They should elect the next Pope in a televised contest

If this were an election in North Korea, it would be condemned as a despotic farce

Mark Steel

07 April 2005

Apparently we all loved him. Every night the reporters in St Peter's Square tell us 'he was clearly adored by the people of every faith, or indeed no faith.' By the time of the funeral, they'll be saying, 'I've just been speaking to some Satanists who described him as a deeply spiritual and morally uplifting figure. They added that, while they 'didn't agree with everything he stood for, none the less they felt they should add their tribute, and left this fluffy teddy bear, having first sacrificed it and eaten the stuffing.'

Then they tell us that he was officially the greatest ever Pope, with commentary such as: 'I think it's true to say that before John Paul, very few people had heard of the Catholic Church. There were one or two semi- known figures such as St Augustine, and our Lord Jesus Christ, but they were fairly marginal compared to the celebrity status of this Pope. After all, Jesus hardly set foot outside Galilee, and his idea of a world tour was a few days in the wilderness. He certainly didn't put himself about like John Paul.'

Next comes the bit about his inspiring last days, when they say: 'Everyone was deeply moved by the way in which he carried on being alive right up until the moment he died. And that was clearly a measure of his deep faith.'

It's also becoming accepted that he ended communism. One news report claimed that 'It was down to the Pope that Solidarity could mount their campaign for freedom in Poland.' A glance at the news from the time might suggest that, while the Church offered tacit support to Solidarity, most of their appeals to the movement's leaders was for them to moderate their demands and not attempt to overthrow the government. But never mind, because before long, the official version will be that the Berlin Wall was knocked down by the Pope driving fearlessly headlong into it in his Popemobile.

In the rush to praise him, The Irish Post declared: 'He did much that brought the Church forward' because 'he acknowledged that Galileo should not have been persecuted for espousing the view that the sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the cosmos.' So he brought it forward by dragging it into the 17th century. Presumably, then, in another 450 years they'll get round to apologising for fiddling with stacks of their choirboys.

It's acknowledged he was 'socially conservative', but that phrase is misleading " he was socially bloody medieval. Gays, abortion, contraception, masturbation, weren't just wrong, they were an abomination, punished with eternal damnation.

The dark side of these attitudes is that, the more you repress sexuality as 'sinful', the more it bursts out in genuinely depraved ways. Not only is the Roman Catholic Church at the centre of a huge child-abuse scandal, the recent Pope went to enormous lengths to cover that scandal up. In May 2001 he changed the rules to make each case a 'pontifical secret'. Bishops could no longer investigate child abuse in their area, as each case had to be referred immediately to the Vatican. Seeing as most cardinals were appointed to ensure a continuation of policy, there must be a worry they'll announce the next Pope is Michael Jackson.

Something else that may come under 'socially conservative' was his fondness for creating saints out of people not necessarily all that saintly. For example, Alojzije Stepinac, beatified for his role as Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War. A fervent supporter of Hitler's puppet regime the Ustashe, his paper responded to the Nazis' arrival in Croatia by saying, 'The Catholic Church accompanies with rejoicing and delight the whole Croat people in this moment of its reconstruction.'

The Ustashe representative to the Vatican declared: 'The Archbishop justified in part the methods used against the Jews, who are in our country the most frequent perpetrators of abortion.' Maybe he should be declared the patron saint of managing to be despicable in two different ways all in the one sentence.

But Pope John Paul was, we gather, scathing about materialism in the midst of poverty. To which there needs to be one question asked: have you ever been to the Vatican? It's virtually made of gold. He could have taken half a dozen goblets from one room, flogged them in a car boot sale and made enough to feed Mozambique for a year.

Now the new Pope, leader of a billion people, will be appointed in a manner that would be condemned as a despotic farce if it took place in North Korea. So they should make amends by choosing their next leader with an international televised contest called 'Pope Idol'. It would be democratic, open, and every week we'd see Simon Cowell yelling: 'Stop " your catechism's out of time, your transubstantiation is so sloppy you nearly dropped your wafer, you're a waste of a cassock " get out.'

Or maybe God will decide that this is his ideal opportunity to prove he exists. Just as the last person files past the body, up he pops and starts jumping on a bouncy castle in the square.

And then won't I feel a right fool.

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