Pope speaks of grace, UK media misses the point

The trajectory of eurosceptic commentary during and after yesterday’s address to Parliament by Pope Francis was truly a wonder to behold.

Flicking through UKIP MEPs’ Twitter feeds from yesterday is illuminating in itself. When the Pope arrived at Parliament, he was introduced to the leaders of all the political groups. Cue lots of excitable tweets from Ukippers, showing him standing near Nigel Farage (who leads the small eurosceptic EFDD group). Many of these tweets were accompanied by captions not-so-subtly implying that here, finally, was a genuine statesman, someone worth listening to, someone who would tell it like it is.

The buzz of blurry photos continued as His Holiness began his address, with a flurry of excited snapshots showing MEPs’ desktop screens displaying the one word “POPE”. What an honour it must be for a proud nationalist to be part of this grand institution attended by the head of the Catholic Church himself!

And then, as quickly as they had begun, the UKIP tweets petered out, replaced by stony silence. There was next to no commentary on the content of his speech. By the time he was wrapping up, most UKIP MEPs had quietly returned to their usual fare, retweeting anti-immigration clichés and EU attack lines. It was the reactionary equivalent of coughing politely and trying to move on.

The reason? Because the values the Pope had chosen to focus on in his speech were tolerance, grace, and cooperation. These are hardly the kinds of themes that make UKIP hearts beat faster, or play well with their target audiences.

His Holiness had strong words about protecting and defending migrants; about peace and mutual understanding; about the importance of action to protect the environment; about the need to protect human rights and dignity; and about allowing cultural differences to flourish while continuing to develop the cooperative framework of the European Union. He emphasised the readiness of the Church to play its part in the EU’s further development. And the central theme of his speech was the motto of the EU itself: united in diversity.

I consider Europe as a family of peoples who will sense the closeness of the institutions of the Union when these latter are able wisely to combine the desired ideal of unity with the diversity proper to each people, cherishing particular traditions, acknowledging its past history and its roots, liberated from so many manipulations and phobias.

Talk about tolerance, grace and cooperation does not make comfortable listening for UKIP. No wonder they stayed in their seats and glared when the rest of us applauded. It’s a shame I didn’t think to get some before/after photos.

But UKIP and the Tory eurosceptics did have one success: how they played the British media. I was astonished to read the spin put on the whole affair by most of our press this morning, through selective quoting and misleading headlines — quotes no doubt helpfully supplied by the eurosceptic spin machine. Suggesting that the Pope somehow outed himself as a closet eurosceptic is not only utterly at odds with the reality of what he said, and quite insulting to boot, but it bears no relation to the media reaction in any other EU country that I’ve seen.

Not sure who to believe? Here’s the full text of the Pope’s speech, courtesy of the Vatican’s own press office. Have a read and judge for yourself.

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