Letter to the Editor:
We subscribe to The Hamilton Spectator and a national daily newspaper. The treatment of the resignation of Pope Benedict was treated quite differently.
The Spec introduced the story at the bottom of the front page. The other paper treated it as the main story on the front page, followed by two full pages inside.
The Spec editorial cartoon pictured the Pope being pushed into a coffee shop on a small, wheeled platform toward a table with three seniors, one of whom declares "Better shove over and make room for Mister Infallible." The other paper pictured St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. A hand reaching from the clouds above posted a sign "Help Wanted."
It should be noted that although I am retired, nobody told me Pope Benedict made even one infallible statement or decision in his almost eight years of leading the Catholic Church.
(Rev.) R. Cote, Hamilton * * * * *
I believe in freedom of expression, but the Feb. 12 cartoon of Pope Benedict was a despicable, outrageous, disrespectful rendering of a holy, learned man who heads the Catholic Church and has spoken and written to rulers and peoples everywhere calling for peace, justice and recognition of the dignity of every human being.
N. Winslow, Beamsville
* * * * *
The cartoon portraying Pope Benedict in an unflattering way did a disservice both to the Pope and the many Catholics who respect his decision to step down. The decision was courageous and reflects the Pope's clear understanding of himself and the needs of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict has championed the Christian principle of forgiving, and he would no doubt feel compelled to forgive the editorial cartoonist and the editorial board. The Pope and The Spectator's readers deserves better.
M. Ronney, Hamilton * * * * *
From a clergyman to the Spectator Publisher...
The Cartoon in Tuesday's Spectator portraying Pope Benedict in an unflattering way was in my opinion, unfair and disrespectful to a Pope who has served his Church and the world well. I cannot understand what the Spectator thought they would achieve by printing that cartoon. Pope Benedict deserves better. My first reaction was to say "enough is enough"...time to cancel my subscription to the Spectator, and to encourage many others to do the same.
Why Sir did you and your colleagues permit this cartoon to appear?
Michael Ronney, Hamilton
In response, from Spectator Editor-in-Chief:
First, thank you for letting us know your thoughts on this cartoon. To be sure, it was not to everyone's liking, and we apologize for upsetting your sensibilities. The cartoon was meant to be playful and humorous, but I accept that you (and others) did not find it funny. Personally, I saw the cartoon not as disrespectful, but as humanizing the Pope, in a way that many of our readers can relate to. Like most newspapers, we give editorial cartoonists wide latitude to comment on news events.
Thank you again for letting us know your thoughts. We appreciate it.
Paul Berton * * * * *
PAUL BERTON: Satire and Pope a volatile mix
If you ask some Catholics, The Spectator has always had a bias against their religion.
Apparently, we demonstrate this regularly in our coverage of everything from high school sports to homosexuality to condom use.
The last straw for some came this week with an editorial cartoon by The Spectator's Graeme MacKay marking the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
It may have been the biggest news of the week, and so was predictably the focus of many editorial cartoons around the world.
Some readers I spoke with on the phone and corresponded with this week were less than impressed with The Spectator's offering, to say the least.
MacKay's cartoon, which you can view at thespec.com, imagined the Pope joining one of those ubiquitous coffee klatches where retirees gather at a diner to catch up, reminisce, discuss various ailments and gently poke fun at each other.
I have attended many such gatherings (as an observer or guest" and probably soon as a regular participant) and always find them heartwarming and fun in a mischievous way.
Indeed, I found the cartoon, in which the gang dubs their newest member "Mr. Infallible," heartwarming, and as I said to outraged readers, I thought it humanized the Pope.
Admittedly, I am not Catholic, and some with whom I spoke did not agree.
Instead, they used words such as "disgusting," "unfair," "unflattering" "mocking," "denigrating," "disrespectful," "mean-spirited" "derogatory," "unacceptable," "unprovoked," "hate speech" "Catholic-bashing," "petty," "small-minded" ...
It was not our intention to offend, but some wondered if we would have poked fun at other religious leaders in a similar way.
We asked ourselves that very question. The problem is, there isn't exactly an equivalent of the Pope in other religions.
I suspect the Dalai Lama might have found the cartoon both funny and humanizing if he was featured, though I can't say how Tibetan Buddhists would have reacted.
It's not often a pope retires, but editors would have been comfortable if a cartoon had poked similar fun at the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It's true, for all kinds of complex reasons, we do not depict Mohammed in cartoons. Nor, says cartoonist MacKay, would he have made fun of Jesus Christ.
That said, MacKay has had at least one of his pope cartoons in the past rejected by The Spectator, while others invariably cause reaction. And for the record, in past cartoons he has featured also the Dalai Lama, Islamic clerics, Muslims, Hindu gods and at least one Anglican archbishop, not always in a flattering way.
Meanwhile, there were many other cartoons this week marking the Pope's unprecedented decision to resign.
Some were polite, but made no comment; they were merely illustrations marking a news event. That is not the point of an editorial cartoon.
Others were more critical indeed, though I won't go into any details.
Meanwhile, this particular Pope has been subject to what can only be described as vicious attacks from cartoonists around the world over the years. Ironically, many of the most vicious come from cartoonists working for publications in predominantly Catholic countries.
I shudder to think what the editors faced following their publication there.
Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.