At The Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, there is a thought provoking piece by Damien Thompson. Read the whole thing over there, but here are a few snips:
It’s 1978 all over again
I’ve been thinking about that surreal period because my cousin has kindly given me three copies of Time magazine from 1978. The cover stories are: “In Search of a Pope” (August 21); “The New Pope, John Paul I” (September 4); and “John Paul II” (October 30). Reading them has been quite a culture shock, especially for a magazine journalist. So many lucrative full-page ads – eight of them for cigarettes in one issue alone. Dozens of exquisitely written colour pieces, published without bylines: Time’s hacks were so spectacularly well paid that they didn’t care if their names were missing.
When Paul VI died, the Church was still going through the identity crisis provoked by the Second Vatican Council. Paul was the pope who initiated drastic and increasingly ugly liturgical changes; he was also the author of Humanae Vitae, which dismayed Catholic liberals. By the time St John Paul died, the factionalism had subsided. It was a slow process – in his first few years, he was careful not to upset liberal dioceses – and of course there were still conservatives and progressives. But they had to operate within parameters set by John Paul. So, too, did his successor, whose supposedly hardline traditionalism evaporated once he became Benedict XVI.
Now, in contrast, the factions are again flexing their muscles. The Church, disturbed by Amoris Laetitia and several other small wars initiated by the Vatican, is dividing along geographical lines. The articles from 1978 talked about the Dutch, Latin American and Polish churches as if they were rival denominations. That way of thinking is creeping back.
The direction of the Church is once again negotiable, even if John Paul II managed to cross women priests off the agenda (and can we even be certain of that?). Like Paul VI, Francis is out of step with committed lay Catholics, the difference being that he is theologically to the left of his critics.
But an even bigger difference is that secular society takes no more than a polite interest in the Church. It’s fair to say, as it was 39 years ago, that everything hangs on the choice of the next pope. When the moment comes, Catholics will be able to draw on unimaginable amounts of information compared to 1978. But they will look in vain for the meticulous, expensive and even-handed coverage squeezed between the ads for bourbon and Buicks in my vintage magazines. Time, like the rest of the world, has moved on.