An editorial in yesterday's Vatican daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano argued against the banning of a Tintin book - Tintin in the Congo - from certain British bookshops. Many would agree that it is madness to think that a children's book from the 1930s is now being sold under the same conditions as hardcore pornography. Others, though, such as the Commission for Racial Equality, have even called for Tintin in the Congo to be removed from our shelves altogether, arguing that it is based on "hideous racial prejudice."
But why did L'Osservatore Romano then descend to the farcical when it went on to seriously try and claim that Tintin (a fictitious cartoon character) was in fact a "Catholic hero"? Last year, the same newspaper proclaimed Homer Simpson, the completely irreligious and now very dated cartoon-character, "a true Catholic". How can L'Osservatore Romano seriously refer to one thing as being "lunacy" when at the same time it appears to be irrationally obsessed with the nonsensical religious affiliations of made up characters from children's cartoons?
L'Osservatore Romano's editorial, as reported in the Telegraph, also seemed to take a sneering attitude towards modern-day Britain. Fair enough, our culture is lost and the UK is standing on the abyss of moral collapse. But it simply is not cricket to have a newspaper so connected to the Holy See using its global influence to denigrate a whole nation in what appears to be rather xenophobic terms.
Firstly, the paper asked whether letting bookshops - I believe only one major bookshop, Waterstones, has resorted to these measures - censor Tintin in the Congo was "an appropriate protection of the defenseless children of Her Majesty, or politically correct lunacy in the shadow of Big Ben." This reference to Queen seems crass and anti-monarchical to me, even if it is true to say that the UK - along with the whole western world - is currently suffering from "politically correct lunacy". It also demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the facts surrounding the banning of Tintin in the Congo - which hasn't been forced upon bookshops by some draconian legislation by the government. I must say, if I were a bookshop owner, I don't think I would be comfortable displaying a book with a cover like the one above or which contained an image like the one below. Such a dismissive attitude by the Holy See's newspaper towards something that is arguably racist really needs to be addressed with some urgency by L'Osservatore Romano's owners.
Secondly, L'Osservatore Romano also appeared to make a bitter jibe at the expense of British children when it said "[t]he comic book was published in the 1930s, and for that reason expresses the values of the era – but can it really perturb young Britons of today, raised as they are on the internet, video games and fish and chips?" What on earth is wrong with fish and chips? It's not some newly fangled meal - children were eating it here during the 1930s, when Tintin was being read in Belgium. Also, I really don't think that it's very wise for the Vatican's unofficial mouthpiece to be seen to be making fun of little children - especially at the present time, when the Church is reaping the whirlwind caused by decades of child abuse by members of its clergy. Such sniping invariably leads to the scoring of own goals. The newspaper might have a very valid point, but does it need to make it in such a juvenile way?
Thirdly, whilst yesterday's editorial agreed with an article defending Tintin that appeared in the newspaper on the previous day, in which the cartoon character was hailed as a model Boy Scout, L'Osservatore Romano went on to criticise Lord Baden-Powell as "a racist and a eugenicist" - so much for scouting, then! It continued, again in a rather patronising anti-British tone, saying of Baden-Powell, "[a]nd to think they made him a baronet and a lord. But then, he was English." So, the paper begins by extolling the virtues of the scouting movement, then ends up mocking both the movement's founder as well as the entire nation that gave birth to the "dib dib dibbers". No-where, it seems, did L'Osservatore Romano mention the fact that Tintin's creator, Hergé (real name: Georges Prosper Remi), was himself embarrassed in later life by Tintin in the Congo's dated form of racism.
L'Osservatore Romano, both in its editorial and in the previous day's rather strange article on the Catholic heroism of Tintin, appears to be trying to make some very valid and pertinent points about the politically correct madness that is currently sweeping across the western world - taking our liberties and freedom of speech and expression with it. But its ridiculous hang-ups concerning the Catholicity of completely fictitious and utterly dated cartoon characters betrays an embarrassing lack of maturity. It makes a joke of a once important newspaper. It also runs the risk of making the Catholic Church and the Holy See seem out of touch with reality. L'Osservatore Romano's apparent anti-British bias is worrying, too, as is its apparent lack of acknowledgement that Tinitin in the Congo can justifiably be viewed as being racially prejudiced (even if the book is of its time). Although I agree with the paper's position concerning the UK's apparent self-destruction and its oppression by the dictatorship of relativism, I abhor L'Osservatore's rather anti-English tone as well as its defence of Tintin in the Congo - a book I personally would not want to have on my shelves!
To make a point, I'll end with this quotation from yesterday's editorial, as reported in the Telegraph (I couldn't find the editorial on L'Osservatore Romano online version): -
"Tintin is a Western knight for modern times. He's the guardian angel of Christian values which the West constantly disowns or mocks. Herge's creation reflects virtues that priests try to inculcate in the catechism."
If the Holy See's daily newspaper wants to be taken seriously, then childish and frankly ludicrous statements like this should be avoided at all costs! Tintin is a cartoon character, and one would be hard pushed (as far as I know) to find any explicit reference to God or religion in Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin. Although Hergé first published the Tintin stories in a Catholic newspaper, it's probably right to say that his time in the Boy Scouts had more of an influence on the cartoons than did the Catholic catechism. Being a divorced and remarried man, one would have to question, too, how much of an influence, if at all, Catholicism really had on its creator.
Dylan Parry resides in Britain and comments on religion and cultural affairs.