I was a “conscientious abstainer” for the Brexit referendum in 2016; and if conversations with friends are anything to judge by, many Catholics in this coming election will be writing “none of the above” on the ballot paper in next week’s general election.
“It’s really a situation of despair,” one old friend lamented to me. “There is no party I can in all conscience vote for.”
She – like many British Catholics – is a Remainer. But the mainstream Remain parties have, in her view, so completely trampled on her values that she cannot bring herself to put an “X” against any of their brands.
As a Remainer, she also can’t vote Tory, which now stands fully for an EU exit. As a Catholic, she can’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn, who has pledged to decriminalise abortion – potentially stripping the unborn of any legal status whatsoever, at any stage of pregnancy. (He has also promised to bring in legislation to protect lobsters from being cooked while alive: a crustacean will have more rights than the human foetus.)
She can’t vote for the Liberal Democrats either, although she would be supportive of their EU views. Not only did they kick out Rob Flello as a candidate – as he wrote recently in this magazine – but they are now rejecting other would-be candidates just for being Catholic. In a letter to the Tablet, Michael D Phelan said that some years ago he applied to be a general election candidate for the Libs Dems. He was asked at a selection committee if he was a Catholic – since he had an Irish name – and was then told he would “not be considered as a suitable candidate”.
As for the Greens, their policies include drastic population reduction and encouragement of one-child – or no-child – families.
The English and Welsh bishops have said that Catholics can’t “just watch from the balcony” in the election: they need to vote. But for a considerable slice of the Catholic population of this country, who, exactly, can they vote for?
The Chief Rabbi showed courage in denouncing Labour’s anti-Semitism. Perhaps a Catholic churchman might show equal courage in calling out the contempt for questions of conscience among the leading political parties.
The Two Popes – the movie about Benedict XVI and Pope Francis (reviewed on page 32) – has two compelling actors in Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. Pryce, particularly, manages to look very like Francis.
I found it a fascinating insider glimpse of the Vatican – from the many shots of the Sistine Chapel to the ranks of cardinals in full regalia. There are great aerial shots of Rome and Castelgandolfo, and the film illuminates the process involved in the election of a pope.
Conservatives may feel that the conflict – which every drama needs – is too blatantly between the “conservative” Ratzinger and the “liberal” Bergoglio, and that the movie very obviously favours Francis. Moreover, there isn’t much about Cardinal Ratzinger’s own life and hinterland, though Sir Anthony plays the German pope with a sense of hidden depths. Still, the script draws the viewer into the relationship between the two men, both of whom are portrayed as doing their best, at a time of great challenge.
The scenes shot in Argentina really bring home how brutal the generals’ regime was, how brave many of the Jesuits were in defying the dictatorship – and how Francis regrets that he didn’t do more.
It’s a thoughtful core of the story.
Films take liberties with facts, so you can never be sure exactly how accurate a dramatised version of a person’s life is. But if Francis really does dance the tango – then bravo to him and the nimble footwork involved.
Jonathan Miller, the brilliant doctor, television egghead, opera and theatre director – who has died aged 85 – was not always popular with colleagues because he could be cranky. (He also crankily signed a petition against Benedict visiting Britain.)
A highly accomplished person doesn’t make himself popular by boasting about his facility of talent. He once said that he could direct plays and operas “with one hand tied behind my back” – it was that easy for him.
This, by implication, is belittling those who feel they need to work hard to get a good result. And anyway, a professional approach to any work should entail taking pains: great things seldom are easy.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4