Gay blessings and theological porn: why leading cardinals are distancing themselves from Pope Francis

22 min listen

Just before Christmas, the Vatican’s new doctrinal chief Cardinal Victor ‘Tucho’ Fernandez unveiled a new style of blessing designed to make gay couples feel at home in church without changing the Church’s teaching on marriage. The Argentinian Tucho has for years been Pope Francis’s protégé – but for how much longer? The new gay blessings, supposedly blessing the couple but not their union, have been decisively rejected by all the Catholic bishops of Africa, forcing Francis to backtrack and say they could ignore Fernandez’s decree. Then, last week, it was revealed that in 1998 Tucho published a book on, of all things, the theology of orgasms. It is jaw-droppingly graphic,

Pope Benedict helped me know and love Christ

It was Benedict XVI’s election as Pope, his speeches and his writings that prompted my conversion, and it was his words at Bellahouston Park during his 2010 visit to the United Kingdom that first made me seriously consider my vocation. Without Pope Benedict XVI I would not have become a priest. His passing is for me incredibly personal, but it’s not just because of that, that I find him so incredibly difficult to sum up, it’s because whatever his detractors and admirers insist, he didn’t follow an ideology so much as a person.  ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter

The Pope is right: it is selfish to choose pets over children

Well, we’ve been terrifically amused and amusing at the expense of Pope Francis, who this week declared at a Vatican audience that: ‘Many couples do not have children because they don’t want them, or have just one because they don’t want any more, but have two dogs, two cats… oh yes, dogs and cats take the place of children.’ It was, he said, proof of a ‘certain selfishness… it makes us laugh but it’s true. Renouncing parenthood diminishes us. It takes away our humanity.’ This was inevitably cue for British commentators to weigh up the merits of cats and dogs versus children, and for some to pronounce in favour of

Wildly entertaining Pope-off: The Two Popes reviewed

The Two Popes stars Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce — that’s two reasons to buy a ticket, right there — as Pope Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis I, and it is wildly entertaining, so now you have a third reason too. True, it does, as others have noted, shy away from directly tackling the most difficult questions currently facing the church. But is that really the film you want to see? Rather than this affectionate and literate bromance that does, in fact, nudge us towards the bigger picture, but slyly? Also, it is brilliantly comic. Pope Benedict, for instance, doesn’t get jokes but does try to tell one,

Pope Francis is wrong to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer

Is the Pope a Catholic? You have to wonder. In the old days, a pope’s remit was modest: infallible, but only in the vanishingly rare cases when he pronounced on matters of faith and morals concerning the whole Church. But even at their most bombastic and badly behaved, earlier popes would have hesitated to do what nice Pope Francis has done, which is to approve changes in the liturgy which amount to rewriting the Lord’s Prayer. That bit that says ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ is, for Pope Francis, a bad translation. ‘It speaks of a God who induces temptation,’ he told Italian TV. ‘I

I won’t be turning Catholic just yet

I didn’t get an audience with the Pope when I visited Rome last weekend. But given that he’s a borderline commie, an open borders advocate and an increasingly fervent evangelist for the climate-change religion, we probably wouldn’t have found much to say to one another. Nice art collection, though. Well, it would be if you had it to yourself which of course you don’t. Even in the autumn off-season, the Vatican museums feel like shuffling in the midst of a zombie horde from The Walking Dead. I’m surprised the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel haven’t peeled off by now, what with the collected acid exhalations of the 25,000 tourists who

High life | 20 September 2018

Perception and reality, truth and falsehood, black and white; nowadays the salivating chattering classes don’t know their arse from a hole in the ground, as they used to say in Brooklyn before the yuppies moved in. Take, for example, the latest kerfuffle about the moon landing 49 years ago. I remember it well because it was summer, I had just acquired my first sailing boat —thanks to good old dad, naturally — and the Americans, under the great president Richard Nixon, were going to land and walk on the moon. As everyone but a few doubters knows, Neil Armstrong was the first to take a step on its cheesy-looking surface,

Cult classic

In Dan Brown’s new thriller, Origin, we are introduced to the Catholic church’s sinister far-right rival — a paranoid worldwide cult dedicated to undermining the reforms of Pope Francis. This toxic outfit has its own pope, who runs it from his ‘Vatican’ at El Palmar de Troya, on the Andalusian plain; hence its name, the Palmarian Catholic church. Brown describes a ‘soaring Gothic cathedral’ dominated by ‘eight towering spires, each with a triple-tiered bell tower’. Inside, members are required to attend interminable masses and pray to hundreds of freshly created saints, including St Adolf Hitler. Origin is a clumsily fashioned thriller, even by Brown’s standards, and you might imagine that

By Patten or design?

My old friend Richard Ingrams was said always to write The Spectator’s television reviews sitting in the next-door room to the TV set. I’m more assiduous: I have actually read this book under review. And Chris Patten’s latest memoir is a very enjoyable read — the account of a life of considerable privilege. Born into a middle-class family in suburban London, Patten won an exhibition to Balliol before — after a brief dalliance with US politics — he became a Conservative apparatchik and, in due course, an MP. Once he’d reached the cabinet, he was a made man — and from his middle years onward garnered a succession of agreeable

Forget the Grand Mess, here’s the fun stuff

There’s something a little-dispiriting about waking up one morning to find that our elected politicians are even more psychopathic, deranged and-disloyal than one had always suspected. I don’t just mean Gove and his cackling, somewhat ambitious missus. Charming though Michael undoubtedly is, and agreeably owlish in-public, I have imagined him in-darker moments standing in a blood-splattered hallway with a kitchen knife in his hand muttering over and over: ‘I did it for you, Mummy, I did it for you.’ Somehow I always thought that was in there, with Michael. No, the other lot as well, Labour; as one embittered clown after another traipsed into-Forrest Gump’s office and pretended to feel sad

