I think the BBC Panorama programme last night is probably going to end up being the biggest watershed we will witness in our lives. The ructions will extend way beyond the Catholic Church. Whichever way it goes there is now going to be an enormous watershed. There is no way back.
If they endeavour to cover it up, or go back to the Humanae Vitae type of line (I'm not so much talking about the teaching in HV here as the set of "head in the sand" attitudes of "bugger all youse people out there ‚ we're going to do it our way and we simply do not care what you think"), it is going to cause a massive further flight from the Church that will be as great as that induced by HV and the abuse scandals combined. I mean that in relative terms of course. When the rate of participation has already declined from around 50% to 10% it is actually statistically impossible for it to be bigger. But in relative terms say going from 10% to 5% participation is actually greater than going from 50% to 10%. In the Western world people are simply not going to wear what has been broadcast in this program when it is screened on the other continents and, over the months, as the information in it gradually filters down to the ordinary people in the suburbs who wouldn't watch a BBC Panorama program in a million years. Most people will actually probably never view this television program but just, as in the program how the stories about Colgate toothpaste being a contraceptive spreads, before a year is out almost every person in the Western world will be familiar with the broad thrust of the information we've been reading in the transcript today even though 95% of them will have never seen the program or would not even know what BBC Panorama is. Ordinary people are just not going to wear it and they'll walk. I would bet my inheritance on it and that is about all I have left in my life to bet.
I think this program will probably though even have greater impact in the Third World where the Church has not yet faced the problems it has in the Developed World.
So what is the Church to do about it if she is to turn the situation around? The only thing they can do is own up to the truth and admit they were engaged in deliberate deceit. If they actually have the courage to do that though ‚ and there is a possibility that they might although it is still far from certain and if the Pope literally did keel over saying Mass tomorrow morning that would throw everything up for grabs and one couldn't predict anything then. If they did have the courage to admit the error what it effectively means is that in a defacto way they are going to have to admit that the use of condoms does help prevent AIDS. Talk about Lopez-Trujillo putting the Church, and the Pope, between a rock and a hard place! Once that admission is made it is like the tiny fissure in the dyke wall of the whole fabric of Church thinking on the Sixth Commandment. They will not be able to stop the whole dyke come tumbling down on them.
One of the most interesting revelations in the whole program ‚ in the end this might even be more damaging than what Lopez-Trujillo has done is the disclosure of the information by the Pope's best mate, Karol Tarnowski, that the Pope told him and his wife to go and get another confessor. If even Karol Wotjyla was doing that back in 1969 or the early 1970s again the whole edifice comes crumbling down in a big heap. I am certain some priests would have been run out of the priesthood and the church for publicly offering such advice back in those years. Again that will be interpreted as another massive act of hypocrisy on a massive scale similar to what we've been going through with the abuse scandals. The testimony of Tarnowski is not something that the Church can dismiss easily. He is an incredibly powerful witness.
What is so powerful about this documentary, despite what those like Pete and James are trying to impute, is that that little gem would not have been obtained by any form of deceit or trickery on the part of the journalist. Tarnowski would have been approached openly and told they were doing a doco to commemorate the 25th Anniversary and that its focus was on the Pope's support of the traditional teachings on birth control etc. ‚ and that is what the program is about ‚ and he has gladly consented believing that he was doing his mate (the Pope) a great favour by showing how he upheld the teaching. The journalist did not need to do anything surreptitious to coax that out of him and neither have they edited the program in an unfair way in which that information has been used. It is enormously damaging information though. I've been asked to give a media training program to religious leaders and I can tell you I will be using this little gem as an example of how one needs to be careful. The great skill when dealing with the media is knowing when to put one's foot on the accelerator and when to use the brake ‚ when to keep quiet. Tarnowski though would have needed to have been a literal prophet and a person with the wisdom of Solomon not to have made an error like that one. I have enormous admiration for the man's candour though.
Tonight you might all pray for the Pope because I suspect this is going to break his heart. Hopefully he will not live long enough to see how his pontificate ended up and he'll go out while there is still a bit of the razzamatazz still going on. The fallout of this program will take weeks, possibly months, particularly if they (the Church) do adopt the stick the head in the sand approach. (But that will almost certainly mean the end of any hope of the Church being a force in the world again. It will simply become some kind of remnant religion.) I think it is very evident now that he will not live that long and so, in that case, he'll miss seeing the final chapter being written.
If they do act to correct Lopez-Trujillo's cock-up the fall out will happen much sooner and that might be the stress that finally pushes the Pope over the edge. I suspect the Pope would not be able to pick up the significance of what is happening at the moment. That's how the error came to be made in the first place ‚ because the Pope has effectively lost control. It's not only Lopez-Trujillo, they shouldn't have let at least three or four of those other spokespeople anywhere within about 700 metres of a microphone or television camera.
As the man said: we live in interesting times. In spite of all that might be said against our age, what a moment it is to be alive in!
As you wake up each morning over the coming months I am sure it is going to dawn on you that our world has changed forever whichever way this now goes. We will either be out looking for a new Church or this truly will bang the Church back onto the pathway of Vatican II as the bishops of the world originally discerned the Church needed to move along.
Remember where you read this first. I've been fortunate in my life to have been standing in the right place at the right time on three or four occasions where I was given enormously clear vision as to how some major event was going to pan out or where I was actually a signficant catalytic element in the change. These were things at a political level mainly where political leaders heads rolled or someone came out of nowhere to prominence. There has been one significant Church event. In my 30+ years in communications, media, politics and the Church I've never had an experience remotely like this though. Deo Gratias.