Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Words and their meaning or meanings

So what on earth does the word 'fulsome' mean?

Republican Governor of New Jersey was fulsome in his praise for Barack Obama, so say many of the TV, radio and print journalists.

But surely that's not what the good govenor was actually doing, or was it?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Russia stays well ahead

From 02.00 today Ireland and the UK are now an hour further away from Moscow.

There are now four hours between us.

Last year Russia decided to keep summer time the year round. But it was due to return to the old system this autumn. It seems not. It is now 22.00 in Dublin and the clock in the Kremlin has chimed 02.00.

Hardly a whisper in New York

No trains, no buses tonight in the city that never sleeps.

All's quite in New York tonight as it awaits Sandy.

What the V Leute are doing

An interesting discovery.

With the current controversy in Germany over the neo-nazis, the term V Leute has popped up. V Leute are V People, who inform the police and the BKA (Bundeskriminal Amt) of what the neo-nazis are doing.

The term is interesting as, while different in many ways, it must immediately remind one of the G Men.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dumb/taub in Berlin

Did anything dawn on Eamon Gilmore while in Berlin yesterday?

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück managed to speak in perfect English to the Irish Foreign Minister.

How different it would be if Mr Gilmore spoke German, even a few words.

And this Government is doing nothing to help improve the teaching of German in our schools.

Bet more state money was spent teaching English and German to both Guido Westerwelle and Peer Steinbrück than is spent teaching German and English to Irish school children.

Titles, honours and the Vatican

Murdoch, Savile, might the Vatican have a thing or two to learn?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

German press adviser resigns

Hans Michael Strepp, press adviser with the German CSU party has resigned.

He is accused of trying to influence the ZDF television station on an item of news.

Rumours abound that he was not doing it on his own account.

So easy to live in a silo

Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, said this evening that people in positions of authority tend to live in silos.

He was talking about the Jimmy Savile case. He also said it was the worst situation he has ever had to deal with and by a mile.

It's so easy for people to live in 'silos'. But isn't that a major issue with the institutional church?

And the current trend to head back to the past in some silly nostalgic way is surely a real sign of 'silo living'.

I recently saw a Sunday parish letter published in a parish where anything up to 70 per cent are unemployed. And the Sunday letter was so far removed from the lives of the people living in that parish.

It is a shocking story. And no one seems to notice, no one is saying anything. Does anyone care?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tearing away the layers of fake authority

BBC Director-General George Entwistle gave evidence in the House of Commons today.

The similarities between the behaviour of Mr Entwistle today and Irish bishops, provincials, congregational leaders answering questions on similar topics is really incredible.

The body language, the words, the nonsense, all the fake authority gone, it is an amazing story.

Compare George Entwistle's performance today to the loftiness he demonstrated just one month ago when it was announced he had been appointed BBC D-G.

Last Sunday's Gospel is well worth a re-read.

The madness of allowing people in authority, anyone, in State or church, get away with all the arrogant, pompous rot is just that, madness.

Last Sunday's Gospel speaks about the role of leadership as one of service, indeed, 'slavery'.

We must be far worse than the Pharisees.

One in four Germans consider themselves poor

According to the German Federal Statistics Office, one in four Germans consider themselves poor. That's over 16 million people living in Germany.

The majority is made up of women and older people over 65-years-old

And it's getting worse by the day

There has to be, there must be. Surely there is a link in the Catholic priesthood between arch conservative, zealous right wing behaviour and a sexual orientation that, when hidden, is most worrying.

The signs are screaming so.

Which way to vote?

This will be the 31st time that we
have been asked to change the Constitution.

This week's INM regional column

By Michael Commane
Just last week I spotted the Referendum Commission’s booklet on the Lisbon Treaty. It was on a table at home. I had kept it with the intention of re-reading it. Of course I haven’t. I do know how I voted in the referendum and think I have a fair idea how I have voted in most referendums. If you asked me right now what the Lisbon Treaty was about, I don’t think I would score too many points.

On November 10 we are being called to vote in another referendum. This will be the 31st time that we have been asked to change the Constitution.

There are just over two weeks to voting. Have you made up your mind how you will cast your vote?

At first glance and listening to people, usually respected for their common sense in society, it would seem that Yes is the only way to cast your vote.

