icys anyone else fed up with the media's stock assessment of Pope Benedict I? "The man formerly known as God's Rottweiler has surprised many with his gentle approach..." Yadda, yadda, yadda; yawn, yawn.
Nowhere is this cliché heard more often than on the 24-hour news channels. Last week I took part in a Sky News discussion about Pope Benedict XVI, marking his first anniversary in office.
The presenter did not want to be nasty, yet I was slightly at a loss when she asked me whether I had expected Pope Benedict XVI to assert "his traditionalist agenda" in his first year. What did she mean by "traditionalist agenda"? The Catholic faith?
A crudely assembled biographical package had already offered viewers — and me — a few clues: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been an "arch-reactionary", we learned, who opposed liberation theology; homosexuality; and even — shock, horror — abortion.
Struggling for a response,! mumbled something I thought they wanted me to say about how liberal Catholics had been won over by the Pope's "pastoral" approach.
A better man would have challenged their understanding of the Church and pointed out how ridiculous it was to suggest that the Pope's opposition to the destruction of millions of wiborn lives was an "extreme" Catholic position.
On Sunday I faced a similar situation when a BBC disc jockey asked how Pope Benedict was going to move the Church "forward" on the issue of women priests. divorce. and condoms. Feeling a little bolder, I replied that the Church would not change its teaching to conform with the modem world, rather that Pope Benedict hoped the reverse would happen.
"Riiiggghhht," said the man in a tone that suggested I must be a nutter. "Let's move on..."
So either way Catholics can't win. You can nod along as interviewers chum out the usual Benedict XVI bad-manturned-good line and feel frustrated. or you can try to persuade the presenter that the Church's position is not loony, and they treat you like a Neanderthal. This is because on religious matters, television is still black and white. The media does not possess the vocabulary, let alone the will. to engage with matters of eternal importance, of good and evil.
Unable to understand Catholicism, newsmen assume that the Church is simply, to use another of their clichés, "a slow-moving beast", which needs more time to wine round to progressive thinking on sexual morality.
Many media types just cannot comprehend how Pope Benedict can be kind and gentle while at the same time resisting the idea that condoms are intrinsically wonderful. So if they find him a likeable pontiff, they have to convince themselves that Pope Benedict is not the same man as Cardinal Ratzinger.
This self-delusion has been most obvious during the television and radio coverage of Pope Benedict's first anniversary. Judging from some reports, one might be forgiven for thinking that the Pope had transformed magically from God's vicious attack dog into a sort of fluffy bunny.
It is hard to know which is worse: the demonisation of Ratzinger the Traditionalist, or the vacuous and patronising enthusiasm accorded to the notion that Pope Benedict might be "softening with age". At least when the secularists hated him, they seemed to have some understanding of what he represented. Now when commentators say he is "not that bad", what they really hope is that he is not that Catholic.
Other opponents of the faith suspect Pope Benedict is still a snarling conservative canine biding his time. "When's he going to take off the muzzle?" asked one broadcaster. Interestingly, this is the same question traditionalists are asking. They should be warned. This is an unpredictable pontiff, and he may end up biting them both. Woof!