The devil in footnote 351

Last week we reached the beginning of the end of the pontificate of Jorge Bergoglio — the ‘great reformer’ of the Catholic church who, it appears, has been unable to deliver the reforms that he himself favours. This despite being Pope. On Friday, he published a 200-page ‘exhortation’ entitled Amoris Laetitia, ‘The Joy of Love’ (or ‘The Joy of Sex’, as English-speaking Catholics of a certain vintage immediately christened it). This was Francis’s long-awaited response to two Vatican synods on the family, in 2014 and last year, which descended into Anglican-style bickering between liberals and conservatives. At the heart of the disputes lay the question of whether divorced-and-remarried Catholics could

The Rolling Stones’s Saatchi show is clearly a money-spinner – what’s wrong with that?

The most restless, resilient, rapacious rock & roll group in the world is on the move again. Less than two weeks after finishing a routinely Herculean tour of Latin America with an epochal show in Cuba, the Rolling Stones were back in their London hometown, disrupting traffic on the King’s Road as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood glad-handed a media scrum at a red carpet event to mark the opening of their latest project, Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery. Towards the start of this ‘immersive’ odyssey, you find yourself in a room that looks like the set of a Harold Pinter play. Grease-plastered dishes are piled

The Spectator’s Notes | 18 February 2016

In his authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel writes lucidly about the unlucid subject of phenomenology. It is a way of thinking which rejects the dry categories of empiricists and the abstractions of idealists, and concentrates instead on ‘the basic experiences of life as they come to us’. Weigel takes the example of ‘girl meets boy’: ‘An empiricist will analyse the brain chemistry of a young woman seeing, hearing and touching a handsome young man … an idealist may worry that the young woman’s commitment to the second categorical imperative [of Kant] (never use another person as a means) may be wavering in the face of other

Portrait of the week | 18 February 2016

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, spent time in Brussels before a meeting of the European Council to see what it would allow him to bring home for voters in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The board of HSBC voted to keep its headquarters in Britain. Sir John Vickers, who headed the Independent Commission on Banking, said that Bank of England proposals for bank capital reserves were ‘less strong than what the ICB recommended’. The annual rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Prices Index, rose to 0.3 per cent in January, compared with 0.2 per cent in December. Unemployment fell by 60,000 to 1.69 million. A

The Spectator’s Notes | 14 January 2016

No amount of reports in the press that Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet-making is farcical and his party is divided should distract us from the fact that he is winning. I don’t mean that he will become prime minister, or even (though this seems quite possible) that he will survive as leader until the general election. It is just that he is gradually bringing more and more of Labour under his control, and grinding down his opponents. Besides, his public positions are coherent — in the sense of being internally consistent — and he is quite accomplished at adhering to an undeviatingly hardline, left-wing ideology while sounding mild and decent. Taxed,

Moving statues

One of the stranger disputes of the past few weeks has concerned a Victorian figure that has occupied a niche in the centre of Oxford for more than a century without, for the most part, attracting any attention at all. Now, of course, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign is demanding that the sculpture — its subject having been posthumously found guilty of racism and imperialism — should be taken down from the façade of Oriel College. The controversy is a reminder of the fact, sometimes forgotten by the British, that public statues are intensely political. This was clear — until quite recently, at least — when one drove into the

Podcast: civil war in the Catholic church

Are Pope Francis’ reforms and pronouncements risking a civil war within the Catholic church? On the latest View from 22 podcast, Damian Thompson and Fraser Nelson discuss this week’s Spectator cover feature on the Pope vs. the church. How concerned should Catholics be about the Pope’s wild statements? Is the church pining for the days of Pope Benedict? Is the Catholic church on track to lose its unity? And how split is the Synod over Pope Francis? Isabel Hardman and Fraser Nelson also discuss whether MPs will ever vote to bomb Syria. Does David Cameron regret losing the Commons vote in 2013 and does he remain determined to put it right? At which point might the Prime Minister be able to convince

A tale of cloaks and daggers

You don’t need to know the opera Tosca to understand and enjoy this book about Puccini’s most notorious villain, Vitellio Scarpia, portrayed on stage as a ‘sadistic agent of reaction’, a cut-throat murderer who enjoys drinking his victims’ blood from their skulls and, as one of my opera-loving Kensington pals puts it, ‘not a nice bloke at all!’ In fact you may not even recognise him in these pages. Here Scarpia appears as an all-round human being, kind-hearted, handsome, likeable, occasionally lonely, even destitute, who also just happens to be a brilliant swordsman and man of action. Brought up in Sicily, his first act of daring is to rescue a

The Pope’s moment

On Tuesday, Pope Francis set foot in the United States for the first time in his life. His plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, where American presidents depart and arrive on Air Force One. But, according to a Spanish journalist on the papal plane, this was not how Francis had wanted to arrive. He would have preferred to cross over from Tijuana, the grubby Mexican city menaced by drug gangs from which countless migrants slip across the border into California. In other words, if the report is true, the Pope wished to turn his arrival into a political gesture, aligning himself with America’s 11.3 million ‘undocumented’ immigrants

Portrait of the week | 10 September 2015

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, told Parliament that he had authorised the killing, on 21 August, by means of an RAF drone, of a British citizen near Raqqa in Syria, Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, 21, an adherent of the Islamic State. Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen, also an Islamic State activist, whose killing had not been approved in advance, died in the same attack, along with another Islamic State supporter who was with them. Mr Cameron called the strike a lawful ‘act of self-defence’. Khan was said by government sources to have been plotting an attack during the VJ Day commemorations in London on 15 August, and although that had been