There are calls from all sides in British politics for Rupert Murdoch to hand back – or be stripped of – his papal knighthood if he is found culpable in any way for the recent phone hacking scandal involving his British tabloid newspaper, The News of the World.
“I think we need to see the extent of what happened and who knew what and when before we rush to judgment. But if it transpires that Rupert Murdoch was aware of these goings on then, yes, he ought to hand the papal knighthood back,” said former Conservative government minister and Catholic convert Ann Widdecombe on July 13.
Rupert Murdoch was made a Knight Commander of St. Gregory in 1998. Although not a Catholic, he had apparently been recommended for the honor by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles after giving money to a Church education fund. A year later he also donated $10 million to help build Los Angeles’ new Catholic cathedral.
“Like most of us in 1998, the Holy Father would not have been aware of the terrible depths Mr. Murdoch’s media empire would go to for profit,” said Jim McGovern, Labour M.P. for Dundee West and treasurer of the All-Party Group on the Holy See.
“However, if these allegations are proven to be true then either Mr. Murdoch should return his Knighthood, or the Holy See should look to have it removed from him,” McGovern said on July 13.
Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper group – News International – stands accused of illegally hacking the phones of thousands of people, including celebrities, royals and families of crime victims to garner stories. The groups is also alleged to have bribed serving police officers for information.
Today saw the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron set up a judge-led inquiry to investigate the claims. A police investigation is already underway.
In response, Murdoch has closed down the News of the World and withdrawn a bid to buy U.K. satellite television station BSkyB. His company has also admitted that illegal hacking was used by journalists within the company. Two have already served time in prison for other crimes.
“We have to let both the police and judicial investigation do their job but if Rupert Murdoch is found personally responsible in any way for these crimes then, yes, he should hand back his papal knighthood. That’s subject, of course, to Vatican protocol allowing such a thing to happen,” said Catholic parliamentarian Angus Brendan MacNeil, the Scottish Nationalist M.P. for the Western Isles.
Striking a more cautionary note on the whole issue, though, was his fellow Catholic politician Lord David Alton, a former Liberal Democrat M.P. who now sits as an independent in the House of Lords.
“Papal knighthoods are not awarded as a sign of holiness or a reward for sanctity – but a recognition of active generosity to the Church and her works. Mr. Murdoch was given his, in 1998, after making a generous charitable donation. That has nothing to do with the current controversy surrounding some of his newspapers,” Lord Alton said.
“Let’s see what the official inquiry makes of those unacceptable journalistic practices, and where the law has been broken no doubt the individuals concerned will be prosecuted.”
“No-one has suggested that Mr. Murdoch was personally involved in criminal activity. Some of the self righteous indignation and lynch mob mentality that is now baying for Mr. Murdoch’s blood only adds to the whole unedifying mess,” Lord Alton commented.
Ann Widdecombe, however, says the whole affair should now make the Catholic Church reflect on the papal honors system.
“These knighthoods are dished out right, left and center by the Church to the likes of big tycoons and statesmen. I believe, however, they should be reserved for those who’ve worked hard in the cause of the Church – those whose efforts often go unsung.”
Jim McGovern struck a similar note stressing that “a knighthood is a tremendous privilege that should be reserved for the most deserving,” adding that “it should not be in the possession of those who fall far short of the behavior expected by the Church.”