So what's the Vatican going to comeup with next - Saint Nasty Nick?

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The Independent Online

Been fretting about Pope Pius IX all week. Not personally, though there are reasons to believe he would have fretted me personally (fret in the sense of chafe or torment, fret in the sense, maybe, even of devour) had he known me. Not what you'd call a lover of the Jewish people, Pius IX. "Dogs," he famously called us once, "howling and disturbing us everywhere." But then you have to be careful with translations. In actuality he may have adored dogs and only been referring to our impatience to show loyalty and be stroked.

Been fretting about Pope Pius IX all week. Not personally, though there are reasons to believe he would have fretted me personally (fret in the sense of chafe or torment, fret in the sense, maybe, even of devour) had he known me. Not what you'd call a lover of the Jewish people, Pius IX. "Dogs," he famously called us once, "howling and disturbing us everywhere." But then you have to be careful with translations. In actuality he may have adored dogs and only been referring to our impatience to show loyalty and be stroked.

Coralling the Jews of Rome back into the ghetto, however, to say nothing of forbidding them from giving evidence against Christians in Papal courts, banning them from public hospitals and excluding them from institutions of secondary and higher education, is less open to interpretation. He didn't care for us much, and now he's been beatified, which is just a step away from being canonised - that's a score to date of almost 300 to the present Pope, for whom making saints appears akin to shelling peas - we've a mind to say how much we didn't care for him.

The story most frequently told against Pius IX, whose office of piety lasted from 1846 to 1878, concerns a Jewish boy from Bologna - a bambino Bolognese - who was kidnapped from his family in 1858 and delivered to the Vatican where, despite widespread appeals for his return, he was brought up to be a sort of uber-Catholic and consider himself the son, no less, of Pope Pius IX himself. And how many Jewish boys can claim that?

It has been frequently argued, in the Pontiff's defence, that this was in fact an act of great humanity, not so much a snatch as a salvation, since the lad was baptized by a gentile housemaid in his sixth year and would therefore have gone straight to hell had he continued in the ways of Moses. In which case the real question is why more housemaids have not been employed over the years to dunk their Jewish charges in the local font. Talk about a final solution! Splish splash, you're Christian or you're damned.

I don't know as much about the processes of sanctification as I should. Do you have to be a Catholic already before you're short-listed? If so, if it really is entre les Chrétiens, then nobody else has any business voicing an opinion, wouldn't you agree? There must be a few heroes of the Jewish people, to whom monuments are raised in Israel, who wouldn't meet, let us say, a Palestinian's criteria of humanity. To each his own. Even the good have an axe to grind. You would hardly expect the election of Hubert the patron saint of hunters to have gone unchallenged by the fox.

Leaving special interests out of it, though, in a general way those apologists for Pius IX who have risked the airwaves over the last week or so, have all been lacking in what we might call non-denominational astringency. What we have been asked to take into account is: A that Pius XI lived in more barbarous times (meaning, we must assume, that it was common practice, circa 1860, to nick little Yiddlers and bring them up to be the sons of Popes); and B that sainthood is not the same as deification, and might well be a suitable reward for people who have been no more than passingly virtuous. In other words, what do you think you've got to be to be a saint - a saint?

Which makes it tempting to offer for beatific consideration the life of Shmendrick the Terrible, who baptised himself in stolen claret at the age of 79, having raped his own mother on her 100th birthday, slaughtered the women and children of more than a thousand Polish villages (a perfectly ordinary occurrence at the time) and desecrated twice that number of synagogues with the blood of every non-kosher animal mentioned in the Book of Numbers, but hey! - are we talking human beings here, or what are we talking?

So there it is. In our current determination not to expect too much of anybody, and as far as possible to be unimpressed by the exceptional, even sainthoods are on offer for the morally comme ci comme ça. The great achievement of our times is to be ordinary. Five thousand people turned out recently to greet a person whose distinction was to have been evicted from the Big Brother house. He also happens to be Irish, so who knows, Pope John Paul II might already be checking his credentials. (Though not, of course, too rigorously.)

This is all hard to explain to anyone who has lived a life on the assumption that something remarkable was to be done with it. What do I say to the mother of my friend Miss Rose Mitnick, who is at a loss to understand how come failure to prosper in the Big Brother house is greeted by popping flashlights and autograph hunters whooping like Red Indians. What do they want the evictee's autograph for?

Because they like him for everything he isn't good at? Because they revere her for not humiliating them with a single quality they do not possess themselves?

Perhaps we can put it more positively than that. Perhaps we can say that they admire her because she hasn't so far denied Jews the right to higher education. Maybe we're down to that now - negative accomplishment. Three cheers for anyone who isn't as mired in evil as your average saint.

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