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What’s happening to the fucking Pope?

We hear a lot about people going out looking for things to be offended by. Sometimes that’s not what’s going on; other times it is.

One of the latter is when an editor shouts across a noisy newsroom, responding to a delay in production, “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?” and a Catholic employee brings a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief.

The Appellant, a casual sub-editor on the Times Newspaper, was a Roman Catholic. He was working at the Times during the visit to the United Kingdom of the Pope in 2010. During March the Times was preparing a story about the Pope relating to allegations that he had protected a paedophile priest.  There was some delay in producing the story, and one of the editors in the newsroom, a Mr Wilson, shouted across to the senior production executives “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?”.  When there was no response he repeated the question more loudly.  The Appellant was upset and offended what he heard.  He raised a complaint, which in his view was not properly progressed, and he then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief.

Hmmyeah. Dude – people say “fucking” sometimes when they’re just impatient or frustrated or annoyed or – hang on tight – just adding an intensifier for no particular reason. It happens. It’s not worth going to an employment tribunal about.

The Tribunal held that the use of bad language was evidently merely an expression of bad temper which may have constituted “unwanted conduct” but it was not intended to express hostility to the Pope or Catholicism. Neither elements constituting harassment had  been proved. First, the Tribunal found that Mr Wilson did not know that the Appellant was a Roman Catholic; but, more generally and perhaps more pertinently, it found that there was, to put it shortly, no anti-Catholic purpose in what he said.

What Mr Wilson said was not only not ill-intentioned or anti-Catholic or directed at the Pope or at Catholics: it was evidently not any of those things.  No doubt in a perfect world he should not have used an expletive in the context of a sentence about the Pope, because it might be taken as disrespectful by a pious Catholic of tender sensibilities, but people are not perfect and sometimes use bad language thoughtlessly: a reasonable person would have understood that and made allowance for it.

In this appeal, the Appellant contended that the Tribunal erred by considering Mr Wilson’s “motive” in saying what he did and that was immaterial to the question of whether his remark was “on the grounds” of the Appellant’s religion.

Eesh.

The Apellant lost. And that is going out looking for things to be offended by.

Comments

  1. jayhawk says

    One test that the statement has nothing to do with religion is the abilility to substitute the target without changing the the meaning of the sentence, thereby showing that the fact the Pope is Catholic has nothing at all to do with what was said, e.g. “what’s happening to the fucking Queen, Prime Minister, President, Cabinet Minister, or Foreign Diplomat.”

    It is rude towards whomever it is directed, but whatever or whoever that person represents is irrelavent and a person who happens to belong to what ever group of people this target represents should not be able to claim it was an attack on the them.

  2. great1american1satan says

    Bee, in fairness, whether a bad behavior was directed at someone or not is irrelevant when considering harassment, at least the last time I was given the corporate training about the subject. But yeah, the Appellant was clearly in the wrong here. Just not about that aspect.

  3. Moggie says

    Expressing “hostility to the Pope” is a bad thing? At this point, it’s pretty much a moral imperative!

  4. And How says

    I really like Tim Minchin, but in my honest opinion Ashley Miller’s blog rendition of that song here on Freethought Blogs is even better. Just click over and watch her February 13, 2013 Wednesday Uekele Song and check it out. Be sure to watch the commentary at the beginning for the full experience.

  5. chinasea says

    It’s not 100% clear from this, but the article that was late or missing already had the title “The Pope”. So the offending words were actually in effect, can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking article
    It really does not take too much to upset some folks.

  6. freemage says

    Obviously, the editor in question made a grave error. The proper phrasing would have been: “Can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking pedophile-protecting misogynist in the ruby slippers?”

  7. says

    I’m a little suspicious about this bit:

    He raised a complaint, which in his view was not properly progressed…

    A bit more detail would have been nice. The “in his view” might suggest that he had some unrealistic ideas about what the proper response to such a complaint would be, especially given his later complaint of harassment, but it’s difficult to tell. He might actually have a legitimate gripe there, if he voiced his concerns and was ignored.

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