THE BIG READ: A question of colour
Gosh, won't it be marvellous if the next pope turns out to be black? And I'm not saying this as a Catholic or as one of those earnest Lefty types who yearns for an ethnic minority figure to be appointed to every position of authority.
I'm just saying it as an amused bystander: really, I can hardly wait to see the cat among the pigeons if someone like the current favourite - Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson - gets the job.
Turkson is Ghanaian and considerably darker of hue than the previous three African pontiffs (St Victor I, St Miltiades and St Gelasius), all of whom hailed from the north and probably weren't really black at all. I've no doubt that in the BBC canteens they will all think this is a jolly good thing, much as they did when Barack Obama ushered in a golden new era of joy, healing, reconciliation and endless world peace.
But I'm not sure that's what they're going to get. African churchmen tend to be considerably more robust and old school than your Reverend J C Flannel, the comedy Anglican vicar, with his "very real concerns" about diversity and homosexual rights, and the urgent threat of climate change. They're so old-fashioned, in fact, that they even all still believe in God.
We've seen this in two of our most splendid Church of England bishops. Ugandan-born John Sentamu is strongly against gay marriage and he has stuck up for English values against the perils of multiculturalism. Karachi-born Michael Nazir-Ali, formerly the Bishop of Rochester, has long been a brave and outspoken critic of Islamism - and was one of the first to warn of the Muslim "no-go" areas that have sprung up in many of the UK's inner cities.
An African pope (most probably the favourite, Turkson; the other mooted candidate, Nigeria's Cardinal Arinze, is now too old) would be unlikely to take any prisoners on either score. Cardinal Turkson has already declared his opposition to gay marriage. (And you'd be more likely to find a tiger in the Serengeti than an African clergyman who'd disagree with him.)
As for his position on Islam, it's hardly going to impress all those bien-pensant types who believe what the next pope really needs to do after Benedict's Regensburg lecture is reach out the hand of ecumenical friendship.
The reason is that African churchmen have seen the Islamist threat at its ugliest and most aggressive.
In countries such as Nigeria, church congregations have been burned alive by Islamist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. This does not put them in the mood to turn the other cheek or deliver hand-wringing speeches in which they own up to feeling their rival religion's pain.
All this, of course, is going to create no end of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the glib Catholic-bashers of the Left.
For years, the church has been an easy target: it is unrepentantly patriarchal, traditionalist, institutionally homophobic and hierarchical - all the things Guardianistas loathe.
While a German was in charge, it was open season. Everything from the pope's unfortunate Hitler Youth past to the church's record on child abuse was fair game.
Recently, the church was even blamed for the fact that a gift shop near the Vatican sold items made of "endangered ivory". But how on earth are they going to keep it up if there's a black African in charge?
Anti-Catholic prejudice might be acceptable, even encouraged, in Leftist circles.
Racism, on the other hand, is the worst crime in the Lefty rule book: the equivalent to what Catholics would call a mortal sin. If there is a God and He's as unapologetically rightwing as I think he is, Cardinal Turkson will definitely get the job. - ©The Daily Telegraph