THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
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TABLES TURN ON MURDOCH
This week’s majority verdict of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the fitness of 81-year-old Rupert Murdoch to act as chairman and chief executive of a global corporation may not amount to a row of beans. Certainly the force of the committee’s message was diluted by its split along party lines, with six Labour and Lib Dem members describing Mr Murdoch as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”, while its four Conservative members demurred. Whether the shareholders of MrMurdoch’s US$33 billion media empire, the United States-registered News Corporation, will be over-troubled by pronouncements of relatively toothless British politicians on his suitability to run the company he has spent his life building is at first sight unlikely, particularly as his family together with a compliant scion of the Saudi royal family control a majority of the voting shares of the firm.
The story was sparked by the exposure of illegal or improper practices, such as phone hacking, computer hacking and payments to police officers, at newspapers belonging to News Corp’s British press arm, News International. But in one vitally important respect the select committee, however divided, did get to the nub of the matter. Despite the forensic judicial inquiry into press ethics by Lord Justice Leveson, and the three separate police investigations, this is at heart a story about making money. More to the point, it is about the forward march of unregulated capital and the apparent right of its generals to say and act as they wish in pursuit of profits.
Since the privatisation of nationalised industries begun by
Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and continued to the present day with efforts to transfer the public sector into private hands, the mantra that the market knows best has been constantly invoked, not least by Mr Murdoch and his organisation, which in Britain in the 1990s moved into the lucrative field of satellite television broadcasting. Little over two decades earlier, Mr Murdoch had slipped with self-confessed ease into the cut-throat arena of Britain’s print medium where he naturally thrived. But he was to find the highly regulated field of British broadcasting very different, his son, James, branding it the “Addams family of world media”. Despite that, BskyB, in which News Corp has a 39 per cent holding, has thrived, its multi-billion-pound revenues enabling it to outbid rivals when it comes to major sporting events and blockbusting drama serials. Mr Murdoch’s most notable broadcasting rival in Britain is of course the BBC. While the broadcaster’s problems are legion, it is a rare contemporary British success story of technical and creative excellence, and opinion polls continue to show that people feel the nation would be much poorer without it. But its unique position in British life, and in the wider world, would have been severely, not to say fatally, undermined had Mr Murdoch’s plan to acquire the remaining 61 per cent of BSkyB’s shares – a plan on the verge of being nodded through with the help of his political allies in Parliament – gone ahead. Given the Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s judgement on Mr Murdoch, it is now surely inconceivable that he or his empire would be allowed to increase their presence within Britain’s media. For that there will be many exhalations of relief at the BBC – and beyond.
HELP THE YOUNG HEAR THE CALL
e were made for love” could well be a song played by the radio DJ Chris Evans, on whose show the former Abbot of Worth, Fr Christopher Jamison, pops up from time to time in a slot called “Pause for Thought”. In fact “We were made for love” is a comment made by Pope Benedict XVI to the young people of Britain during his 2010 papal visit and is quoted in a new document on vocations put out by the National Office for Vocation, of which Fr Jamison is the director. Fr Jamison has made sure that “We were made for love” is as strong a theme in the National Vocations Framework as a repeated hook in a pop song. This is evident in its subtitle “Helping People Discover Discipleship”. Vocation is for everyone.
The days when Catholic teenagers were taught that vocation meant a calling to either the religious life or the priesthood are long gone. This latest national framework on vocations sees them as not exclusive but being about each and every Catholic attempting to discern his or her own calling, whether it is to be a nun, brother, priest, single person, or husband, wife and parent, as Fr Stephen Wang discusses on page 14 of this week’s edition. The bishops want the question posed by Pope Benedict during his visit to Britain to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds: “What kind of person would you really like to be?”
Answering that question in twenty-first-century Britain is a daunting task. People are living longer, making it much harder to conceive of choosing one way of life for 60 or 70 years of adulthood. Commitment is not taken as seriously by society as it once was: divorce and remarriage are common, as is switching careers in midlife. Society encourages fluidity and flexibility rather than signing up for a single calling. But this is just the kind of issue which needs to be explored, and the bishops’ framework wisely suggests that discernment groups and a network of spiritual guides should be set up.
However much the vocations framework speaks of a broad range of callings, it is inevitable in a sacramental Church that attention remains heavily focused on the priesthood. Figures provided by the National Office for Vocation show that ordinations are rising again gradually after plummeting to 26 a year on average in the past decade. Catholics who have seen their churches closed and parishes merged will welcome the prospect of more ordinations and the promise they bring of more Masses being celebrated.
But in the 30 or so years since ordinations were at their peak, the Church has changed. The laity, too, has discerned its vocation, not only as married people and those living the single lay life, but as active participants in the life and running of the Church. Fifty years on from the Second Vatican Council and its admonition that “the laity are not simply in the Church … they are the Church”, the mission imagined for lay people has borne fruit. The laity plays a role that is vital in itself – and is not just a question of keeping the seat warm until the clerics return in force. The Church needs more priests; it does not need a return to the days of an elite, aloof clerical caste.
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9 CATHERINE P E P I NSTER
‘People often think that being Catholic means you have to tick all the boxes’
1 1 LAURENCE FREEMAN
‘These are not crazy, dangerous women. They are deeply loved and respected’
1 3 CHRISTOPHER HOWSE’S
PRESSWATCH ‘History will have trouble fitting all these tesserae into the mosaic’
5 MAY 2 0 1 2
COVER STORY: FOCUS ON SPAIN
4 Teetering on the brink Jimmy Burns
Spain’s austerity solution to its recession has fuelled fears that the almost inevitable bailout could be coupled with insurrection
4 ‘It’s because of people’s greed’ Jennifer Waddell
Young Spaniards talk to The Tablet about the causes of the crisis and what lies ahead for them
1 6 PARISH PRACTICE 1 7 NOTEBOOK 1 8 L ETTERS 1 9 THE L I V I NG S P I R I T 2 0 PUZZLES
6 Hard times yield new vocations Julius Purcell
Some are asking whether the rise in numbers in Spanish seminaries can be directly linked to the country’s economic woes
2 1 N I CHOLAS V I NCENT
Thomas Becket: warrior, priest, rebel, victim – a 900-year-old story retold John Guy
P E T ER STANFORD “I’m on the train!” Wendy Perriam
2 4 F EATURE
Mark Lawson South Downs, The Browning Version, Written on the Heart
ROCK AND POP Brian Morton Theo Bleckmann: Hello Earth! The Songs of Kate Bush
RADIO D.J.Taylor Archive on 4: Lunch is for Wimps
C I NEMA Francine Stock Albert Nobbs
8 Robin Hood to the rescue Keith O’Brien
Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric explains why the Government’s failure to support a levy on financial transactions is hurting the poor
1 0 Flowers of the rarest Mary Colwell
Many wild flowers that bloom this month have long been associated with the Virgin. But their variety and profusion is now under threat
1 2 Rome’s three-line whip Robert Mickens
The trio of senior clerics given the job of reforming the Leadership Conference of Women Religious are men of drive and ambition
1 4 The mother of all callings Joanna Moorhead
A new book on parenting has been published, remedying a lack of guidance on what the Church regards as a key vocation
2 8 THE CHURCH I N THE WORLD
Koch accuses Küng of misleading the faithful on Vatican II 3 1 L ETTER FROM ROME 3 2 NEWS FROM BRITAIN AND I RELAND
New strategy for vocations as seminarian numbers increase
COVER ILLUSTRATION: MIGUEL MONTANER
5 May 2012 | THE TABLET | 3