Wednesday October 20, 2010

L’Osservatore Romano and the Irrelevance of “Relevance”

Commentary by Hilary White

ROME, October 20, 2010 ( – When I discovered the internet hullabalooo over that silly article, the latest in a string of silliness from L’Osservatore Romano, telling the world that Homer Simpson is a “real” Catholic, I just sighed. It was just one more little bit of cringeworthy sophomoric nonsense from a paper that seems to be struggling with a humiliating mid-life crisis.

The Daily Telegraph in England broke the “story” to the Anglosphere, and pretty much called it:

Once a staid and sober paper of record, L’Osservatore Romano has ventured into popular culture in the last three years under a new editor, praising Barack Obama and commenting on everything from The Beatles and The Blues Brothers to the blockbuster film Avatar and the Harry Potter books and films.

“Yep,” I thought, “that about sums it up. L’Osservatore Romano is an old person trying to be hip and cool. And there is nothing more excruciatingly, exquisitely embarrassing…”

The Telegraph noted that the whole business started with the appointment of the new editor, Gian Maria Vian. LSN has noted several occasions during Vian’s tenure at the paper that have caused a lot of cringing around the grown-up world. And with this latest, the mainstream media is again enjoying a laugh at the Church’s expense, producing headlines like “Doubting Homer Proclaimed a Catholic by Vatican Newspaper.”

The Vatican paper article tells us that Homer is a crypto Catholic, a “real” Catholic because he “recites prayers before meals and, in [his] own peculiar way, believes in the life thereafter.” It even quotes a Jesuit – so you know it must be true.

And the Simpsons seems to be L’Osservtore Roman’s favourite show. A 2009 article, “The Virtue of Aristotle and the Doughnut of Homer” by the same staff writer, Luca Possati, holds the show up as a model of the new, post-1960s Catholic standards of virtue. The Simpsons, he says, is a “tender, irreverent, scandalous, and ironic, ramshackle and profound, philosophical and at times even theological synthesis of crazy pop culture and warm and nihilistic American middle class.”

Now, I’ll break it to the world: I like the Simpsons. On the few occasions when I’ve watched it, I’ve found it to be pretty funny. Their little ironic commentaries and critiques of the insanity of modern life appeal to me. I can think of a lot of shows that are worthy of outright condemnation, but the Simpsons isn’t on that list.

The Simpsons is one of TV’s longest running shows, and, like nearly everything else the post-Christian western world has to offer, it’s got its good and bad. But there is something I’d like to say about it to the editor of L’Osservatore Romano. (As well as to those people confused by the headlines, asking, “Is Homer Simpson really a Catholic?”)

You ready for my analysis?

It’s just a TV show! Homer is just a cartoon character.

It’s not important enough to get space in the pope’s own newspaper. Can we please let the secular mainstream media talk a lot of pseudo-philosophical nonsense about American pop culture? Is it too much to ask to have this most prominent of all Catholic papers, to please, please stick to talking about grown-up things? The pope does it; let’s go with his example.

Is there anything more contemptible than old people trying to demonstrate their coolness to the young people: Than a grey ponytail on a sixty-year-old man? Than a woman of a certain age getting her endowments augmented with silicone? Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the person in your life you respected and honoured the most, your 6th grade teacher, perhaps, or your sainted maiden Aunt Mildred. Now picture that person putting on a sequined spandex minidress and heading out to the clubs. Ready to climb under the table? Me too.

L’Osservatore Romano’s recent, sudden decline into this same pursuit of hipster “relevance” is only the latest, but possibly the most risible, venture into greying hipsterhood of a Church institution that has lost its grip.

Many of the churchmen now in their 50s and 60s lost the plot in those years of revolution. They lost their confidence in the truth and needfulness of the Church’s message and mission, especially regarding its now politically very incorrect moral teachings. And it seems everyone knows this but them.

Has anything, notwithstanding the clergy abuse crisis, done the Church more damage in the last four decades than the never-ending quest for “relevance” by the still very influential peace and love “progressive” generation?

The argument is being made more frequently lately that the drive to be “with-it,” in the 1968 model, to ditch our repressive attitudes towards sex, is more or less what allowed the priesthood to become degraded by an influx of men who justified their crimes as a form of natural self-expression. A very fashionable attitude in the ’70s, as I recall.

So what can we do when our previously respectable and admirably restrained maiden Aunt Mildred suddenly takes up pole dancing lessons? What, in other words, should we do the next time (and no doubt, it won’t be long) the Vatican’s formerly authoritative paper of record decides to wow The Youth with its hipster relevance?

Well, there’s this old fashioned custom in the Catholic Church, a piece of advice that used to be given out quite commonly by spiritual directors and confessors back in the Church’s uncool past. It’s called “custody of the eyes,” or, in other words, don’t read the paper.

See related articles:

L’Osservatore Romano and the Irrelevance of “Relevance”

Does Homer Simpson Read L’Osservatore Romano?


‘Simpsons’ Producer Corrects Vatican: ‘Homer Simpson is Not Catholic’

The Holy Gospel according to Homer Simpson

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