And then, at least in my case, you begin to read around the topic and listen to people debate the issue, and you realise that it might not at all be as simple as it looks.

In an opinion poll carried out for last Thursday’s Irish Times, over 33 per cent of those polled were in that nebulous category of ‘don’t knows’. It seems Fianna Fáil might be on the way back and Sinn Féin losing.

Within days of the referendum being announced Archbishop Diarmuid Martin came out in support of it. But then I see that former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty has suggested that the referendum might simply be unnecessary in the light of existing constitutional provisions and the laws of the land designed to protect children.
Ombudswoman for Children Emily Logan is supporting it as is the Chief Executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay. Columnist John Waters and former MEP Kathy Sinnott are opposing it. And the Catholic Voice and the free sheet Alive are also opposing it.

As a superficial and smart aleck throw-away comment I could say those line-ups are enough reason for me to vote Yes.

Are we being asked to give the State more power while at the same time the State is refusing to train enough people to use that power well and morally?

Many informed people say that social work supervision is in crisis.

Two things happened to me in the last few weeks. A woman whom I know, a great mother, intelligent too, is voting No and has asked me to consider voting No. She believes that the State very often can get things wrong and this referendum would be giving the State/HSE more power, a power they do not deserve to have. I hope I have parsed her argument correctly.

About two months ago Helmut Schmidt, a former German Chancellor and now in his 90s was on a television programme with the current German President, Joachim Gauck. Schmidt is greatly respected in Germany. He has been one of Germany’s great post-war chancellors. Indeed, he is so respected that he is allowed break all the rules and is always permitted to smoke when appearing on television. There you go; even the Germans break the rules.

The programme was discussing the crisis in the EU. Both men are strong believers and supporters of the Union. But Schmidt tut tutted any idea of a referendum in Germany on any issues dealing with the EU. He argued that topics or subjects, which contain highly technical issues or deal with emotional topics, should not be put to the people in the form of a referendum.

That strikes me as great common sense.

Indeed, I often wonder how well informed I am and what informs me when I cast my vote in referendums, indeed, in all sorts of elections? By changing the opening hour on referendum day from 07.00 to 09.00 the State is saving €600,000. How much would it save if the referendum never happened?

Just over two weeks to go, I don’t know how I am going to vote.

Monday, October 22, 2012

BBC and the Jimmy Savile debacle

"The corporates are losing and the journalists are winning." Professor Stewart Purvis.

A quote on this evening's BBC Newsnight programme on the BBC/Jimmy Savile debacle.

Anyone who is following the Savile story, especially priests, must be forced to ask who are the 'journalists' and who are the 'corporates' in child sex abuse within the institutional church.

In the church there really has not been a murmur from the 'journalists' and the 'corporates' have had their say.

They may well have won the battle but surely that policy can never win the war.

Nor should it.

Later in that same programme, Jeremy Paxman interviewed Conrad Black recently released from prison.

It certainly will go down as one of the most spectacular interviews ever on Newsnight.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Political history made in Germany today

History was made in Germany today.

For the first time, a member of the Green Party was elected mayor in the capital city of a federal state.

Frizt Kuhn was elected mayor of Stuttgart, which is the capitl city of Baden Württemberg.

Stupid English, bad too

Absolut Vodka is currently running an ad campaign on Dublin buses. It should be banned. The ad runs, '... absolut unique'.

Is it possible for an adjective to qualify 'unique'?

If so, surely it's no longer unique.

Like all the smart people the advertising houses make the rules.

All the time laughing at us and stealing our money.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Greatness means service and slavedom.

The story of Roberto Formigonis, who was forced to dissolve the Lombary/Milan government this week, is intriguing, to say the least.

Formigonis is a prominent member of Communione e Liberazione.

If one thinks of all the issues that cause sraps between the Catholic Church and 'others', tomorrow's Gospel never seems to cause problems or scraps.

Of course we can always find justification for our own story in the Bible, nevertheless, the story of service we read about tomorrow never seems to cause a whit of embarrassment to high church officials.

Anyone who saw the bishop of Essen and bishop to the German Army, Overbeck, on the Anne Will German TV programme during the week must ask where exactly does the Catholic Church stand when it comes to supporting the poorest of the poor.

Is the church a communion of service?

"Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant."

