Is it OK to give the Pope a smack?

As a distinguished commentator on matters of ethics and social science, I realise people often turn to me for guidance and advice on the pressing issues of the day. It is a burden I wear with forbearance and some small measure of pride. Today I turn to the pressing questions on everyone’s lips this bright February morning: Is it OK to give the Pope a smack?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the wrong kind of violence here, the nasty kind that criminals and bad people dole out to those whom they think deserve it. After all, nobody wants to see God’s representative on Earth rolling around on the floor with blood spurting from a burst lip, his skull cap askew and his dignity round his ankles like a broken pair of longjohns. No, I’m talking about the nice kind of smack, one that isn’t in the face. You have to smack the Pope a bit, but never in the face, so as not to humiliate him.

How beautiful! To know that sense of dignity! You have to punish him, but you do it justly and move on.

I can understand the appeal, honestly I can. I mean who hasn’t occasionally had a fraught and stressful morning and the last thing you need is your Pontiff giving it Lorem Ipsum like he owns the place and you snap, bend him over your knee and transubstantiate his gluteus maximus while spitting “You want Latin? I’ll give you bloody Latin…”

But doing it with dignity, of course. How beautiful.

Yes, I understand the attraction, but I have to tell you, the world has moved on. It is not just that there is no evidence that beating your Pope (with dignity) is an effective way to discipline him, the reverse is actually true. A large body of evidence now points to the contrary, using physical punishment and discipline on the supreme leader of the Holy See is likely to cause measurable and lasting neurological damage, turning the Vicar of Christ into a right little devil.

So I can only reluctantly conclude that however tempting it might be, it is not OK to give your Pope a smack.

But but but…. I hear you cry, what if the situation is different? Is it OK to give the Pope a smack if he has done something really out of order, like trash-talking your mum, spilling your pint or preventing people from accessing life-changing contraception and safer sex opportunities that could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the developing world? Surely then there would be nothing wrong with giving him a bit of a smack? It’s normal. You cannot provoke without expecting a punch in return. Can you?

Well here’s the problem. There is no such thing as an isolated act of violence. In the words of the blessed St John the Pistol, anger is an energy, and so too is violence. Every act of violence one imposes upon another person merely increases the amount of violence in the world and more often than not it will either come back to you with interest or, worse, be passed along to the next poor sod down the line. When the Pope casually offends you, the temptation to give him a smack might be strong, but it will be stored as bitterness and resentment, then probably expressed as a random attack on the abortion rights of half a billion women.

We can see this working in practice when – purely as a hypothetical – we imagine a little kid from an immigrant family, say somewhere like Buenos Aires, who is taken away from his family at the age of seven to be raised by the Jesuits, a brutal order whose favoured method of discipline is to beat the child with a Ferula, a kind of stick made from whalebone covered in leather that BDSM fetishists would adore. When you put a child through that kind of upbringing, it would hardly be surprising if they grew into an adult who displayed a rather disturbing obsession with images and rituals of violence.

So, in conclusion, is it OK to give the Pope a smack? No. It isn’t. You don’t have to smack him, punch him, whip him or beat him.

Nor do you have to listen to him.

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. Ally Fogg says

    Probably a good moment to confess that I edited out a reference to “bashing the Bishop of Rome” on the grounds of obviousness.

  2. Anne Fenwick says

    Dear Uncle Ally,

    I’ve always favored the time-out method in which the child is temporarily excluded from normal social interactions on the understanding that he or she may return as soon as she or he is ready to behave in a civilised manner (details provided).

    Could you offer us your words of wisdom on this disciplinary method and suggest how it might be applied to the pontiff?

    Yours sincerely,

  3. says

    …turning the Vicar of Christ into a right little devil.

    He’s not exactly an angel now. Hell, he’s not even in the category of “upstanding responsible mortal,” or even “well-meaning person who should be given the benefit of the doubt.” He just explicitly took the side of thin-skinned religious bigots who seek to violently suppress all forms of criticism. How much more of a “right little devil” could a smack or two make him?

    Now, a cancelled speaking engagement or three? That might have a good effect…

  4. Trebuchet says

    “Smack”, at least in this country, can also mean “kiss”. Just thinking about that makes me a bit queasy.

  5. collinmerenoff says

    Pathetic! Whatever happened to explaining how and why something someone said was wrong?

  6. says

    Great points, Ally. I agree that Peter Hook has done a brave and worthwhile thing in writing and talking about his abuse. I was abused in ways similar to Hook, and when I first heard news reports of his story, I had a weird feeling of relief. Partly this was from the fact that someone was brave enough to talk about it publicly (which I’m not, except anonymously). Part was from the fact that, if this could happen to someone as cool and successful as Hook, the fact that it happened to me didn’t mean that I was a useless loser. That other people tried to criticize and shut him down for talking about this doesn’t make a huge difference here. Indeed, that he was able to keep asserting what happened to him, even in the face of criticism, is also a positive: he could speak out and he wasn’t shut up, which is a good example for other victims to see.

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