There’s a long tradition in this country of washed-up troupers from overseas turning up on our shores for a gig, discovering that here in what they probably regard as hicksville they’re treated as celebrities, and deciding to stay on. There have been dozens of them – fading musical comedy chanteuses, C-grade actors, television ‘personalities’, food and wine bores. We might soon be getting another. Milo Yiannopoulos (The Spectator Australia, 27 October) regards Australia as ‘my last hope’, according to the title of a book he’s written. He hasn’t revealed whether he aspires to immigrant status but if we’re his last hope, you never know. He’d been booked to tour here in December but put it off, leaving his fans not best pleased. ‘Hope deferred,’ as the Bible says, ‘maketh the heart sick.’
Milo started out well as a conservative enfant terrible then blew it. He was hilariously offensive to feminist harpies and gender cranks, who descended as they always do when out of their intellectual depth into paroxysms of incoherent rage. But then he defended sex with thirteen-year-olds, just as the ‘abuse crisis’ was reaching hysteria pitch. It’s one thing to sneer at the idiocies of the Left but child abuse is evil and Milo was a fool for defending or seeming to defend it. Conservatives dropped him as a standard bearer and he more or less sank out of sight. Is this why, in the footsteps of other performers seeking career-resuscitation, he sees Australia as his ‘last hope’? And if that hope fails him, where to next? New Zealand? Nauru?
The one place it’s unlikely to be is Argentina. Because that’s where Pope Francis comes from, and Milo’s Spectator article was one long rant against the Latin American pope. Now when it comes to criticising His Holiness, go for it say I, but go for it for the right reasons. Milo reduces the legitimate and widespread disenchantment with this Pope to an accusation that he ‘covers up’ sex abuse by gay clergy who are ‘sufficiently left-wing’. Coming from Milo, this sudden revulsion at gay goings-on is rather rich. ‘I’ve watched in horror,’ he writes – and one pictures him reaching for his salts like a Victorian spinster spotting an undraped chair-leg – ‘as this pink rot in the clerisy (sic) has torn the Bride of Christ apart.’
Actually, the Church has not been torn apart, but if that happens it won’t be because of the pink rot. The Catholic Church has always had clerical homosexuals, mainly because in the days before the LGBTQXYZ dictatorship when homosexuality was a stigma, the celibate priesthood was a good career for a devout young man who was gay and didn’t want his mother and aunts asking all the time when he was going to find a nice girl. In 99 per cent of cases gay priests got on with their job, some with heroism and saintliness, maintained their chastity and the Church was the richer for their presence.
They certainly didn’t tear it apart. For the risk of that happening we had to wait for the arrival in Rome of the erstwhile Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis.
Francis is a man who bestrides the centuries. He has managed to transform the papacy from a focus of Catholic unity to a focus of disunity, something that hasn’t happened since 1439 when Pope Eugene IV was opposed by the anti-pope Felix V. And it’s by his ecclesiastical politicking rather than through any indulgence towards Milo’s ‘left-wing “lavender mafia”’ that Francis has brought the Church closer to schism than at any time since the Reformation.
Since he was elected on 13 March, 2013, Francis has acted not as a pope for all Catholics but primarily as leader of a leftist progressive faction. Peronism, in which Francis grew up, kept itself in power by playing factions off against each other, and Francis is adept at this too. He presents himself as a traditionalist in some beliefs, notably about the devil and Hell, breaks ranks with leftists in being firmly against abortion, yet doesn’t like the revival of the old Latin Mass. He’d probably suppress it if he could, but that would provoke schism, since the traditionalist constituency is one of the few growth areas in the Church, attracting many young people (rather than the ‘nostalgic old queens’ Milo thinks it’s made up of).
Francis is a progressive because he’s a product of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). As a young Jesuit he absorbed the idealism that led council enthusiasts to go all gaga about this ‘new springtime’ for the Church. They were misled. The council can now be seen as an egregious folly, almost an act of Catholic suicide. The banality of the liturgy that flowed from it, the dilution of doctrine, the abandoning of group identity markers such as Latin and fish on Fridays contributed to reducing a Church that knew what it taught and thought into a ghost of its former self, culturally and numerically. But Francis, like all true believers faced with the failure of their ideas, thinks the ideas weren’t put properly into practice. He wants to liberalise the Church further in its moral teaching. The renewed forces of traditional Catholicism oppose this, hence the disunity. Whether that leads to schism will be up to Francis and how far he tries to push in what conservatives consider changing the fundamentals of Catholicism, or at nearly 82, how long he lasts.
As to the sex abuse, is it possible that his seeming disinclination to do anything much about clerical scandals (‘I will not say a word’) is due to his not taking them very seriously? Latins are easy-going about sex in general. It’s the conscious-stricken guilt-ridden Anglo world that gets hung up. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis was less than strict over ‘abuse’ allegations. Now that he’s Pope, and sees everything sub specie aeternitatis, perhaps the ‘summer of shame’ is not the big deal to him that it is to Milo.
Nor used it to be to anyone. In the 1970s the ABC ran programmes advocating paedophilia. ‘Naughty’ clergymen and scoutmasters were regarded not as society’s wickedest offenders but as good for a laugh. In a ’70s TV episode of Father, Dear Father, Patrick Cargill as the eponymous father looks into his local church to arrange a wedding and finds the vicar, paintbrush in hand, restoring painted figures on a mural. ‘Oh,’ says the vicar, ‘I didn’t see you. I was busy touching up a cherub’ (gales of studio laughter). This was shown in Australia without protest. Imagine the reaction now.