Pope Francis is developing the kind of persona, for the Italians, that a much-loved monarch can represent, writes Mary Kenny
Italy has had monarchs in the past, but the Italian monarchy – unlike the British, the Dutch or the Nordics – has never really been successful, and seldom loved by the people. With the exception of some of the populations of Sicily and Naples, the Italians are not drawn to monarchy.
Some countries are suited to this form of constitution and some are not, and that is the way national traditions are.
And yet it has occurred to me on in recent times that Pope Francis is developing the kind of persona, for the Italians, that a much-loved monarch can represent. This would not be of his own volition, as he has often emphasised that he likes to live simply. But he expresses the sympathy, the open kindness, the healing touch, and the reassurance that a good king can bring to public life.
After the train tragedy at Santiago di Compostela in July this year, the bereaved people there were met by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who went there to express their sympathy and offer their presence in solidarity. Politicians are not always the right people to appear at such scenes of grief because politicians must also sometimes be associated with political argument, discipline and even sternness in governance. A politician who is cutting budgets for the sake of ‘austerity’ – as politicians sometimes must do – may not be the right person to extend the hand of sympathy at painful times.
In Italy, politicians are not currently popular either: Mr Berlusconi is regarded, with some justice, as unedifying in his personal and political conduct. Italian government is unstable, and there are many charges of corruption. The influence of the Mafia hovers over too much of political and even business life.
But Pope Francis is unassociated with such everyday battles of political power and it is his presence which seems to bring most comfort at times of national tragedy.
When Italy was in mourning for the terrible events at Lampedusa – when 300 Eritrean migrants drowned in pitiful circumstances – it was most natural for Pope Francis to lead the national sense of distress, expressing compassion for the victims. The number of migrants who seek refuge in Italy is, undoubtedly, a political problem, but this was a humanitarian disaster and it was Francis to whom the nation’s eyes turned simply to show humanity.
Being ‘neutral’ on abortion
Last week in the Irish Times, one Anthea McTiernan wrote an article claiming that “having an abortion is normal”. Ms McTiernan ascribed all ethical prohibitions against abortion to “great men”, adding that “great men in Ireland have decided that women in Ireland cannot have an abortion”.
It is a strange cast of mind which denies the evident fact that all over the world women have been to the forefront in pro-life movements, and women have often been the most articulate about questioning the casual culture of abortion.
When I observed abortions in a London teaching hospital for a research project, those who were most distressed about participating in the operation were the nurses. All were women.
One Chinese nurse told me: “We really hate doing this but Doctor has explained to us that we must put our feelings aside and proceed with a medically neutral attitude.” Oh yes: put aside all your feelings – all your instinctive humanity! In the case of one late termination, the male doctors chatted about the cricket score, while the female nurses bit their lips in anxiety.
Anthea McTiernan may insist that abortion is as insignificant (and normal) as having a tooth out, but let’s look at another relevant report last week. Simon Cowell is a famous TV personality known to those who watch The X Factor, and it public knowledge that he is fathering a child with the American socialite Lauren Silverman.
This has jogged the memory of pop star named Sinetta to recall, publicly, that she aborted Mr Cowell’s baby in the 1980s. Sinetta said that the experience left her “heartbroken”. It was “upsetting and…very difficult. It is such a heartbreaking thing to go through. It was devastating for both of us,” she said. And it’s still fresh in her memory.
This witness doesn’t quite conform to Ms McTiernan’s analysis that abortion forbidden by men, and is of no greater significance than minor dental surgery.
Recalling The Quiet Man
The Quiet Man is a great, classic film, and Cong in Co. Mayo deserves its new sculpture marking the movie’s beautiful location.
Yet its story-line is archaic, and is surely unacceptable today: it revolves around a marriage unconsummated until a dowry is paid, and features a scene in which an older woman offers John Wayne a stick with which to beat his wife. Odd – yet nobody seems to object.