Damian Thompson

The Pope’s bizarre rant about eating faeces makes me wonder if he should retire

The Pope's bizarre rant about eating faeces makes me wonder if he should retire
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Have you read what the Pope has just said about being sexually turned on by eating faeces? He wasn't talking about himself, let me quickly add: just human beings in general. They make him sound more like a desperately tasteless stand-up comedian than the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church.

I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true. And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.

'No offence intended.' That's a nice touch, just before the successor of St Peter tells humanity that they have a tendency to 'coprophagia' – that is, a sexual fetish for eating actual shit. (It's not the first time he's used this revolting image, by the way: he did so a year before being elected Pope.)

The context to these edifying refections is the debate about the spread of disinformation or 'fake news' by propaganda outlets. But Francis doesn't seem to be making any distinction between the deliberately concocted fantasies circulating on Facebook or Russia Today and news stories he considers 'slanderous', by which I suspect he means reports that criticise him.

Such as the following, for example. Here's Rod Dreher of the American Conservative on what he calls 'Poop Talk With Pope Francis':

The Vicar of Christ, ladies and gentlemen.

I know I’m the sort of person Francis would call 'rigid', but I think we could all stand a bit more rigidity from this guy. Whoever thought they would live to see the day when the Roman pontiff gave an interview in which he raised the subject eating poo for sexual pleasure?

Dreher refers to the 'in-no-way-like-Donald-Trump Pope Francis'. Funnily enough, that's exactly the thought that crossed my mind. The difference, of course, is that the Pope can get away with this sort of outburst and the American president-elect can't. That's because the despised media adopt a distinctly casuistical approach to the Jesuit pontiff: he's an anti-Trump climate alarmist, so let's treat his tantrums as charming eccentricity fuelled by moral indignation.

Catholics, though, aren't so indulgent, and the ranks of his critics are growing outside the traditionalist constituency that never liked him. After these comments, they will grow faster. Some points worth bearing in mind:

• The Pope who denounces 'disinformation' is doggedly reluctant to provide much-needed information about his own policies. The four cardinals who submitted a document (known as a dubia) asking him to clarify his evasive stance on communion for the divorced-and-remarried have been ignored.

• Talking of fake news, Francis's right-hand man, Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, has been caught using sock-puppets to attack the aforementioned cardinals.

• Lectures on journalistic accuracy are hard to take seriously coming from a Pope who communicates his most controversial thoughts to a nonagenarian hack who doesn't take notes.

One of the biggest unreported stories in the Church is liberal Catholics' fading enthusiasm for this pontificate. His 'reform' of pastoral attitudes towards marginalised Catholics is a mess: the divorced-and-remarried don't know where they stand, while gay Catholic men have just learned that Francis is upholding the ban on them becoming priests, even if they're celibate.

That last bit of news didn't surprise me. Francis is more left-wing than he is liberal: on several hot-button issues, his views are those of your average septuagenarian Latin American.

Not that he'll be a septuagenarian for long. The Pope turns 80 this month. A surprising number of Catholics are wondering whether this might not be an appropriate moment for him to retire. Count me among them.