Will Pope Francis’s popularity survive the discovery that he will not shun tradition?
Pontiff emphasised forgiving and forgetting, but in the Google age is anything forgotten?
Is the church in danger of becoming just a psychological comfort blanket, the pope asks. Photograph: Reuters
Browsing internet coverage of World Youth Day in Rio, one link stopped me short. Wonkblog, the award-winning Washington Post blog, had published a meditation on forgiving and forgetting prompted by some of Pope Francis’s remarks?
Ezra Klein, a leftie agnostic who has been a successful writer since his early 20s, is the blog editor as well as a columnist. Klein was briefly notorious for hosting a closed Google Groups forum called JournoList, confined to left and liberal journalists and commentators.
He ended it after the inevitable happened – a damaging leak of some of vitriolic comments made about conservatives in the supposed privacy of the closed group.
Pope Francis got Ezra Klein thinking with this: “I’d like to add that many times we seem to seek out the sins of somebody’s youth and publish them. We’re not talking about crimes, which are something else. The abuse of minors, for instance, is a crime. “But one can sin and then convert, and the Lord both forgives and forgets. We don’t have the right to refuse to forget . . . it’s dangerous. The theology of sin is important. St Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope! Think about that.”
Klein responded that the pope’s remarks set “a bar for mercy that few of us reach”.
In the Google age, nothing is forgotten. He added, “Washington is particularly obsessed with digging up decades-old indiscretions and embarrassment in order to humiliate people running for office or serving in government.”
Not just Washington. Digging up damaging material on opponents has been around as long as politics, but it is now systematised in quite a chilling fashion.
Klein talks about “oppo dumps”, the practice of maintaining files of potentially damaging material on political opponents, and then releasing them to news outlets to inflict maximum harm.
There are also “black ops”, whispering campaigns designed only to undermine.
Klein points out that while there is not a lot of mercy in the “oppo dumps”, there can be a lot of page views or points in the polls in them. He also suggests Washington, instead of concentrating on the pope’s words about gays, needs instead to think about the fact that “this is a town where forgiveness is cheap but forgetting is rarely available at any price”.
It is interesting on at least two levels: first, the implications of living in a world where indiscretions or mistakes can never truly be forgotten; and, second, that the pope has the ability to generate this kind of reflection in an American policy wonk.