Radio: Not the time of year for dirty little secrets

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The Independent Culture
It is that time of year where Christianity is given a soft ride; and on Radio 4 there have been little snippets, unrecorded in the schedules, which have been plugging various aspects of the Non-Official Religion of the Millennium. On Tuesday I caught someone who sounded like a nun talking about the Virgin Mary, and how difficult things must have been for her, what with adulterers tending to suffer the death penalty, and her with a bump on her that can be only accounted for by what seems on the surface an unusually tall story. "What a woman," concluded the nun- alike, to which one must murmur a kind of assent, but not perhaps for reasons she would like.

More interesting was the same day's edition of The Choice, also R4. In this Michael Buerk talks to someone who has undergone some should -I-or- shouldn't-I moral dilemma. This premise does not actually yield results radically dissimilar to a normal interview with someone who has something to talk about, but anyway. Last week Buerk was talking to the writer John Cornwell, who was truffling away in the Vatican archives one day, researching the life of Pius XII, who was Pope during the last world war.

Pius XII, head of a worldwide religion which makes great claims for its own ethical probity, had, how shall we put it, a very softly-softly approach when it came to speaking up for the Jews being massacred in their millions by Hitler and his lieutenants. There are those who argue that this was deliberate, a means of not antagonizing the Nazis and so making it possible to rescue large numbers of them without the Germans suspecting what was going on. There are some people of immense influence within the RC Church who want Pius XII canonized.

There is, however, another school of thought, which holds that Pius XII did not do anything to save the Jews, and was, in fact, culpably morally negligent in his laissez-faire attitude to the atrocities. The evidence that Cornwell found - and I really do not want anyone writing to me in green ink about this, if you have a problem with it address the BBC - was not secondary evidence but documents in Pius XII's very own handwriting. It not only confirmed the second interpretation, but went further. It confirmed that Pius XII was in fact a disgusting anti-semite, of the common or garden automatic loathing variety, who in all probability didn't pipe up about this ultimate crime going on beneath his nose because he privately agreed with it.

The dilemma, apparently, was whether Cornwell should have kept quiet about the whole thing. Eh? Not much of a dilemma, I thought - but then I am not a Roman Catholic. Nor am I, like Cornwell, a lapsed Roman Catholic who has just returned into the bosom of his church. I suppose that is what it is to really believe in a religion: to entertain the idea of suppressing any evidence, when it surfaces, that one of its heads was ethically bankrupt. Sometimes, he confessed (and egged on by Buerk's questions, which in a court of law could be called "putting words into the witness's mouth"), in the wee hours he did sometimes wonder if he would roast in hell for this.

To burn for revealing that Pius XII was complicit with murderers! That the whole grisly apparatus of eternal damnation exists not so much to torment malefactors as to punish those who make things awkward for prejudiced but influential co-religionists - that's an idea to pep up your Christmas.

Those of you in a sour mood with the festivities for this or any other reason will have found solace in Radio 2's broadcast yesterday of Hancock's Half Hour. For, if the thought of Christmas Home Truths makes you shudder, think of what you would have had to listen to instead in his day. "I must have my radio over Christmas," Hancock wails when contemplating being discovered without his radio licence. "I'll miss London calling the Commonwealth. Come in Canada! Greetings to our cousins in Australia! Are you there, Zanzibar? Come in the Beachy 'Ead Lighthouse. I can't miss all that. I sit there with a mouth full of pudding and me atlas in front of me and a lump in me throat." Those were the days, eh?

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