Friday, July 15, 2011

Scandal Breaks on Scandal: Vatican Accepted Murdoch Money for Papal Visit

Pope Benedict and James Murdoch on Papal Visit to Britain

As if the Vatican hasn't had enough trouble to deal with this week, while the Cloyne report elicits blistering criticism of what's been called Vatican-engineered evasion by Irish bishops of laws requiring the reporting of child abuse and as the Irish foreign minister has called the papal nuncio on the carpet and demanded that the Vatican respond to the report:

Now it comes out that Rupert Murdoch's son James dropped a six-figure donation on the papal visit to Britain last year, and was given a private meeting with Benedict and other major donors in what's being called a "pope for hire" scandal.  No less than the bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Kieron Conry, is using the term "scandal" to refer to the Vatican's acceptance of the Murdoch money.  Riazat Butt quotes Bishop Conry in the Guardian, in the article to which I've just linked, to say the following: 

A conversation needs to take place, discussion needs to take place [i.e., now that the Murdoch donation story has been made public].  It is a public scandal and everyone knows Murdoch's empire is tainted by these revelations.

Francis Davis, a director of the Las Casas Institute on Ethics, Human Rights And Social Justice, is quoted in the same article saying, 

Given the importance that the English bishops have attached to ethics in business since the banking crisis, it would now be extraordinary if the bishops were not to review the ethical provenance of this donation. And perhaps it raises questions about other donations we don't know about.

And lest defensive Catholics conclude that the nasty secular media are out to get the pope, it should also be noted that the English Catholic weekly The Tablet has just published editorial commentary by Catherine Pepinster calling on the Vatican to return the Murdoch money.  Pepinster writes,

Enjoying a few private moments with the Holy Father in return for a donation does have a touch of "cash for access" about it, made plainer by the fact that when one of the party leaders who were also meeting the Pope before the Saturday Mass, asked to bring along a devout Catholic constituent to meet Benedict, the response was that this was inappropriate.

Revelations about phone hacking at the News of the World and allegations about other unethical journalistic practices at The Sun and The Sunday Times are coming thick and fast, but one stands out above all others: the culture of the News of the World made it acceptable to hack the phone of a missing child and delete her voicemail messages, thereby giving the parents of that young girl, Milly Dowler, hope that she was still alive and was still using her phone.

Do Catholics really want their memories of one of the greatest occasions in their national Church's history to be sullied by links to the corrupt and the cruel? A welcome gesture now would be to return the Murdoch money and find other ways of replenishing the Church coffers.

It's "inappropriate" for a "devout Catholic constituent to meet Benedict, but a man whose journalistic empire gives parents false hope that their children are alive, and which hacks private citizens' phones and deletes their voicemails, is welcome to do so, if he brings cash in hand.  Sickening.

And this sickening news couldn't come at a worse time for the Vatican, in terms of its media image, with the Cloyne report and the virtual uprising of large numbers of priests now taking place in Austria, about which Colleen Baker provides valuable commentary a day or so ago at her Enlightened Catholicism blog. 

At the time of  Benedict's visit to Britain last year, I made no secret of my distaste for this lavish, media-driven, Opus Dei-managed diversionary show, which was, to my way of thinking, far more about empty reactionary spectacle than substantive, thoughtful dialogic response to the challenges the church faces as secularism becomes the norm across the developed parts of the world.  Little did I know at the time, however, what dirty money paid for this spectacle.

Just when I think I can't find more to be ashamed of in the behavior of the leaders of my church and those who keep apologizing for them, a new revelation like this comes along, leaving me . . . . Well, fill in the blank: a single word won't do.

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