That's a direct quote from the words of Jesus. They will be read around the world in churches tomorrow.

It's a puzzle and so often so well airbrushed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Military operation in Afghanistan

This evening on German television there was a discussion on the role the German Army is playing in Afghanistan.

It was sensational. In a follow-up debate the wife of a German soldier, who had served in Kosovo and Afghanistan, told the story of her husband's post traumatic stress.

Defence Minister Thomas de Maziere was also on the programme. The Minister agreed that the Army was in a learning curve and things were getting better in the care of returning soldiers.

Another panelist, Juergen Todenhoefer, was of the view that the operation was from beginning to end a disaster. He argued that the Germans are there simply and only to support their US partners.

Also on the programme was the Catholic bishop of Essen, Overbeck, who is also Bundeswehr bishop.

A mix of tiger and iguana

The tiger-iguana synthesis.

According to VW information 'the people' wanted Tiguan, a blend of the German words for tiger (Tiger) and iguana (Leguan). And in 2009 the Tiguan was born. VW is using "The people want..." as a unifying tagline for all its models, so as to emphasise that Volkswagen means 'The People's Car'.

Former VW car names have fallen into three general categories: Smallish, Sorta Cute Animals (Beetle, Rabbit, Fox); Blowin' in the Wind (Golf is German for "gulf," as in 'gulfstream', Passat means 'trade wind', Jetta means 'jet stream'); and miscellaneous weirdness. That probably sounds dandy auf Deutsch. In the third category we find Tiguan as well as Sharan (from the Persian meaning 'carrier of kings'), Touran (from tour plus Sharan), and Touareg (from the name of a nomadic North African tribe).

Most of those names are distinctive and unconfusing, if a bit strange to ears accustomed to car names that evoke romantic places or large, threatening animals. Touran, Touareg, and Tiguan do invite confusion. Although it's not unusual for car makers to bestow alliterative names on their products, it's much more challenging to keep them straight when the names are exotic, invented, or meaningless.

As for the tiger-iguana synthesis, there are those who want a tiger in their tank, but a large, cold-blooded lizard that stops moving when the temperature falls? Not so sure about that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Praying and hoping to believe

The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.
There are 14 INM Irish regionals and this column is carried in 13 of the 14.

By Michael Commane
I often ask myself if I have lost my faith. The thought does not stay too long in my head and off I wander on to another subject or topic.

But just last week cycling home from work I was thinking about faith and where I am with my faith. Certainly I know it would do me no harm at all to do more praying. But then I ask myself, what exactly does the word ‘prayer’ mean?

Last week RTE Television carried an interview with Professor John Monaghan, who is Vice President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. He was most impressive. At the end of the interview on ‘One-to-One’ he had no problem telling the nation that he prays and prays twice a day. He also said that he knows that people pray for him.

A young man I know who has just finished engineering in Trinity was taught by John at university and speaks highly of him. He certainly impressed me on the television programme.
I’d like to be able to say I take prayer seriously but, I think I’d be telling a minor lie if I said I do.

Back to faith. When I was studying theology a trickle of priests were leaving, then a few years later that trickle turned into a cascade. These days it’s back to a trickle.

During all those periods I know very few men if any who left priesthood because they claimed to have lost their faith or stopped believing in some aspect of church doctrine.

Many I know who have left priesthood left to form a relationship with either a woman or a man.

Nowadays we read of priests being laicised as a result of committing acts of sexual abuse. But laicisation occurs for many reasons, some very honourable, and we must not jump to conclusions.

Just last Saturday RTE Radio One aired a programme featuring men who had joined the Marist Congregation. Over a number of years the men lost their belief in God and subsequently left the congregation. I think it was my first time to hear such views aired like that.

So what happens a priest, who loses his faith? Or is it that every single priest right across the world has faith. That can hardly be true and certainly is most unlikely. There have to be ‘Fr Dougals’ about.

What would happen if a priest went along to his bishop or provincial and told him that he was resigning his priesthood because he no longer believed in the doctrine of the Trinity as laid down at the Council of Nicea?

What do any of these theological words mean? What about the priest who might question how Christ is present in the Eucharist? Or what about the priest who might wonder at what stage in the life of Jesus did he realise he was the Son of God. Did Jesus know he was divine when he was a four-year-old toddler?

