Beyond ‘Moviegate,’ deep questions remain on Vatican’s China gamble


October 25, 2020

By John L. Allen Jr.

Rome – Almost 75 years ago, Arnold Toynbee described what historians are trying to find as they scour the past in his book Civilization on Trial:

The things that make good headlines are on the surface of the stream of life, and they distract us from the slower, impalpable, imponderable movements that work below the surface and penetrate to the depths. But it’s really these deeper, slower movements that make history, and it is they that stand out huge in retrospect, when the sensational passing events have dwindled, in perspective, to their true proportions.

If ever there was a week on the Vatican beat to perfectly capture that contrast, this has been it. Two storylines are fighting it out to dominate Vatican coverage, and so far it’s no contest: A media frenzy over manipulation and censorship of a few seconds of papal verbiage on civil unions in a new documentary has overwhelmed the Vatican and China renewing their deal on the appointment of bishops for another two years.

Care to guess, 100 years from now, which of those two developments will seem a “sensational passing event” and which a “deeper, slower movement that makes history”? And the kicker is that arguably, both stories reflect the same defining instinct of Pope Francis.

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