Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What price the Pope's love?

Two bits of news from the Vatican. The first is that the new Pope’s first encyclical is out and in it he speaks of love and charity. The second is that the Vatican is going to enforce copyright on anything that the Popes (and the Roman Curia) have written or said in the last fifty years. Am I the only one who can feel the dissonance between these facts?

The Vatican is enforcing copyright for the two reasons that copyright is most often enforced – to obtain money and to control what is said. In so far as it is attempting to increase revenue someone seems to have forgotten that the Vatican isn’t (supposed to be) a company and that its aims aren’t necessarily the same as those of a company. Thus, its aim to proselytise would seem to require that it make the words of the Pope’s not just free but as easily available as possible. This brings us to the second aim – the wish to control what is said by others about the Vatican. Using the financial instrument it is possible to limit the freedom of others to criticise the Vatican. Thus, for example, newspapers can get a waiver from the payment but only if they ask for permission from the Vatican. It is hard to believe that the Vatican will look as favourably at requests from Humanist Times as it does from The Catholic Chronicle. Even here, however, the effect will not be what the Church might necessarily desire. The reason is that only certain varieties of criticism of the Church are based upon an evaluation of the Pope’s proclamations. Thus, someone who wishes to examine the intellectual claims in an encyclical may well be in trouble, while another person, who merely shouts that the Pope is the Antichrist and that the Vatican is the Whore of Babylon, is in no way inconvenienced by the decision. In other words, the Vatican’s position only affects reasoned debate rather than diatribes. And those who are more afraid of reasoned debate than of diatribes have already lost that debate.


Post a Comment

<< Home