing on the tarmac at Gatwick airport watching his Alitalia 727 touch down on English soil. The first Pope ever to set foot in  Britain kissed the ground at the bottom of the aircraft steps. There was euphoria abroad.

I had already accompanied him on trips to Santa Domingo, Mexico (6 million people on the roads leading to the shrine of our Lady of Guadeloupe), Ireland (750,000 people in Phoenix Park), and Poland (one million straining to see him at the shrine of the Black Madonna). Euphoria was tipping over into hysteria.

It mattered not that the Pope had retreated to the most conservative interpretation of the Catholic faith. What he brought was a personal sense of saintliness and a remarkable capacity to connect with his vast audiences.

If there was scandal, it was about money, Vatican money. Within days of his departure from Britain, the Italian banker Roberto Calvi was found hanging from the girders beneath London’s Blackfriars Bridge.

“God’s Banker”, he was dubbed. Calvi ran the Banco Ambrosiano in Italy and enjoyed a more than close banking relationship with the Vatican’s own money man, the sinister American, Archbishop Marcinkus. There was evidence of grubby deals and corrupt movements of money involving Vatican officials.

But John Paul seemed to those of us reporting him to be above all this. Even Calvi’s murder cast no shadow on the Pope’s sainted reputation.

Not so Pope Benedict. With his church mired in the global Catholic child abuse scandal, he gives every appearance of being very much at the centre of it all. Rightly or wrongly, he’s seen as having attempted first to cover it up, then to have tried to keep its resolution “in house”.

He’s also seen as reluctant to make the scale of apology the scandal demands. It may be that Benedict is a victim himself. But where bad news slipped away from his predecessor, it seems to cling to Benedict.

I well remember standing late into the evening amongst tens of thousands of young people in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park as Pope John Paul engaged in dialogue with them, sang songs and strummed a guitar. He rocked. No one expects such engagement with Benedict.

We are told he is a towering intellectual. But unlike John Paul, he has been in the engine room at the Vatican for years. He was there when the worst of the paedophile cover-up was at it height. Perhaps John Paul was as culpable, but he’d put a lot of charisma and PR into his image when the tidal wave of criticism hit.

No such luck for Benedict. Tens of thousands of the faithful will turn out anyway. So will those who simply want to glimpse a famous moment. But the spirit of uplift and renewal that John Paul’s visit conjured – that seems unlikely.

Maybe this will be a more truly representative papal trip than any we saw with Pope John Paul. But whatever it was, that 1982 voyage to Britain by John Paul was an awful lot of fun.

That’s not a word I have yet heard deployed this time around with Benedict.

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27 reader comments

  1. adz says:

    I was Confirmed a Catholic by Marcinkus when I decided to be part of the faith at the age of eleven. The reason I wanted to become a Catholic was because I went to a catholic school and wanted to take “the body of christ” like all my classmates. I respect clean Catholics but no longer practice the faith.
    It is disgusting that the Vatican asked this country for £20 million pounds. I grew up in Rome and as i’ve said before, the amount of beautiful and eternal property that the Vatican owns in ancient Rome is scary. The power that the Catholic Church excercises in Italy, is also daunting.
    The Catholic Church is definitely involved in money laundering and other sinister actions but who can touch the Catholic Church? Nobody!
    Pope Benedict has something very sinister about him but will we ever know what? I believe John Paul II knew that there were illegal goings on but there was little he could do and who knows, maybe Ali Agcha, who tried to asassinate him, was actually hired by powers far stronger than any religion because JP II wanted to expose who these super powers were and still are. Wouldn’t surprise me that’s for sure.
    adzmundo TVP

  2. Mudplugger says:

    There’s an interesting parallel in the fact that Benedict followed John-Paul II, just as Brown followed Blair. The ‘engine-room man’ following the charismatic ‘captain’. Discuss.

    1. Peter Stewert says:

      If parallels be drawn then I’d go more for a Bush/Bush Jr. JPII was a complete conservative in that he held with the status quo and seemed to make sense in the 20th century. Benny is an ultra conservative in that he hates the present and cannot wait to roll away centuries of changes.

