We live in a world of celebrity endorsement. This is not one of the good things about our culture. Many of us can remember the wedding of Grant Bovey and Anthea Turner, who were photographed at their wedding scoffing a certain popular chocolate bar. Whether sales of that chocolate bar went through the roof afterwards, I am not sure, but I still shudder at the memory.
The cringeworthiness of famous people trying to make money through what is essentially subliminal advertising is one reason why you will never see the Queen or Prince Charles, or any other dignified member of the Royal Family, making conspicuous use of an easily recognisable branded item. They do not act as the human equivalent of publicity billboards.
Neither do the Royal Family (or other heads of State) ever make themselves the vehicle for political slogans. Can you imagine the horror if you were to see the Queen holding a placard saying, for example “Abolish Trident”? Or Prince Charles with a notice saying “Save the NHS”? The Royal family may well have political views but, and this is important, we don’t know anything about them, and we can make an act of political faith that they are somehow “above” politics. The moment they get dragged down to party political level will signal the beginning of their end.
This represents only the latest attempt by the Argentines to make Pope Francis into a political pawn in their continuing game to get the status of the Falkland Islands made onto the political agenda once more. This behaviour by the Argentines is both distressing, offensive and damaging to the papacy.
First of all, it represents an attempt by a single interest group to instrumentalise the Pope. Getting the Pope onto the Falklands bandwagon would be a coup for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the ultimate endorsement for her embattled government. If the Pope were to co-operate with this he would be effectively taking sides, not just in the context of Argentine politics – with the current government, against its opponents – but also taking sides in the international arena, with Argentina, and against Britain and her allies. That would be a catastrophe for the Papacy which has always striven to be above such sectarianism.
In fact, those who would wish to paint the Pope as sectarian, and there may well be some, in places like Northern Ireland, might well use the photograph of the Pope holding an Argentine government propaganda poster, as “proof” that the Pope was anti-British. Such a use would be mistaken but understandable and might well damage all the work the Pope himself has undertaken to bring about a rapprochement with Evangelicals.
The Argentine poster is also offensive, in that, though it purports to call for dialogue, it does no such thing, for Argentina only proposes the dialogue that would lead to the evacuation of the Islands in its favour. Their Falkland policy is anti-democratic (ignoring the will of the Islanders) and neglectful of history. British troops died to defend the Falklands, which makes their surrender impossible. That Argentina, so touchy about its own supposed “rights”, ignores this, is deeply offensive.
In the same way, President Morales of Bolivia tried to exploit the Pope’s Jesuit background by giving him a hammer and sickle with Christ-figure attached designed by some obscure confrere. Photos of the Pope accepting a hammer and sickle will certainly have damaged his prestige in Poland and America and other places. The Falklands poster stunt cannot have endeared the Vatican to the British Foreign Office.
Argentines, back off! The Pope no longer belongs to you, but to the Universal Church. And your behaviour just made that universal ministry that little bit harder.