Throwing light on internet shadows

Throwing light on internet shadows Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

A lie can be halfway around the world, as the adage so often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain has it, before the truth has got its boots on. The internet has managed to make this depressing reality all the worse, and just as paper doesn’t refuse ink, so one thing screens cannot do is screen out falsehoods. We need our eyes and our wits more than ever nowadays.

Take, for example, an article published on the egregious just last week under the rather alarmist title, ‘‘British coup’: Author claims UK gov’t may have helped in Pope Francis’ 2013 election’.

Now, the article has been tweaked in a number of ways since publication, not least in correcting its original descriptions of Ireland’s Cardinal Seán Brady as English, but its fundamentally misleading nature, feeding into an ongoing anti-Francis pattern, is still the same.

Commenting on Catherine Pepinster’s 2017 book The Keys and the Kingdom: The British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis, the article reports the book as claiming that the UK government played a key role “in setting up a meeting where key cardinals networked with lesser-known cardinals to promote Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for Pope”.

“Calling Bergoglio’s election a ‘British coup’, Pepinster’s work suggests that a secular power was involved in the election of a Pope,” the article proclaims, adding that “this should justly cause concern” and that “this report certainly should lead to further inquiries also as to the involvement of British foreign intelligence assets”.

Key source

Now, a bit of cop-on is needed with stories like this. Success tends to have a lot of fathers, after all, and a key source for this story was the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, an affable man who wasn’t backward about putting himself forward. It’s worth remembering too the adage that all news is local, such that Ms Pepinster’s emphasis on a behind-the-scenes British role in a conclave devoid of British prelates really looks like little more than an attempt to titillate a British audience.

Stripped of hyperbole, so, Ms Pepinster really just reported that cardinals from poorer countries in the global south hadn’t had much scope to talk among themselves about what sort of Pope they’d like before the 2005 conclave, and that senior figures in the English Church had realised that they – or at least the UK – could facilitate that.

So cardinals from the poorer parts of the Commonwealth were invited to a reception in the British ambassador’s apartment, with Cardinal Cormac basically being a kind of co-host. There were just a few minutes, it seems, he could speak privately with the cardinals from the south, and nobody has revealed what was said.

It should be obvious that there’s nothing here to suggest the UK government was involved “in setting up a meeting where key cardinals networked with lesser-known cardinals to promote Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio for Pope”. Rather, Ms Pepinster says the reception involved Cardinal Cormac and cardinals from poorer countries, with the UK government simply seeing it as a chance for Catholic leaders from poorer commonwealth countries to network.

Crucially, among those Commonwealth cardinals says were Cardinals Turkson and Gracias. Turkson, readers may recall, was a name heavily toted for the papacy back in 2013.

The whole thesis smacks of racism, to be honest”

Admittedly, his candidacy came to nothing – according to Gerry O’Connell’s americamagazine.orgExclusive: inside the election of Pope Francis’,  Cardinal Turkson got just two votes in the first conclave ballot – but is it really plausible that one of the more publicly papabile cardinals was invited to a shindig at the UK ambassador’s apartment so a retired cardinal could tell him to vote for somebody who wasn’t even being whispered about as a possible Pope?

The whole thesis smacks of racism, to be honest. It’s one thing to say cardinals from poorer southern hemisphere countries were given a chance to network and discuss the kind of Pope they’d like. It’s another to suggest that white Europeans told them to jump, and they happily said: “How far?”