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A Holy Show
EAMON McCANN on why BONO and BOB were wrong to kow-tow to THE POPE.
Eamonn McCann, 27 Oct 1999
Fair play to Bono! , exulted the Irish Catholic.The Financial Times took a similar view. As did the Catholic Times, the Irish Times, The Sun, The Sunday Tribune, The Guardian and The Indo. And ditto, almost certainly, the papers I didn t happen to chance on.
From the devotional broadsheets to the daily sleazesheets, there s been no argument. The U2 singer s conclave with the pope to push Jubilee 2000 has met with global acclamation. Well, at least as far as the media are concerned.
To suggest that there s room for argument about the celebrity-driven campaign for the cancellation of Third World debt is to encounter that sense of shocked disapproval which betokens true moral panic.
The desperation with which some need to believe is a measurement of the moral vacuity of the age. There are many, it seems, who just can t cope with the possibility that there might be a dark side to this tale of super-cool pop-star making common cause with palsied pope to ease the plight of the world s poorest.
Critical faculties having thus been suspended, the toe-curling banality of Bono s quotes has gone unremarked.
He made it seem so easy to hang out with a group of economists and pop stars . . .
Did he now? Given that he had just announced his intention to require hundreds of millions of people around the world to revere a Nazi collaborator as a saint, he must have been well-chuffed, right enough, to have it confirmed that economists and pop-stars were willing to kow-tow to him in public.
He is a good man and a holy man and I told him he is a showman , continued Bono, stupidly.
It was at that point , reported the Catholic Times, that Pope John Paul asked to try on the singer s sun-glasses
And it was at this point that Quincy Jones took up the story: This was pretty awesome. The humanity poured from him. When he put Bono s glasses on I couldn t believe it. They were seriously hard-core U2 glasses . . .
There can be legitimate disagreement as to whether that is more silly than sad.
Bono and Jones were accompanied on their trip to Castlegondolfo by Sir Bob Geldof, the semi-retired rock singer who re-invented himself as a world celebrity via the 1985 Live Aid caper. What were these three thinking of as they made their way along the pilgrims path to the summer palace of the popes?
They must have known that the papal court was trembling with anger at the publication just 10 days earlier of Catholic writer John Cornwell s book, Hitler s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. They would presumably have been aware that John Paul, in response to the book, had made it clear he would press on with the process of making Pius a saint.
Cornwell s book puts to rest the long-rumbling row about Pius s exact attitude to Hitler. It reveals that during his career as a Vatican diplomat in the 30s, the future pope made a series of deals with dictatorial regimes, guaranteeing Vatican goodwill in exchange for untrammelled Church control over its own people: that is to say, most importantly, control of schools.
The main element in the deal orchestrated by Pius in Germany was the dissolution of the Catholic Centre Party so as to remove the last obstacle to a complete Nazi takeover of the political system. The deal was celebrated with pomp and religious ceremony in the Catholic cathedral in Berlin, with Papal and Nazi flags flying side-by-side and the Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel Song , blaring through loudspeakers to a huge throng gathered outside.
Cornwell reprints private letters pointing to Pius himself as an anti-semite, and fills in the detail of the more widely-known story of Pius s refusal to condemn the Holocaust even after 1942-43, when he was made aware of the dimensions of the slaughter.
Pope John Paul, not only knowing all this, but knowing now that the world knows it too, won t be deflected from his intention to declare Pius a saint. But it must have occurred to him and his advisors that the world, or most of it, including millions of troubled Catholics, would see the proposal as bizarre beyond belief.
They had gotten away, more or less, with the canonisation last year of the Croatian cardinal Stepinac, who had been properly convicted under the Tito regime and had served time for collaborating with the Nazi dictatorship of Ante Pavelic between 1941 and 1944. But although the sainting of Stepinac was a major story in Hot Press and other serious publications, it was largely ignored in Irish Times and RTE-type outlets worldwide. There were a few letters-to-the-editor and pained protests from a scattering of the faithful. But that was all.
A pope, on the other hand, an actual Vicar of Christ, exposed as complicit in Hitler s rise . . . there was no way this one could be slipped into heaven on the sly, not now he d been outed by a mainstream Catholic historian.
But even as they wondered how they d handle the upcoming hassle, came the courtier s whisper that there was a world-famous pop star from Dublin at the door, craving an audience, anxious for the pontiff s endorsement of a campaign to alleviate the cruel oppression of marginalised peoples....
Heaven-sent , may well have been the phrase which formed instantly on John Paul s thin lips.
Let s be fair here. Maybe the connection wasn t made in the minds of the pop-star trio. Maybe Bono vaguely, unthinkingly, reckoned that the corrosive evil of the pope s attitude to his pro-Nazi predecessor needn t impinge on the issue at hand. Maybe he imagined that it s possible to proclaim the saintliness of a Nazi accomplice and also to uphold the human rights of the poverty-stricken masses of the Third World.
It isn t possible, of course. But maybe Bono had psyched himself momentarily into believing the unbelievable. Proximity to religion can do that to people. Maybe he had set the parametres of his purview to exclude all considerations other than Third World poverty and the possibility of harnessing the influence of the Vatican towards its alleviation. Maybe all that mattered to him was Vatican action in the here-and-now . . .
So what s the Vatican been doing, then, here and now? In the incident-packed week when Bono, Jones and Geldof were issued with their back-stage passes to Castlegondolfo, the director of the UN s Population Fund, Dr. Nafis Sadik, announced that the Holy See had finally been forced to abandon its five-year worldwide campaign to thwart the Cairo Plan a series of measures agreed at the UN s 1994 Population Conference in Cairo designed to alleviate world hunger and disease.
We have dealt here before with the Vatican s determined efforts, frequently in association with fundamentalist Muslim interests, to prevent the implementation, not only of sex-education and contraception programmes in the Third World, but also of any initiative involving sex-education and contraception programmes.
Put in a clean-water system? Not if French letters are being handed out, too . . .
The Vatican had not changed its basic position, Dr. Sadik explained. But, it has stopped trying to hold up proceedings. They believe the debate has been lost .
The key reason the Vatican lost, Sadik told the Daily Telegraph, was that even strongly Catholic countries he instanced Malta and Honduras had begun to implement the measures anyway.
In other words, it wasn t sudden concern for the wreched of the earth but crude reasons of realpolitik which convinced John Paul to stop grinding the poor even deeper into the dirt.
The same week all this happens, a grinning Bono reaches a global audience to tell the world that The pope is a real funky guy .
To the extent that the pope gained street-cred from the visit of the rock redeemer, his ideas have been boosted, in the Third World as elsewhere. Whether the evil which results will outweigh any good Jubilee 2000 achieves, who s to say?
What we can say is that Jubliee 2000, like Live Aid before it, will siphon in the honest idealism of millions of (mainly young) people appalled by the grotesque way the world is divided, and, partly at least, put it at the service of the very forces responsible for the immiseration of the mass of humanity in the first place.
In the mid- 80s, Geldof associated the cause of the Third World with Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher and their ilk. The easily predictable utter failure of that business had resulted in the necessity of another initiative now.
So now in the mid-90s, Bono hitches the hopes of honest people for a better world to the likes of Bill Clinton and John Paul II.
And some people say nothing has changed . . .
What is with Dublin rock singers anyway? n