Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Wanted: Pervert hunting virgin who tweets.

LOCKED away in a room in Rome, 115 virgins are deciding which one of them gets to be always right.

Whichever of them wins the dubious honour of being Honorary Dorothy and wearing the red shoes, he will get to be in charge not just of the other 114 cardinals but also a city-state, a private army, an impossibly vast property portfolio, a priceless art collection, and an unknown number of paedophiles.

On top of that will be 1.2billion followers worldwide and another 1.6million on Twitter, not all of whom were friendly to the pontifications of the last Pontifex.

So it's a tricky job for whoever wins. You're a nominal head of state as well as the personal vicar of Christ, a chief executive of a sprawling bureaucracy, a curator, a general, a radio station boss, and you're expected to personally sniff out every pervert in a frock.

But aside from that, the job's a waste of time.

Because despite the fact past popes have all told them not to, 98 per cent of sexually-active Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives.

Despite the fact past popes all say they're an abomination, somewhere between five to ten per cent of people identify themselves as something other than heterosexual, and the number is growing as social attitudes make it easier to be open about it.

Purely anecdotally, I haven't noticed the number of sinners dropping off either. Robert Mugabe's a Catholic, and the Pope's not once told him to behave a bit nicer.

So if the Pope can't make people be better, what's he got left? Talking to his invisible friend and counting the money, mainly, along with a little bit of trying to move the world and everyone in it backwards in time.

For which pointless task, I'll lay you good odds, any of those 115 virgins are eminently suited. No wonder it's taking them ages to pick one. It must be like sieving sludge.

Because whoever they pick isn't going to change a damn thing - the Catholic Church didn't get where it is today by being modern, after all - it comes down to little more than TV reporters getting their knickers in a twist about what kind of smoke they can see, whether the new Pope will be black or white, and just how old and knackered he's going to be.

It's possibly the only job in the world that an old man close to death can actually get, as well as the only one where people are still allowed to say the colour of his skin makes a difference.

Perhaps if he's black it'll help minorities all over the world; but women are still abused even though many think the pope was once a girl. I wouldn't hold your breath on that score.

Next to the journalists there's a lot of people stood under umbrellas in St Peter's Square waiting for the news. Some of them are the faithful, and a hell of a lot are tourists there to look at whatever everyone else is looking at.

I've been to St Peter's myself - I walked around the square, marvelled at the basilica and all the gold wibbly bits, queued for the Sistine Chapel and climbed narrow, winding, slippery-smooth and claustrophobic staircases to get on to the Vatican roof. I did the last half of the climb on my hands and knees while hyperventilating with terror, because while I can deal with enclosed spaces and heights on their own if you put them together I turn into a panicky jelly.

And that, ultimately, is what the church is: a thing to wonder at, a way of attracting attention, and something in which it is easy to fall, suffocate and be terrified.

The truth is that the biggest challenge facing the Catholic Church is being anything more than that - being relevant. Most of its members who I know follow the faith on their own terms. They've modernised it themselves, and reconciled their religion with their sexuality or personal code of behaviour as best they can. The church has not bothered to do that itself.

These things happened recently:

So far as I can tell, each of them is individually amazing and astounding, potentially alters the course of human history, and was totally ignored by the Vatican. And let's not get started on smashing protons together at CERN and discovering the God particle...

Opening a Twitter account for the Pope might be an effort to make him more relevant and modern, but if he ever read his mentions he'd have a heart attack and it's a total waste of time when the organisation he leads remains a 2,000-year-old anachronism which continues to exist only because its members are encouraged to breed without pause.

It's easy to make jokes likening the Papal election to Britain's Got Talent, and what it might be like with Ant and Dec gurning in the wings while weepy cardinals tell their sob stories, do a Gangnam rip-off, and someone makes a bomb off the phone votes.

That would be a bit silly, if it really happened. But if it's really God who gets to choose who the Pope is, there's no reason why the 1.2billion around the world can't say what he's telling them, nor the 400,000-odd priests and bishops, as well as the cardinals.

Even if they don't get a vote, they could be asked for their opinion if the church wanted to engage with its members and draw up a shortlist of people who might actually be listened to, rather than ignored.

Because while the virgins might think it demeans them to ask the opinion of someone other than God, the inescapable conundrum of modern life is that no-one is seen as infallible, even by the faithful. In fact the last Pope even announced that he was, and what's more so was God.

If they want the next elderly virgin to be listened to - and if he's not, there's very little point to having one - he needs to be someone who can look the world in the eye and win its interest and respect. And the world these days is a cynical place wondering why, if God is telling the cardinals how to vote, he's not telling them all the same name.

Otherwise, all we're left with is a lunatic instructing other people to be more like them, from a position of immense privilege and wealth, and if that's the way we're going you might as well get Gwyneth Paltrow to do the job.

She'd insist billions of people go macrobiotic and cut out carbs, and when we all ignored her she might realise she was an idiot in a way that popes, apparently, don't.

And at least she doesn't look a pillock in a dress.