  3. Paul Begley says:

    Maybe the different atmosphere says as much about us, as it does about either Popes or Catholicism?
    As a child, I moved from the Glasgow area, to the East Midlands in England. The most obvious difference then was that Glasgow was completely polarised on sectarian grounds, while in England, people were generally tolerant of each others’ beliefs.
    Nowadays, almost everyone seems to find at least one other group completely intolerable – or at least that’s the image the media present.

  4. Ann Parry says:

    As an ordinary Catholic who is going to see His Holiness the Pope in Coften Park I am getting very tired of the media trying to put their own angle on why fewer people are expected at the venues the Pope is appearing at. If numbers are down on the numbers who turned out when Pope John Paul 11 visited Britain this is absolutely no reflextion on the esteem in which Catholics hold Pope Benedict.It is due to a number of circumstances. Firstly we were told that there would be a limited number of places available and that we must put our names down the very day it was announced if we had a chance of going and maybe we would be lucky enough to be picked out of a hat. This was early in August when many people were on holiday and others could not make a decision there and then .We were then informed that it would cost £25 which was a considerable amount for many families who could have reduced thes amount if they were allowed to make their way independently.We were informed that we had to travel in parishes altogether. Thus if families in different parishes wished to go together they could not do so. This was to satisfy government security regulations. Cont…

  5. Ann Parry says:

    Cont..In this way nobody was allowed , after thought and reflection to go to see the Pope if they had not decided on the spot. We were then told 2 weeks ago that most of us would have to leave at an un earthly hour of the morning and would have a considerably long walk on arrival so we might consider dropping out but because of security we could not ask somebody else to take our place. Thus at every step we have encountered obstacles and because of security no-one can change their mind to go at the last minute as many people might well consider doing if only to prove our deep love and respect for this wonderful man to show the media how wrong they are.

  6. Jim Flavin says:

    ”Perhaps John Paul was as culpable, but he’d put a lot of charisma and PR into his image when the tidal wave of criticism hit.”. That hardly makes him less guilty!!!! .
    As has been said JP2 put a very conservative interpretation on RC teachings – and this guy Bendict even more so.
    And they say prayers to a non existent being for their victims – instead of paying hard cash for damge done – and putting in jail those responsible . These pope guys are rich capitalists too –very , very rich – while they preach about poverty and the poor – whom they hope to keep poor – and in their control .It took me years to get rid of the at least 10-12 years indoctrination – that most all still undergo in rc schools in ROI . Ian Paisley was correct many years ago when he said ” the first thing u hear when you go into a rc church is the sound of money rattling ”. A desplicable organiztion – true fascists .

  7. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    The RC church has its own state laws. Although it holds no territory as such the Holy see has its influence world wide, in organisations , banking , trusts, Russian and Prussian organisations etc.

    The power that it has gained over the centuries cannot be overturned, nor would I wish it too, for what splinter organisations or other religious groups would take its place?

    In every taking down of large organisations there is a long resistance period and chaos as reorganisation starts, with deaths ,killings and other likely atrocities beyond our imagination.The theory here is don’t deliberately ruin what can be mended.

    An interview with a representative of the church this am talked of the pontif working hard and daily to find some resolution to the matter. It doesn’t appear to be in line with the UK State laws, but is being addressed. The people are speaking.I do not personally think these priests ought to remain in the church, the abuse scandals are repulsive, but these acts were not committed by the Pope.

    Give all the people who belong to the biggest Christian church the faith they need to survive this cruel world and look to higher things.

  8. John bradshaw says:

    Just a note to channel 4 and Jon Snow- thank you so very much for facilitating debate and dialogue – I am a single gay Dad (and humanist)living in staffs moorlands where there is underlying and often open prejudice and deceit by local governance leadership around social cohesion and equality -and extraordinary cover up by the complaints department and local government ombudsman . My 13 old daughter has been repeatedly singled out by a named Police officer and complaint and requests from assistance are ignored and covered up- even by the NSPCC. Children’s services mislead and deceive me (and many others) with impunity!

    Your forceful and pragmatic approach is an inspiration and I am also happy that C4 has selected openly Gay para olympic champion Lee Pearson as the “cover” for the championships. He used to go to my daughter’s school.

    It is hard not to get stressed and despondent about the police and local council and MP and really if it weren’t for C4 I probably would not renew my TV license

    1. John says:

      Just to say, that I wish to apologise if the above remarks have caused offense.

