Thu | Feb 2, 2023

The Pope and Britney

Published:Saturday | April 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Columnist

"The Pope and Britney Spears both did it. Peter MacKay refused to. Zinedine Zidane's involved a head butt, Michael Richards' a bad word, Mark Foley's a congressional page. There was no shortage of people making asses of themselves in the public eye this year, whether they accidentally misspoke, intentionally attacked, partied without panties or offended an entire subset of the population."

This excerpt from the National Post makes it clear that we have left the Age of Aquarius and entered the Era of Apologetica. Not that we were ever out of it - apologies as a way of life and apologetics as a phenomenon have been around for a long time - but never more than now.

Times and public scrutiny have become so tough that even the Catholic Church has started apologising. In the old days, whatever the church did, you had two choices - the Pope's way or the highway. You either liked it or lumped it. If you persisted you faced the dreaded inquisition or ex-communication. However, things have changed and popes, formerly accountable only to God, have found themselves having to justify their sins of omission and commission to the peons, peasants, hoi polloi, the masses and them asses alike.

The Catholic World News of March 2010, in an article headlined 'Pope Benedict apologises to Irish abuse victims, laments bishops' failure to act, announces apostolic visitation' quoted the Pope, "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry ... It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope." In 2008, the Pope publicly apologised in Australia for sexual abuse of young children by that country's Roman Catholic clergy. Now, Pope Benedict's management of the sexual abuse of about 200 deaf children by Father Lawrence Murphy, a Wisconsin priest, is being questioned and many people, including Catholics, are calling on Benedict to resign.

Well-crafted apology

Milwaukee's Archbishop Jerome Listecki says that local church leaders and civil authorities are to blame, not the Pope. Maybe he has been taking lessons from Madonna who refused to apologise to Puerto Ricans for dancing with their flag between her legs.

Some of my cynical friends believe that the Pope can get away with a well-crafted apology. They point out that as apologies go, the Pope isn't doing too badly although, before the next apology, he could possibly take lessons from Brian Lara whose on- and off-field transgressions always led to apologies that were seemingly so sincere that even the softest specimen of Danish butter would remain rock solid in his mouth, and Bill Clinton who during the Lewinsky litany ruefully admitted in August 1998, "I'm having to become quite an expert in this business of asking for forgiveness." In fact, Benedict could even take some hints from his predecessor of whom the UK Guardian newspaper said, "Pope John Paul II had little problem during his pontificate, issuing apologies for historical wrongs committed by Christians in the service of the church. He apologised in such a way at least 94 times, according to one estimation."

Winston Churchill is also a good role model for a determined apologist. While a newspaper columnist during the Boer War in South Africa in October 1899, Churchill was in a train carrying English troops that was ambushed and derailed by the Boers. After unsuccessfully appealing his capture (on the grounds that he was a non-combatant), Churchill escaped from prison. Before escaping, however, he courteously left a letter of apology on his bed, addressed to Louis de Souza, the Boer secretary for war. According to, the letter began, "I have the honour to inform you that as I do not consider that your Government has any right to detain me as a military prisoner, I have decided to escape from your custody." It ended, "Regretting that I am unable to bid you a more ceremonious or a personal farewell, I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant, Winston Churchill."

Apology coach

Tiger Woods is not someone I would recommend as an apology coach, or Zinedine Zidane, who headbutted an Italian opponent during a World Cup soccer final and remained convinced that he had no choice since the man had bad-mouthed his sister and mother. There are, however, some Fijians that could teach Benedict a thing or two. While visiting the Fijian mountain village of Navatusila in 1867, the Reverend Thomas Baker of the London Missionary Society removed a comb from a chief's hair. Baker had no idea that touching the head of a chief was strictly taboo and he was immediately beheaded and then butchered. While his gesture was not in good taste, it is understood that he was (as far as the cannibal Fijians were concerned). In 2003, the villagers, supposedly cursed since Baker's death, offered a traditional apology to his descendants. I suppose they asked forgiveness for being so headstrong.

The Catholic Church now seems to be in the same position - headlong, headless and about to be dismembered and consumed by the flames of public indignation. The church's most reliable troops and propagandists, the Jesuits, recognise the gravity of the situation and are busy kindling a back-handed defence of their Pope.

Thomas J. Reece, a Jesuit and Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre of Georgetown University, defends Benedict with typical Jesuit casuistry. "Should Benedict resign? Such decisions are above my pay grade. Frankly, I am afraid that he understands the crisis better than most cardinals, so his stepping down could be a step backwards." With such a recommendation, maybe Benedict should resign the Papacy and take over Toyota.

Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Vatican has received so many complaints about the Pope recently that they are considering transferring him to another parish.