In a very positive book review, recommending to his readers an Italian title by two vaticanisti, John Allen offers the following observation concerning the public relations debacle plaguing the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI:
Whatever one makes of that, the series of disasters surveyed in “Attacco a Ratzinger” has unquestionably eclipsed Benedict’s priorities and message for a broad swath of the world. In a sound-bite, the tragedy of Benedict’s papacy is that this is a great teaching pope, whose classroom is all but empty because his schoolhouse is burning down.
John Allen is hoping that an English translation of this Italian journalistic exposé will quickly come on the market. I’m hoping the whole thing will be forgotten in the morning just like an “unforgettable” Independence Day fireworks display. The Allen image is wrong and it would be a crime if any of God’s little ones should be the least bit perturbed about some gratuitous statement to the effect that the Holy Father’s “schoolhouse is burning down.”
Just keep in mind the readings for Mass for last Monday (Year II of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time). From I Corinthians 2:1ff. we have St. Paul reminding us of how the work of proclamation or (as John Allen calls it) teaching went on for Paul and for every successor to the Apostles:
“When I came to you, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ… And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.”
The Gospel passage from Luke 4 recounts Jesus’ expulsion from the synagogue in Nazareth and the attempt of the people of His hometown to kill Him by throwing Him over the cliff: not exactly a public relations success story.
I can remember as a seminarian in Rome in the early 1970’s when the Vatican Museum collection of modern art went on display for the first time in that part of the Apostolic Palace referred to as the Borgia Apartments. Rumor had it that this was the first time these infamous rooms had been put to use and opened to the public in centuries. I can’t remember any particular stir or fixation in the media on the rooms themselves at the opening.
Similarly, I think it was in recent years that Spanish television put out a miniseries on The Borgias not unlike that running yet called The Tudors. Neither one of these series seems to have left people reeling about their implications for the papacy or for the English monarchy today. Our two vaticanisti and John Allen know full well that while PR might “sell papers” it doesn’t really communicate. People pick up and run with what they will; seekers and learners in numbers are to be found in places other than the Areopagus.
Very simply and to be done with it all, both with the vaticanisti and their publishers seeking to earn a Euro or two as they feign concern over all those who detract from the mission and message of Pope Benedict XVI and with the John Allen types who refuse to see the continuity in the “adventure of living and proclaiming Church”, stretching over two millennia from Bethlehem /Nazareth /Calvary, through St. Paul and countless martyrs over the ages, whose words were rejected just like those of their Lord, while there are certainly serious matters to be addressed, the Pope’s public relations debacle is not one to occasion concern.
“Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is: and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them. Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.” Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, 2004, pp. 343-4.
“Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described.” Idem. P.44.
If you would be a seeker and a learner, you’ll have to find your sustenance someplace other than in a popular book review or a glossy somebody’s monthly top ten.