      I realise that my expectations might be to high and that my criticism was self-defeating!

      My focus and energy is to where I can make a difference- within my family unit.

      And I really do value the debate and dialogue that Channel 4 brings to aspects of diversity , equality and human rights

  9. Steve oG says:

    The other big difference between the last papal visit and this one is the protesters.

    They were led by Enoch Powel and Ian Paisley back then.

    One of the reasons I left Northern Ireland, ironically, was to get away from casual ignorance and bigotry.

    I moved to London and became a Guardian reading left/liberal.

    Now it is people on the left who call themselves liberals who form the backbone of the anti-papist brigade. And while it sounds (to me a Catholic) like Northern Ireland style rabble rousing, in some ways it’s worse.

    The abuse issue, and the abused, have become cannon fodder in some twisted debate about secularism. Ironically much in the same way the dead in Northern Ireland were used and abused as collateral in the ‘politics of the last atrocity’ game.

    Don’t get me wrong the RC church has many faults and failing, but objectively it hardly merits Richard Dawkin’s recent extreme description of the Pope as “the head of the world’s second most evil religion…’

    But hey – I suppose all this RC bashing is giving the Muslims a well deserved week off….

  10. adrian clarke says:

    Back to religion, faith and the church.This article says it all.
    Pope Benedict!!!!!! Who is he???
    A man , like any other of us on here .A man who follows a particular calling.His is religion , it could just as easy have been a footballer or a politician.Technically he is head of the smallest state on Earth,yet his authority knows no bounds.He is just as dangerous as all the different Islamist leaders.Hitler chose the wrong profession.
    The Pope is treated like God.His and previous holders of that office,interpret the bible for their own ends.Control,money and Power.on a par with any National despot.The Church,no longer a power in this country, still brain washes its followers in Catholic countries.Lives are ruined by the Catholic doctrines,on homosexuality,contraceptives and adherence to the rules of the celibate bishops and priests.It is not about faith , but the power of the church.
    It is being called a state visit, but i know of no other statesman treated the way the Pope is.I doubt any other state visit costs this country as this visit does.

    1. Paul Begley says:

      Hi Adrian
      For your information, the going rate for a G20 meeting is around £600M, ie £30M per head of state. A Papal visit really looks like quite a bargain in comparison.

  11. Walter says:

    Everyone in the UK preaches tolerance, however, all we see in the British press over the last couple of weeks represents intolerance towards the Catholic faith. It’s a sickening attack on all Catholics. You may as just well broadcast calls to publicly round up all the Catholics and flog them. Yes, the Church could have dealt with Pedophiles in the Church far better, and yes I do believe that they should be exposed and prosecuted in the country’s courts of law and full weight of the judicial book thrown at them for abusing their position of trust. But stop taking it out on the faithful, how about balance within the media!

    1. adrian clarke says:

      I have see no attacks on catholics,or their faith.
      What i have seen is the justified attack on paedeophilic Catholic priests and on a church that has let them flourish and get away with their sins.Above all a Pope that seems mired in the cover up.His visit is as bad as Mugabwe being given a state visit

  12. Helen says:

    If this man was truly a man of faith he would not ask people already under great financial pressure to fund his trip,when his church is one of the richest instituions on earth. If he were truly a man of faith he would travel on public transport,as thousands are being asked to do to see him, If he were truly a man of faith he would trust his God to protect him instead of requiring huge sums of tax revenue from a country in dire financial staghts to be spent to protect him

    1. adrian clarke says:

      The thumbs we do not have would be up helen , in agreement

    2. Jim Flavin says:

      why should he be protected at all – if it is his ‘gods” wish that he die – should he not be grateful to go to this heaven place in the sky – which is millions / infinitely better than poor planet earth – its a bit like wondering why religous people seem to have a great desire to stay out of this ” heaven ” eg taking out health insurance etc -they seem to have a great desire to stay in this world and away from this ” heaven ” place – could it be that deep down in the subconcious they know that religion is pure bull####.

