i Editor's Letter: A chance to enter the 21st century


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The Independent Online


For a liberal metropolitan workplace environment overstocked with agnostics and atheists, there was a palpable ripple of shock at iTowers as news of Pope Benedict's unexpected and almost unprecedented retirement rippled around the newsroom. The first reaction being: "is it a wind-up?", the second "can a Pope quit?".

The Law of Averages dictates that there are more Anglicans than Catholics (lapsed or current) in the office, but the change in Archbishop of Canterbury went barely noticed, beyond conversations about how we cover it in the papers and website. Yes, people care about the Pope, even if they are not quite sure why they care. As I write, the retirement occupies seven of the top trends on Twitter.

Almost as fast came the jokes, some of them mine. There is a real difference between joking "about" and mocking "at". What's more, I'm absolutely convinced that many of the mockers would be too cowardly to be so bold about Islam or Judaism. The Pope means too much to too many for mockery to be the only response.

The big BUT? Benedict, like his predecessors, failed to grasp the nettle on so many major issues; notably contraception, abortion, homosexuality and women priests. Lurking in the background, there is not only the Vatican's murky finances, but the uneasy sense that the collective, continuing corporate silence on the subject of child abuse represents a giant cover-up.

This unexpected papal election represents a genuine chance for the Church to open up, enter the 21st century and restore some faith in its probity and ability to be a force for good in the world.