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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  1. On the contrary – The pope spoke clearly of the faults in the EU dogmatic approach to life:

    “At the same time, however, care must be taken not to fall into certain errors which can arise from a misunderstanding of the concept of human rights and from its misuse. Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a “monad” (µ@<VH), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding "monads". The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights. As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context…."

    "In my view, one of the most common diseases in Europe today is the loneliness typical of those who have no connection with others. This is especially true of the elderly, who are often abandoned to their fate, and also in the young who lack clear points of reference and opportunities for the future. "

    "as the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful. In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a "grandmother", no longer fertile and vibrant. As a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."

    That last sentence is most clear – the EU has lost its way.

    • Bryan, it looks a bit like you have (perhaps unwittingly) done the same as the media – quoted the negative parts of the speech out of context, without mentioning the positive assessment the Pope made of how to address them.

      Missed out of your quote above (though I’m not suggesting you did it deliberately) is the following passage:

      “In addressing you today, I would like, as a pastor, to offer a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe. It is a message of hope, based on the confidence that our problems can become powerful forces for unity in working to overcome all those fears which Europe — together with the entire world — is presently experiencing. It is a message of hope in the Lord, who turns evil into good and death into life. It is a message of encouragement to return to the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent.”

      So what does the Pope say are the solutions to the malaise he identifies? Unity, bridging divisions, returning to the firm conviction of the EU’s founders. These are the overall messages you get if you read the whole address, and not just selected parts. And they are, unsurprisingly, exactly the opposite of what people like Farage are trying to focus on.

      Also, the church has subsequently clarified that “Francis’s visit underlined the Pope’s support for the EU” — see the report here: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/11/26/nigel-farage-says-popes-comments-on-europe-are-very-encouraging/ — so there can’t really be any doubt that it was a pro-European speech.

      • Mark

        Amazing how one speech can provide different perspectives that feeds everyone.

        The negative parts were criticisms – that surely has to be clear.

        His solutions to the overal malaise may have been what the EU wanted to hear but that doesn’t distract from the faults he identified. Faults of the EU’s making.

        I was expecting the Pope to be more pro-EU than he turned out to be, but what all these protests show so clearly is that those seen as a friend to the EU can voice an opinion, but if anybody else says the same thing they get attacked without any justice.

        The EU is not able to take criticism, constructive or otherwise from anyone that is not deemed to be on their side. Worse still, the EU is incapable of learning from its many mistakes.

        So, the Pope said more or less, carry on as you are, but he ommitted any real ideas to counter the problems he identified, rather he left that to the EU to work out.

        Sadly the Pope will be disappointed, for the EU simply did not get the message.

        • Oh yes, the negative parts were criticisms, for sure — some of them quite harsh. But you can only make the speech sound critical OVERALL by failing to mention the solutions to those problems that the Pope suggested.

          And I don’t think that he has ever said anything because he thinks his audience “wants to hear”. I think he says what he believes. Anti-EU campaigners may or may not agree that the solution to the problems is more unity and a common purpose, but it is mischievous to try and pretend that the Pope didn’t say so, and disingenuous to suggest that he only did it because he thought it’s what his audience wanted to hear!

          • I don’t know anyone that is suggesting the Pope was playing to his audience.

            Yes, these things he said were severe criticisms, yet they get brushed aside because he agreed with the way that the EU elite wish to proceed… and that’s what made them clap – now they have God’s blessings, but where is the logic?

            But as mentioned elsewhere – why would anyone imagine the Pope had any answers – The Church may have had, at one time, but now having lost their way, they sound more like the liberal elite than a parson ever should.

  2. The national press, as you know, is dominated by people and owners with a right wing agenda. They will take any issue and use it to push their views. By using social media and the regional and local press (especially if something local has been funded by Europe) Europe might be more accurately represented.

    • You’re forgetting the EU does fund much of the media in one form or another – that’s why our taxes are so high – Just take a look at the EU’s own admission on where they wasted our money – they do publish accounts, shocking as they are.
      They support everything green and left from the BBC to greenpeace.

      Fortunately, some of the media is still able to make up its own mind about what is rational, and the interpretation of what the Pope said was spot on.

      The EU is just a withered old woman, incontinent, and totally unable to see the harm it is doing, simply because it believes so much in its own dogma.

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