    3. adrian clarke says:

      Jim ,yet another thumb, i havent got , up

  13. philomena says:

    I too remember the euphoria of John Paul’s visit to Ireland. Men woman and children rose before dawn, travelled for miles and miles and waited all day singing and basking in the sunshine. Then at last the red helicopter appeared in the sky- everyone screamed and the feeling was electric. It was truly a magical moment –better than any pop concert. ‘Young people of Ireland – I love you’. We were won over- hypnotised –ecstatic.

    Where did it all go wrong? It would be great to go back to those days to get that feeling again that comes from people bonded together with a common purpose and a simplistic sense of belief. But now the genie is out of the bottle and we have become more enlightened, more cynical and sophisticated. Our world is altogether a more complicated place. but are we any happier? We have the knowledge and have lost that unquestioning belief in a god and in his representative on earth.

  14. Jimmy P says:

    The world is a very different place from 1982.

    People are no longer used to mass public celebration and with the decline of Christianity in the UK and the rise of Atheism, people are far more careful about keeping their personal beliefs secret.

    Most of the hardcore christians I know are looked upon as being slightly weird. It’s the exception rather than the rule these days.

    In addition, people are far less likely to take things on blind faith anymore with the birth of the internet. Faith that JP was a good man in 1982 was never put in any doubt. These days we need proof before we form opinion. We are, thankfully, so used to asking the all important questions.

    It’s the forward march of enlightenment vs the decline of religion and will define the next hundred years, possibly longer.

  15. adrian clarke says:

    Jimmy P.i half agree with you.Faith is often hidden , but i am sure that many, myself included,have a faith, an inner belief in a divine being that helps in adversity.
    I do not need to know , because i believe.
    What i do not believe in and absolutely loathe is Religion and the Churches who profess to lead us ,yet are there for their own benefit.I do not adhere to the mass brainwashing of the various churches of any denomination.
    I pity their followers who are incapable of their own faith and belief in men who are nobody except for the robes they wear.
    I would certainly not see myself as an atheist,and i believe they are just as poor not having a faith.

  16. Brian V Peck says:

    In my 4th book which I am hoping to have published in the next 3 months (all at my own expense..born below the working class in Port Stanley, 6 years formal education)…I am suggesting that within in the 21st century that the Western Ruling Elite will have to ditch Religion for good …because in essence you can not tell a lie for ever and get away with it…(for example:there is not a lot of hard evidence that JC ever existed and we are living in a scientific age without most people understanding it and the help of great men like Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox)..I am also putting forward an excellant proposition how to save ruthless Capitalism from itself…in the book about Modern Myths…

    Brian V Peck

    BA (hons), P.G C.E, PgDip

  17. janice Smith says:

    I am a very loyal proud Glaswegian, living in Spain. I am not a Roamn Catholic but would have gone to see the holy father had I been in Glasgow as I do respect his position as HEAD OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.We in the protestant faith have no such leader, but probably don’t feel we need one.
    I was, however, terribly saddened that, yet again, Glasgow was mocked and prodded. showing immigrants in Springburn who possibly were illegals and didn’t want to face the camera anyway, did not show Glasgow in a good light.Glasgow has lots of wealth and staunch Roman Catholics living throughout that dear green place and I know I am not alone in shuddering at the coverage on the evening news.You cannot assume EVERYONE in Glasgow is tarred with the same brush.There was an insubstantial coverage of the Pope’s visit to Glasgow. THIS IS WRONG GLASGOW AND EDINBURGH SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE SAME LENGTH OF COVERAGE.I noticed too that there was no belittling of Edinburgh nor it’s people, yet there are more STds and drug addicts there than in Glasgow.Why ,oh why, does the media ALWAYS have to have a pop at Glasgow. I SUGGEST YOU GO VISIT THE CITY, GET TO KNOW IT AND IT’S PEOPLE….surprise awaits

  18. alan says:

    i cannot for the life of me imagine why anybody in the uk would want to welcome someone so involved in paedophilia,or such a bigot,or so homophobic, but especially any woman, as he views women as very second class citizens, a very distasteful man, from a very distasteful religion, which has caused and continues to cause enormous numbers of unnecessar deaths.

  19. Byron Brixner says:

    Very good guide, well written I have to admit.

  20. Thaddeus Followell says:

    I would not think I have ever seen the website with this particular many remarks onto it!

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