I have asked the question before in this column and it is something that really fascinates me; where’s the forum where priests can discuss, think about and speak out loud about the God question?

Of course to tut tut the idea and say that priests have studied their theology and ‘have the answers’ is spoof. I have to admit I’m tired to death of priestly spoof. But these days it’s easy enough to spot the spoof and even talk about it.

Last week I was invited to preach at a harvest thanksgiving Communion Service in a Protestant church. I was greatly chuffed about being invited.

During Communion a lot of thoughts about the differences between Catholics and Protestants went through my head. I was wondering how a 16-year-old Catholic boy or girl would explain Communion to me as compared to a Protestant 16-year-old. Indeed, how would an adult Catholic or Protestant explain it?

Would the Catholic know about that word ‘transubstantiation’?

What does it mean when we say Christ is really present in the Eucharist? Certainly that presence is not the same as how I am present at this desk writing these words.

Yes, I believe in God. But what exactly does that mean. I’ll spend the next 20 minutes or so, on my bicycle and I’ll be back thinking about the God question and where I am with my own prayer life.

The Psalms are great prayers, at least some of them. The Rosary too is a great prayer and so easy to say when walking or cycling.

Does praying help us on our journey in discovering the great mysteries of God?

I’m sure it does. I hope it does.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Victory over pain and suffering

"A pair of hands last a year a pair of legs two years."

As brutal and as stark as that.

The former Director General of the GAA, Liam Mulvihill and his daughter Daraine were guests on the Mriam O'Callaghan, RTE Radio programme today.

Daraine is a victim of meningitis and has lost her limbs.

Listening to their story, the tragedy, the pain, the battle, the victory, was shocking, remarkable, incredible.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the margins

Below is the Thinking Anew column in today's Irish Times, which appears on page 15 of the newspaper.

By Michael Commane
In this newspaper at the end of September Lara Marlowe reported on the grim reality of prison life in California. The United States of America has the highest prison population in the world. So far in the current US presidential election there seems to be no discussion on prison issues.

Dare we throw any stones. A quick look at our prison system would not inspire anyone who is seriously interested in rehabilitating people.

Not much, if anything, has changed since the 2009 report on Mountjoy Prison when it was stated that prisoners received appalling treatment. The Report said: “These are core human rights issues, and the State simply cannot continue to tolerate such extreme violation of human rights."

Some days earlier there was a news item, also in The Irish Times, on the war in Syria. The co-founder of Médecins San Frontieres, Dr Jacques Bérès, reported how the Syrian army bombed bakeries, knowing they would kill many people, who were queuing for bread.

Dr Bérès said, that the blood of the Syrian people was on the hands of the western world. Most of these people in those queues were poor.

Besides these two specific realities, every day, every night, one billion people on our planet have not enough food to eat. That’s one in seven of the world’s population. In Ireland we have approximately 437,000 people unemployed. The turmoil and the pain, that means to the families of 15 per cent of the country’s population.

In tomorrow's, Gospel Jesus tells the man who comes to him: “You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” (Mark 10:21) The man does the usual ‘good things’ but he is simply unable to make that extraordinary act and give his wealth to the poor, to those in great need.

It would seem most churches are not overly interested in speaking out in support of the poorest of the poor. I don’t know when I last heard a church leader criticise and condemn systems that allow and tolerate such inequalities, whereby we live in a world where one in seven has not enough to eat; in a world where our prisons are filled with people who come from the most disadvantaged strata in society; in a world where we treat the environment as if it were our own personal plaything to do with it what we wish.

A central theme that runs right through the New Testament is Jesus’ interest and concern for those who are the poorest in society, those who have been left forgotten on the margins.

So, how do we manage to profess our Christianity while at the same time take it almost as the norm that so many people around the world experience extraordinary hardship, that so many people in our own Irish society have so little? And that, side by side with people, corporations, orgnisations that are obscenely wealthy?

It might well be the ideal to do as Jesus suggested to the rich man but surely we have all been asked, at the very least, to have sympathy and understanding for those who are poor and on the margins. It’s the theme of tomorrow's Gospel. It’s the leitmotif of the New Testament.

