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?
The internet has enormous power. I am not talking about the highly disturbing instance of say, a politician who persists in posting obscene images while trying to resurrect his political career, but the kind of tactics routinely employed now even in our own presidential election, where a tweet was enough to start a cascade that derailed a candidate.
I don’t think Klein has it quite right when he says forgiveness is cheap, however. Forgiveness has become an ever rarer commodity, and the sheer viciousness of much online commentary must have had an influence on that.
Again, verbal attacks are not particularly new. The Atlantic published a piece called “When Lincoln was an idiot” in May, which pointed out that Abraham Lincoln as president was subjected to constant abuse from both north and south.
In fact, northern newspapers had called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger, which makes calling the president a “coward”, “yahoo”, “idiot” and “original gorilla” seem mild by comparison. (That was from the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.)
Mark Bowden, author of the Atlantic piece, reflected on all the talking heads on television today, added the magnifying effect of a million comments on social media, and wondered would Lincoln have managed to achieve anything at all.
Which brings me back to Pope Francis. At the moment, he is getting a somewhat easy time from media, not, I suspect, because he is trying to impress them but simply because he is saying and doing what he believes.
In Rio de Janeiro, none of what he said could easily be pigeonholed as either right wing or left wing but it was an uncomfortable and challenging message.
He asked things such as whether, if the church is losing numbers, it is because it has lost touch with the radical nature of what Christ proposed?
Is it in danger of becoming an ideology, or a psychological comfort blanket, or an attempt to retreat to some imagined perfect church of the past?
How much do we really want to serve the poor?
There could be good reasons why the pope’s media honeymoon might end – if, for example, the expected reform of the curia does not happen.
More likely, though, will be a sudden swing in media opinion, a disappointment with the fact that he represents no radical break with Catholic tradition, but is simply better at communicating its implications.
If and when the honeymoon ends, the backlash may make his words on forgiveness and forgetting seem prescient indeed.