The pope joke -- have we forgotten the meaning of satire?
You can easily imagine what it must be like if you are one of the Foreign Office team planning the Pope's up-coming visit. First, there are the hours of meetings in which you try to work out a suitable timetable and a suitable guest list. That nice elderly cardinal looks ideal for the top table -- then whoops, there's another scandal about smacking/child abuse/cover ups (this time involving the said cardinal) and it's back to the drawing board. Then, there is the ground work. You think you have found the ideal nursery for His Holiness to visit -- but when you do a recce, you discover that the road to it from the train station goes right through the red light district, unless you go on a detour that will take at least three hours and will overrun on His Holiness's comfort stops that you have been told to programme in every 90 minutes.
Was this what you joined the Foreign Office for, you wonder.
Anyway, to keep up morale -- for you and the rest of the team -- you sit down one evening, after another hard day as His Holiness's travel agent, and bang out a spoof programme....the one with the Benedict brand condoms and the apologies for the Spanish Armada. And you circulate it, dead-pan.
It's what any clever young person working on that kind of mind-numbing stuff would do. Thank God they still exist in the Foreign Office.
I've occasionally done it myself, in a very small way.
A few years ago I was wasting days and days of my time writing our Faculty's self-assessment document for the last RAE but one (I could well have written another academic 'output' in the time it took to construct these documents). In one of the drafts that went to our Faculty Board (about graduate student training), I wrote, deadpan "Every PhD student in the Faculty has a supervisor to write their thesis for them'... not quite up to the Spanish Armada apology level, but I thought it would reveal which of my colleagues actually read the documents (and reward those that did!). And there was a frisson of excitement at the thought of the shit that would hit the fan if it didn't get taken out before the documents were sent away.
We all had a laugh. It WAS good for morale.
In the Pope case, the document includes nothing worse than you would hear on a Radio 4 comedy programme (indeed I hope some Radio 4 comedy programme borrows the jokes).
OK, I know all about the religious sensitivities, and our centuries of anti-Catholicism. But the people who really deserve the blame here are those who leaked the damn thing to the Telegraph -- and the Foreign Office top brass who decided to turn a spoof into a diplomatic incident. ("It does not reflect the views of the Foreign Office" they solemnly said -- of course it doesn't; no one but an idiot would ever think it did.)
(If you want a glimpse of some Roman Satire, you could try me and some mates on In Our Time last week.)