OK, in a fit of pre-July Fourth patriotism, I'll say that at least in the United States all points of view are presented on television, unlike in Italy, where the prime minister and his family control 90 percent of the TV outlets that cover his administration.
A majority of Italians are not overly concerned by this, although Berlusconi recently used his power to force two respected journalists who have been critical of him out of their jobs with state-owned TV. But the left is in such a sad state that there is no real alternative, so he can act with impunity and usually does. (I did like the photo of him in a cowboy hat at the G8 summit in Canada, though.)
And I do think it's interesting that the Italian Senate yesterday had to postpone a vote on a toothless conflict-of-interest law designed to protect the conflicted. That's because not enough lawmakers showed up for the vote. (Some were quoted as saying they had had problems getting to parliament on time!) Still, this is a tiny little "screw you,'' not a real threat, and the bill, whenever they get around to voting on it, will sail through.
A big-time lefty Italian journalist I had lunch with recently said he expects Berlusconi to be in office for 10 years and has given up on hoping to blow the lid off any scandals in the meanwhile, because the Berlusconi people don't leak much. That's the spirit!
As for John Paul, I'm not so sure. His condition has deteriorated so much just since Easter that some of the Vatican reporters have actually been talking about canceling their summer vacation plans, so as not to be out of position when "it'' happens. These guys don't excite too easily, either, so I tend to take this seriously.
Conclave, the new book by the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen, sounds interesting, though I haven't read it yet. In it he says that though we might expect the College of Cardinals, mostly guys named by John Paul, to elect a man very much like him, that has not happened in the past, with cardinals more typically choosing someone who will address the perceived excesses of the previous pope.
Still, few pontificates go on as long as this one has, so I'm not sure that will hold true. And the differences between the leading contenders are relatively minor to outsiders, anyway, not at all mirroring the wide split within the American church. So the horse race will be between this or that traditionalist.
The truth is, real change in the church is not even on the table. After the photo ops were over when the American cardinals visited here at the end of April, to discuss sex abuse by priests, many in the Vatican assumed that they had addressed the problem just by calling the meeting and didn't need to do more.
There are those who care, but they say they are a tiny minority. Many are actually convinced that the scandals are the product of a media conspiracy. In fact, several Vatican officials have recently made comments denouncing the American—read Jewish—press in a way that seemed blatantly anti-Semitic.
I hear that since the scandals, donations are way down in our old parish back in New York. And it makes me wonder sadly whether in the end, only (the withholding of) money will talk.