The Pope needs Peter Mandelson

Among Pope Francis’s many qualities PR does not figure. Perhaps it is to his credit, but increasingly he seems to be presiding over a shambles. He could do with Peter Mandelson

Could he help the Pope?
Tim Hedges
On 26 October 2014 09:55

I once suggested in a blogpost that the Vatican employ Peter Mandelson to head up its public relations. Whilst you might think him excluded from such a job on a couple of important grounds, it is increasingly clear that the Holy See has no idea how to project itself to the people, beyond repetition of doctrine. Mandelson is the best, and the Church needs him.

In the past few weeks it has become clear that among Pope Francis’s many qualities PR does not figure. Perhaps it is to his credit, but increasingly he seems to be presiding over a shambles.

Francis’ much heralded Synod on the Family came to an end with a whimper, leaving observers confused. Francis had first asked the laity for their views on the Church’s attitude to family life, now he was asking the bishops. And they told him.

Francis’s first mistake was to have the initial address made by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German ultra liberal. The Press began to regard the whole debate as a done deal: Francis, through his agent Kasper, would muscle through the acceptance of homosexuality and the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Communion.

Francis’s second mistake was not to act to quash this version of events. Mandelson’s famous ‘rebuttal unit’, which saved Tony Blair’s bacon on so many occasions, would have been all over the story, managing the public’s expectations.

For the Catholic Church is far from united on these and many other issues. Catholic means universal but, as in the Anglican Church, there are separate strands of thought which look irreconcilable.

In predominantly Lutheran or Protestant countries many believe the church should move with the times. Divorce and homosexuality are part of life: in America the divorce rate is heading towards 50 percent whilst 51 percent of Americans surveyed think that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle. The liberals were scenting a victory at the Synod.

But the Church is not short of conservatives, either. In Italy, and more particularly the third world, including Africa, there is little or no tolerance of homosexuality and divorce is regarded as an attack on the sanctity of marriage. One bishop during the discussions demanded to know if the Church was abandoning the whole concept of sin.

The conservatives seem to have won. The bishops in their final communiqué left out the paragraph ‘valuing’ the sexual orientation of homosexuals, and they voted down the paragraph suggesting that under certain circumstances divorced and remarried people could be admitted to communion. The press decided it was a defeat for the Pope.

It did not have to be like this. There was never any question of the Church recognising the marriage of two people of the same sex and there was never any question of it accepting sex outside marriage. The Synod had neither the brief nor the authority to do so, and Francis has himself described gay marriage as ‘diabolical’.

It may well be that in the future these changes are enacted in the Church. But that future lies beyond the papacy of Francis and almost certainly beyond the lives of any of those present.

There will be another, larger Synod next year which will not, now, make any changes. The only possibility is, as I suggested in these pages recently, a tweaking of the rules on annulment.

The Church has conducted in public (at Francis’s insistence) an unseemly row. The public will see this as a chance for the Church to enter the twenty-first century which has been rejected.

Homosexuals will see themselves increasingly outcast, divorcees will feel their hopes have been dashed. And all because of a failure to manage expectations. Peter Mandelson would have come up with a communiqué reaching out to these groups, and then sent a couple of cardinals off to see how reforms could be implemented, with instructions not to report back for at least twenty years.

I am sure he would be available for a prestigious client.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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