instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, January 22, 2004

It is as it was

So let's say the Pope watches a movie with his secretary, and they both enjoy it. The secretary tells the movie's producers the Pope enjoyed it. The movie's producers ask the Pope's spokesman if the Pope really enjoyed it, and the spokesman says yes.

When the fact of the Pope's enjoyment is used to promote the movie, people in the Vatican remind each other that the Pope doesn't blurb ad copy. When the Pope's secretary and spokesman are reminded of this, they announce that the Pope hasn't blurbed ad copy.

That would be the end of an uninteresting story, so to punch it up let's throw in a couple of journalists who have some kind of emotional investment in the commercial and critical success of the movie and/or the acknowledgement of the Pope's enjoyment.

Peggy Noonan writes that all this:
is important for several reasons. The truth matters. What a pope says matters. And what this pontiff says about this film matters.
Starting from the last, what this pontiff says about this film certainly matters to the filmmakers, and to a lesser extent to potential filmgoers, but ... so what? Sure, the Pope could help settle an argument about a movie that hasn't been released yet. He could also help settle an argument about which statue a parish should order for the front of its church. Settling arguments like that isn't an important part of the Pope's job, though. There's a difference between saying the Pope's opinion makes a difference in an argument and saying his opinion matters, in the sense that makes it an important news story.

Which brings us to the idea that all this is important because what a pope says matters. Sometimes, yes, it does. Sometimes, no, it doesn't. Let's not beg the question that this is a time when it does.

And finally, I absolutely agree that the truth matters -- in the sense that lying is a sin and one ought never commit a sin. To the extent people are lying about this, that's bad.

To what extent are people lying about this, though? Rod "To Hell With the Bishops" Dreher is characteristically outraged at what he sees as the Vatican "hanging Gibson and his team out to dry." Taking a more pragmatic view, Michael Dubruiel suggests the denials are Vaticanese for, "We forgot that, 'It is the Holy Father's custom not to express public judgments on artistic works.'"

In the end, people are going to see what they are in the habit of seeing -- in a movie, in an opinion piece, in the words of a Vatican spokesman.

It is as it was.