“There are no supernatural answers to natural problems” – Edward Bond,
Pope Benedict XVI has made history as the first pontiff to take part in a televised question-and-answer session. The pre-recorded programme was broadcast on the Italian Rai channel on Good Friday afternoon. Seven questions were chosen from thousands submitted for the Pope to answer during the 80-minute programme. Most of the questions, from people across the world, dealt with struggle and suffering. TV viewers saw a split screen, with the Pope sitting in the Vatican library and those asking the questions filmed near their homes. The first question was asked by a seven-year-old Japanese girl traumatized by the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami. She asked why she and other children should have to feel afraid. The Pope replied that he had also asked himself the same question and his answer was ‘we know that Jesus suffered as you do.’ That is – no reason given, no answer.
Another question came from the Italian mother of a boy in a long-term coma. She asked if he still had a soul, to which the Pope replied that, yes, his soul is still present in his body. "The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play," he said. "The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present." Well, we cannot prove this one way or another, the existence of the soul never has been proved, so I hope the Pope’s metaphor was enough to satisfy a grieving mother.
To a Muslim woman in the Ivory Coast who asked his advice about how to cope with the conflict that has afflicted her country, he said people should look to Christ as an example of peace. –again an answer so anodyne as to be totally useless. The questioner is Muslim as is a great proportion of the population of West Africa to some of whom Christianity is anathema.
He told Christian students in Iraq - when asked how to encourage fellow Christians not to flee the country - that the Church was encouraging dialogue between religions. Another virtually meaningless response.
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, watching the programme, said it would be viewed by critics as very controlled and a little sanitised. That’s putting it mildly.
There was no opportunity to ask tough questions of the Church, such as about the priestly sex scandals that overshadowed the Church's Easter celebrations last year. But the Vatican will have viewed it as a first step in their overall effort to be more accountable and transparent, arising from accusations that the Church was failing to be open about the abuse scandal.
But, as far as answers are concerned, as Mister Bond said, there quite simply are no supernatural answers.