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Blair and Pope Herald New Age of Catholicism
May 7, 2005 - 8:41
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LONDON - Hot on the heels of his muted election victory, Tony Blair faces a new crisis following a dramatic leak from the Vatican. According to a source in Rome, believed to be an adversary of the newly inaugurated Pope Benedict XVI, an audacious deal has been cut between the Catholic Church and Hewlett Packard, apparently with Mr Blair as intermediary.

The Prime Minister's association with the Roman Catholic Church is informal. Yet, being married to a Catholic, he regularly attends services and freely speaks of his own faith. He is known to have conferred already with the new pontiff and is believed to have discussed the future of the church along with the issue of its representation in the 21st century.

The deal arranged by Blair, expected to be announced later this month, involves utilising handheld technology, in which Hewlett Packard is a market leader, to enable practising Catholics to keep an ongoing schedule of their sins. That record, uploaded into data ports incorporated into the side of confessionals, will be available to the attending priest on a screen in his compartment. Having read the 'e-fession,' the priest can then choose from a database of atonements which are uploaded back into the confessor's handheld device.

As the device continues to be used on a regular basis, it builds a history of its owner's misdemeanours and the recommended repentances for them. It is believed the software features a function which automatically calculates a suggested frequency of confessions and, when connected to a confessional, will enable priests to gauge at a glance which atonements are working best for each individual.

"It's spiritualism on the go," an anonymous source at HP told Regan Blakemore of Reuters. "In the setting of a high-paced world of life-shaping decisions, it makes communing with God a smoother, more immediate and satisfying process. It takes the grind out of being righteous."

This observation was refuted by leading theologian, Professor Malcolm Paddison at Trinity College, Oxford.

"One of the interesting effects of [the Catholic Church] having a systematic approach to matters of conscience is that it provides a mechanism which effectively results in an emotional dislocation between the subject and his sin. Arguably, an approved means of absolution allows the subject to view the sin as meaningless in terms of consequence. It objectifies the sin and dispels it. Therefore, the subject remains perpetually unaware of the real meaning of his wrongdoing. When one introduces the convenience of technology into the system, the meaninglessness of sin is amplified."

With the popularity of wireless technology such as Bluetooth, it is anticipated that the new style of 'conscience management,' as it is already becoming known, will be available to practising Catholics who are unable to gain access to a confessional.

"It's not too difficult to guess how this could end up going," said Reuters' HP insider. "Once the devices have a 'sin history' of a month or more, they could conceivably script automated confessions using existing personal data. These could be beamed wirelessly to any number of confessional servers which would send back atonements, generated by a system which has access to the sinner's 'repentance profile.'"

Since Tony Blair's decision to support the United States in the Iraq war, criticism has been levelled at him highlighting his self-conscious style of leadership. At the outbreak of war, Secretary of State for Overseas Development, Claire Short, accused him of being obsessed with his place in history. Because of Blair's much diminished majority in the House of Commons, many attribute this new interest in the affairs of the Vatican as evidence of his obsession becoming yet keener.

Additionally, say his critics, it points to his desire to be seen as a player in the world economy by rubbing shoulders with corporate giants. Having pulled the UK into an era of secularism, it is peculiar that he should have chosen to join forces with the head of the old Christian guard, even if only to introduce it to secularism in the form of technology.

The new pope is known for his determination to protect religious tradition against any effort to modernise the Church, preferring to safeguard the practises of the faith in a world which increasingly demands compromise from the Vatican. By employing state of the art technology as a means of holding onto existing members of the church, as well as attracting younger converts, Pope Benedict XVI may, with Tony Blair's help, have found a new route to Catholic prosperity, and a faithful generation whose conscience exists, no longer only in the confessional, but in holy cyberspace.

Charles Kennedy is so far the only political leader in the UK to have commented on the subject.

"There aren't enough gigabytes to store that bastard's sin profile," he remarked of Mr Blair.

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