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For many hundreds of years the Roman Catholic Church has been conducting experiments in eugenics, or at least in genetics. It has done this by selecting the brightest and best male children it can find (not female, for some odd reason), giving them a great if narrow education, then turning them into priests and forbidding them to have any offspring or, indeed, sex.

This is not eugenics as we normally think of it. Dysgenics, or kakogenics, more like. Eugenics is usually thought of as the opposite, that is, taking the most hopeful specimens and encouraging them to multiply. Encouraging them NOT to multiply must strike all but the most faithful as twisted logic indeed. Nature is not so easily denied, of course, and these poor priests often defy the Vatican clandestinely by having a family by their mistress (I believe “housekeeper’ is the preferred euphemism) or finding an outlet for their thwarted sexual drive in paedophile activities.

The Catholic Church is not good at facing the consequences of its dysgenics programme. Recently, it seems, a British TV programme which highlighted the sexually perverse behaviour of many Catholic priests found it very difficult to get a showing on Italian TV. The Vatican pulled as many strings as possible to get it shelved. But it was at least posted on-line and I read somewhere that it has recently been downloaded more often in Italy than any comparable programme, or, there being no comparable programmes, any comparable non-comparable programme.

The crucial thing about the Vatican’s opposition to the showing of the programme was not, apparently, the accuracy of the programme. It was almost as if that did not matter, and they did not deign to discuss it. No, their opposition was entirely defensive and emotional. What is the motive, they cried, for this savage attack on Catholicism? Why have they chosen this moment to launch a scurrilous campaign against the Vatican? Wherefore all these attempts to blacken the name of the one true Church? Now is the time for all believers to rally round the Pope etc etc etc . . .

You might say that it was wise for the Vatican to ignore the actual content of the programme, for if they tried to defend themselves against guilty-priest charges, they would not have much of a leg to stand on. Moreover, they might have to face up to the suspicion that the rule of chastity for priests was the root of all the trouble in the first place.

But that is not why the Catholic Church goes into a tizzy when shown a yellow card. It goes into an eye-rolling fit for exactly the same reason that Vladimir Putin starts frothing at the mouth when accused of harbouring a secret service killer. When Britain asked for the extradition of the suspected murderer of Litvinienko, Putin did not say that he was innocent, any more than the Vatican says that their priests are innocent. He said: “How dare you!” He said it was outrageous. He said that Russia did not do extradition. He said that Britain has been harbouring dangerous Russian dissidents. He said Russia was pursuing its own investigations into Litvinienko’s death, thank you VERY much . . .

It’s all to do with pride and dignity, and national morale, and all those other things which make fools of men. Every time an independent-minded Russian journalist is assassinated, and it is suggested that the government might know something about it, Putin reacts with the horrified innocence of a man who goes on TV after his fiancée has been killed and pleads for the murderer to come forward, knowing full well that he himself is the guilty party.

Or, to come full circle and back to home base, the horrified innocence of Tony Blair being asked to admit to any deceit or foolishness or lunacy over Iraq. Or, this week, of him being asked about the cancellation of the arms fraud and corruption investigation, when it now seems, if BBC’s Panorama has got it right, that huge bribes were indeed being channelled into Saudi pockets. Blair did not deny this, any more than Putin denies that Litvinienko was murdered by a Russian, or the Vatican denies having deviant priests.

But it’s not about bribes or murders or priests, is it? It’s about losing face, and bluffing, and machismo, and playing a bad hand as best you can . .

God, I’m glad I don’t play poker.


The Independent Friday June 8 07