Some weeks ago there was speculation that Pope Benedict might be invited to deliver a Radio 4 'Thought for the Day' during his state and pastoral visit in September. Neither the pontiff's schedule nor any leaks from the heart of the BBC suggest that this is now likely - though in the course of preparing Ekklesia's new report casting fresh light on the famous radio 'God slot' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/thought_for_the_day/main_report), the following metaphysical exchange reached us via the ether...
Scene: A BBC studio, some time in September 2010.
Pope: "Good Morning. When my predecessor arrived in Britain he famously kissed the ground and later declared: 'This fair land, once a distant outpost of the pagan world, has become, through the preaching of the Gospel, a beloved and gifted portion of Christ's vineyard.' Now it seems it is turning back to pagan ways … "
Producer: Hold on. Could we think of an alternative to "pagan"?
Pope: But that's what JP2 said …
Producer: It's just that we don't want to run the risk of opening up the whole thing about whether religious minorities should be allowed to do Thought for the Day.
Pope: What if I say the word in Latin?
Producer: Great. Most of the Radio 4 audience did classics, and it'll sound more pious. It's a religious slot, after all. OK, do continue your holiness.
Pope: "The forces of secularism … "
Producer: Ah, we can't be seen to be bashing secularists.
Pope: "Dark forces"?
Producer: Could be misconstrued.
Pope: "The enemies of Christianity"?
Pope: " … are demonstrating even now, with an agenda to change the laws of the land, and take away the rights of the one true church."
Producer: Yes, now the "one true" claim could cause problems for a couple of reasons. The overwhelming majority of contributors to this slot are Anglicans, and we don't want to undermine what they are saying. There's also the slightly touchy subject of Anglicanorum Coetibus.
Pope: Yes, I was just coming to that.
Producer: Think we'll have to drop that bit too. Want to skip to the next part?
Pope: "The church will always be welcoming of all."
Producer: Now that's OK, but it can't be left unqualified.
Pope: Why not?
Producer: Well, Thought for the Day is a slot with no right of reply, so you have to put the other side of the argument.
Pope: Sorry, I'm not really used to that ...
Producer: It's OK. There's a skill to this which only comes with practice. There are ways of being able to say what you want to say, whilst appearing balanced. Just add a few references about the odd person who some might suggest would not be welcome, say, all the time.
Pope: Like women priests?
Producer: Yes, and people in gay relationships. And perhaps a reference to contraception? And we should also mention the recent, er scandals. "Welcome to all" could be misconstrued. Now we need some theology in there too, otherwise we get accused of not being distinctive.
Pope: I used a great line for one of my encyclicals. "God is love". It fits in with the welcoming theme don't you think?
Producer: Perfect. Much better than the tenuous "Jesus welcomed people once" approach which we always fall back on. Now we just need what we call in the trade "the pay off".
Pope: I thought the British taxpayer was covering my visit? It's a state visit you know – although you appreciate that I am doing this in a religious capacity?
Producer: No the "pay off" is the line at the end which draws it all together. How about a blessing?
Pope: OK, but usually papal blessings are reserved for special occasions.
Producer: We really appreciate it. It's a big thing for us. Quite a coup in fact. Right, at two and half minutes that's your lot. Last thing. I know you don't normally do this, but shall we run it past Lambeth Palace as well?
(c) Jonathan Bartley is co-director of Ekklesia. He used to contribute to 'Thought for the Day' (http://tinyurl.com/39ot9au), but found himself un-invited when he said publicly that, as a Christian, he would have no objection to a broader range of contributors, including non-religious and minority religious speakers. This article is adapted from one that appeared earlier in the year on Guardian Comment-is-Free (http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/jonathan-bartley).
Also on Ekklesia:
* 'BBC Thought for the Day row misses the point, says new report' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12711
* Simon Barrow, ‘Why we need to rid ourselves of the 'god of the slots',’ - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5160
* ‘Introduction to the Thought for the Day debate’, ‘http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/thought_for_the_day - the preliminary report to 'Thought for the Day': Beyond the god-of-the-slots, http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/thought_for_the_day/main_report