We believe every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. It’s our privilege, our responsibility to play our role in seeing to it that that is a living reality for all seven billion people on this planet.
And we can start the work in the smallest detail, whether that means checking that the clothes we buy have not been made in sweatshops, which employ child labour or seeing to it that the least ‘important’ people in our own villages, towns and cities are given the chance to flourish and prosper and reach their God-given potential. Surely that approach makes far more sense than building more prisons.

The Christian can never take it as a given or the norm, or accept it as 'common practice' that one single person be treated as anything other than unique and special, a gift of God.

We have become accustomed to hear, “It’s the economy, stupid”, but maybe we should say, “It’s the Gospel....”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Impossible not to spot similarities

It really is impossible not to say these two names; Jimmy Savile and Fr Y.

Just that. No more.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Searching and uncomfortable questions

BBC's Newsnight discussed the Jimmy Savile affair this evening.

One of the panelists, broadcaster Vanessa Feltz, said that 'back then' people had the idea one had to be a 'great person' to be on the tele.

Kevin Marsh, a former BBC editor, said he did not know, though he had heard rumours.

Jimmy Savile was important, well known, greatly respected by people inpower and with authoirty. People refused to heed and listen to the little ones.

History repeats itself just as institutions copy each other.

Gosh. Leave it at 'gosh' for now.

Journey of three former Marists

Three former members of the Marist Congregation gave an account of their journey towards non-belief in God on the John Murray Show on RTE Radio One today.

One of the men has made a documentary on the issue, which will be aired on RTE Radio One at 18.00 on Saturday.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Historical consequences and the now

Today the Church of Ireland community in the church of Ballymacelligott celebrated harvest liturgy.

I had the privilege to preach at their morning Communion Service.

Walking into a Protestant church in Kerry surely forces one to look back in history but most of all to ask why there is not more energy put into repairing historical divisions.

At Communion it was time to ask and wonder, indeed, pray what that great word 'transubstantiation' means.

Later in the day, telling a young woman where I had been, she immediately recalled how her grandfather had told her that in his time Catholics were not allowed enter Protestant churches.

It would be interesting to ask that young woman, who is Catholic, and her Church of Ireland counterpart what Communion means for them.

Time now to read up on how the pope's former butler is managing.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Something amiss with Obama

Anyone who saw US President Barack Obama on last night's television debate will surely have noticed that there was something greatly worrying him.

And then today the Iranian currency plunges. Traders selling the rial for dollars.

Turkey and Syria trading bombs.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Munich hosts unification celebrations

Today is Germany's national holiday.

The Germans celebrate the Day of Germany Unity, which happened on October 3, 1990.

Every year a different city hosts the official celebrations. This year it is the turn of the Bavarian capital, Munich.

On October 3, 1990 the GDR joined the Federal Republic and the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen joined the existing states of the Federal Republic.

At the time of the two states coming together, the GDR and the Federal Republic, there was discusssion as to whether it was a question of unification or reunification.

They went for 'unification'. Obviously, it makes better sense in the context of history and earlier borders.

Just a rumour but it might well tell a story

Rumour doing the rounds that a group of men, wearing Dominican habits, were stopped by a garda, asking them if they were going to a stag.

It's only a rumour but there might be something interesting in the story.

Did St Dominic not found the Dominicans so that they could be a group of people who could preach and live the Gospel in a way that would make sense and sound real for the people in their neighbourhood?

It would be interesting to ask the garda what are her/his views on the rumour story.

Real Vatican issues beyond the butler

The piece below is from the blog, Italian Politics with Walston.
The trial of Paolo Gabriele began today. He was the Pope’s manservant who is accused of having stolen material from the Pope’s appartment much of which was then published in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Sua Sanità. Le carte segrete (His Holiness. The Secret Papers) published in May.

At worst, he risks four and a half years in gaol, a long way from being stunned and quartered publically by Mastro Titta, the papal executioner 200 years ago (the last public execution was in 1870 with the guillotine a month before Italian forces took Rome. The death penalty was formally removed in 1967 at the same time as Britain). It’s a good story because of the Vatican’s proverbial secrecy and intrigue and because of its ambiguity between its role as an international political and economic power and its claim to spiritual and ethical leadership. Mix that with the pedophile priest scandals (none in the Vatican itself so far but plenty of accusations of cover-ups) and not surprisingly, there is good copy for all.

