BY PETER HEBBLETHWAITE
AT THE START of August the world press that was not comatose in the sun was paying attention to the Vatican. Was there, or was there not, a new encyclical in the offing? When would E-Day strike? Naturally, as an experienced Vaticanologist, I turned to Vatican Radio which, according to its advertising slogan, offers listeners "the kind of perspective that no one else can give". This direct link with Rome, with "the Pope's Radio," would surely help.
Starting at 5.30am there are three programmes in succession. Ten minutes of news in German is followed by 20 minutes in French given by that old stager, Fr Pierre Gerard. I tend to miss that because the World Service News about Europe with Liliane Lalande is so much be;ter.
Never mind, at 6am, one has 20 minutes from the English-language programme. Introduced by Sean Patrick Lovett with Lauderur Jesus Christus, it features oftrepeated headlines, much music, and little news. listened in vain for any mention of the putative encyclical. The news broke on Saturday. Okay, fair enough, Sunday was given over to spirituality, with students from the North American College piously commenting on the Gospel of the day. Vatican Radio keeps the sabbath holy.
On Monday we had a play about St Teresa of Avila called "Teresa on Trial". I can't tell you much about it because I fell asleep. But it was written by Jill Bevilaqua who previously regaled us with a multipart play about Mother Cornelia Connolly, foundress of the Holy Child Sisters. One feature of these thespian activities is that the plummy-voiced Arthur Baum, who lives in the Alban Hills, always gets a part. Nothing about the encyclical.
Tuesday's programme featured "Ask the Abbot", devoted to: "What you have always wanted to know about the Catholic Church but didn't know whom to turn to." Abbot Gilbert, who turns out to be for real, answered a listener's question about cremation. It is okay for RCs? It used not to be, replied the Abbot, but now it is. Not a word about the encyclical.
Wednesday's programme offered more hope. The Rome Report, Vatican Radio loves alliteration, offers to provide "a Catholic background to some item in the news". But Robert Mickens simply gathered some vox pops about holidays or, as he put it, vacations.
Anonymous persons from St Peter's Square and, the voice of authority, a Monsignor from the Vatican Council for Migrants and Wanderers (Itinerants), said that vacations were a good thing so one could "relax," "take it easy," and a great favourite this "recharge one's batteries."
The Holy Father, said the tourism-specialist Monsignor, had been taking it easy and recharging his batteries in the Dolomites. This was so important because of the immense amount of work that piled up on his desk. He failed to mention that it included an encyclical.
Thursday (one day to Eday) enlightened us about Polish migrants in Rome. The 7,500 of them have no work permits and are exploited. Each week an Orbis bus arrived from Warsaw bringing hopefuls and Polish cigarettes. On the return journey it takes back the disappointed Poles. Macek went home. He had an Italian girlfriend, but he had been beaten up by "skinheads". Italians do not like Poles, he said. But that was not really a comment on the encyclical.
Deep in slumber on E-Day, I missed the Friday programme. On Saturday we had readings from "one of our Catholic authors". It turned out to be St John of the Cross, who lived in a ten by six feet cell. Perhaps all this week's programmes had been prerecorded to give the staff a holiday. That might explain it.
Throughout, The Times behaved in a most extraordi nary way. On Friday the page one lead story imagined English Catholics as "enraged" at the encyclical's reaffirmation of papal infallibility. This was the new obstacle to the one thousand Anglican priests who were, according to a previous page one lead, about to "come over". Now they were having "second thoughts".
But by the next day, it was the Pope himself who was alleged to be having "second thoughts on some of its more controversial elements as a result of reaction to the draft encyclical leaked last week." Further: "Some of the authoritarian language had been toned down because of pressure from moderates in the Church." A likely tale. The Times even claimed credit for
achieving this result.
But after that I knew why Vatican Radio was silent. It was silent because it had nothing to say. Or rather, the things it might have said sounded so unconvincing that silence was the wiser course.
It was left to Archbishop Luigi Barbarito to act as unofficial Vatican press officer. He insisted that the draft text was now useless because it had been considerably changed and reworked. But since he did not say in what respect it was changed, this was not very helpful. He certainly did not mean it was changed in response to reactions to the leaked draft.
The papal nuncio's other argument, that there was "nothing new" in the encycli
cal, was possibly true. The disciplining of dissident theologians, he pointed out, was already strongly urged in the 1980 Instruction On the Ecclesial Ybcation of the Theologian.
Fair enough. But if it really be true that there is "nothing new here," then one has to ask Just what is the encyclical for? We do not need, Non abbiamo bisogno (to borrow a phrase from Pope Pius XI in 1931), this kind of thing.
And was the pro-nuncio "the senior Vatican source" who told the Catholic Herald that basing criticism on an early draft was "a bit like attackn,g a bill before it comes to Parliament"?
But this is jnst the time to criticise it. Matters will be different when it is promulgated. Anyway, it is not going to be discussed in the Synod, the church's equivalent of Parliament, so the analogy does not hold.
I FOUND TERRY Eagleton taking it easy and entirety sober at Dominican Fr Herbert McCabe's birthday party which (and this a huge joke) takes place on the feast of St Ignatius Loyola.
Terry has just received his first honorary degree from Salford University. It was a case of "local boy makes good". It did not exist when he was a lad at the De La Salle College, Pendleton. His aged mum, who lives just round the corner, was present. He noticed the public orator conferring with her. A few unpublished details were elegantly slipped into the citation. He wasn't allowed to keep his cap and gown because "they might fit someone else".
At Fr McCabe's party Terry sang songs of his own composition. He also told me the following Lancashire tale: A town council decided to brighten up its local parks by building pagodas. "That's all very well," complained Councillor Bill Hardcastle, "but what I want to know is who's going to feed the bloody pagodas?" Thanks for cheering me up Terry. t