But it strikes me that the fuss around the leaks and trial story misses the point. “The butler did it” was too tempting a headline to resist but the butler in question is only a very small part of a much more fascinating tale.

There are at least three different divisions within the Vatican. The first is an old one between conservatives and reformers. This is a front that has been around for as long as the Church itself but the present battle lines were fixed 50 years ago around the Second Vatican Council. The role of the faithful in deciding Church doctrine moved from John XXIII’s opening to dialogue to John Paul II’s strongly heirarchical vision. The issues are the ongoing ones: women priests (and more in general, the role of women); legal or illegal abortion, contraception and in general fertility control or enhancement; medical research; relations with other religions and those who have none. These are major issues for all of society but made more controversial within the Roman Catholic community because of the Vatican’s claim to a monopoly of the truth.

The second is a little more recent and pits those who want to keep Vatican financial transactions completely discrete and under sole Vatican supervision and those who feel that the Holy See’s own budget and its banking rules rules should be transparent and respect European regulations. The first loud episode was in the 1980s, when the Vatican bank, the Istituto per le Opere Religiose (IOR) and Banca Ambrosiana scandals blew up.

Two of the protagonists met sudden and unexplained death: the bankers Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi, one poisoned in prison, the other found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London, and the third, the head of the IOR, the hardnosed Chicago cleric, Mons. Paul Marcinkus (“You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys”), was wanted by Italian justice but escaped back to Illinois. Over the last few years, the Holy See found itself on the EU’s grey list of possible money launderers and has once again been forced to look at its own finances and how it manages its banking system.

Last year, senior functionary of Vatican finance, Mons. Carlo Maria Viganò wrote to the Pope revealing both improper behaviour and serious waste (and reduced the Vatican’s budget deficit); for his pains he was removed by promotion to papal nuncio in Washington. The lay president of the IOR, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi was removed from his job in May. He alleged that it was because he wanted to know the names behind the IOR’s anonymous accounts. Over the last few years both Italian and EU banking authorities have put pressure on the Vatican to respect international banking rules or find themselves in the same company as shady offshore tax havens accused of recycling dirty money. They have begun to change but still have a long way to go and the Gabriele trial will not mention the internal debate.

The third set of cleavages is between factions following this or that cardinal or senior functionary, mostly personal (rather than ideological) power play looking to present advantage or links to a future pope. In this sense, the Vatican is still a mediæval court in which personal loyalty often trumps political positions. But with an aging pope, the debate over succession becomes more urgent but unlike other political successions, cannot be debated openly.

These are divisions that exist in any political system; what makes the Holy See’s version unique is they are played out by an organisation which sets itself up as a spiritual and ethical authority above politics. In practice it is impossible to play international politics and run a bank without getting one’s hands dirty as any Roman for the last 1,500 years well knows. In its politics the Holy See has no transparency or checks and balances and until recently, had none in its banking system so the inevitable court intrigues are inflated and distorted by a political whispering gallery which makes the real one in St. Peter’s dome seem banal. The fog that envelopes the Vatican makes the Kremlin walls (today or in Soviet times) transparent in contrast.

Finally, the present conflicts and scandals are exacerbated by a lack of firm and able leadership. The peculiarities of the papal election process mean that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church may not necessarily have a keen political sense or strong leadership skills. Joseph Ratzinger showed his lack of both early on in his papacy and even though he has dropped fewer bricks over the last few years, the contrast between him and his predecessor’s well-honed political skills is striking. In his public utterances, Benedict is earnest and wellmeaning but neither subtle nor convincing like John Paul II. In private, apparently, he has been unable to mediate between the the factions that swirl around him, something that Woytila was expert at at least until his final illness.

None of the major issues will be touched on in the Gabriele trial but there will be oblique references to them. So we are unlikely to have striking revelations though we will have a few more insights into the Vatican – it is in a transitional state, uncertain how to use contemporary media to present their case at the same time as not revealing too much. A few months ago, they took on Greg Burke, Fox News’ man in Rome to present an American-sytle media face; at the same time in contrast, witnesses are referred to as letters (A, B, C), not names and there are no cameras or court record and a limited pool of journalists.

But it will still be a trial worth following closely for what is said and for what is not said.

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What's in a name?

The 'Thinking Anew' column in The Irish Times today. Michael Commane Sometimes I wonder has all the pious 'stuff' we have ...