The news coverage, so far, about the alleged threat of violence against Pope Benedict XVI has been cautious to the max — as it should be.
At the same time, the response of some of the world’s major news players has been interesting. The key point, again, is this: How high in the story do you answer the question that everyone really wants answered?
LONDON – As Pope Benedict XVI embarked on some of the most symbolic overtures of his state visit to London, the British police arrested five men early Friday on terrorism charges related to his stay here but gave no specific details of any threat against him.
On a day when Benedict became the first pope to set foot on some of the most hallowed ground of the Anglican Church and British secular authority, the police and the Vatican said he would not change his long-planned itinerary because of the arrest of what the municipal authorities in central London described as five street cleaners. News reports said they were Algerians working in an area the pope was set to visit.
The story then moves quickly back into a few details of a packed day in the pope’s schedule, including a few details of a major address. Want to read that text for yourself? Click here for that.
As always with papal visits, the breaking news and the spectacle seem to bury what is actually said by the bishop of Rome (especially the religious content).
But back to the alleged terror threat. Further down in this report, this background material adds more needed details, especially in terms of fleshing out that “Algerians” reference.
Concern about papal security has persisted since a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, tried to kill Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome in May 1981. Since then, the pope has traveled with a significant security detail, protected by bulletproof glass on his “popemobile” and by bodyguards alongside it. His convoy was escorted on Friday by a about dozen motorcycle outriders. For all that, Benedict mingled openly with schoolchildren when he arrived in southwest London on Friday.
In April, Reuters reported, two Moroccan students deported from Italy were suspected of plotting to assassinate the pope, strengthening suspicions that affiliates of Al Qaeda in North Africa were seeking potential recruits in Italy and arranging financing for attacks elsewhere in Europe.
By the way, who turned out for the address on faith and civic life? The Times tells us that it drew a “panoply of the nation’s political leaders — including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a high-profile convert to Catholicism.” AP ups the factual content quite a bit by saying that the speech in Westminster Hall was “attended by former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, who recently converted to Catholicism.”
Oh, and about that highly symbolic hall? Kudos to the Times team for adding this detail:
Historically, the vaulted, medieval hall carries heady symbolism. It was there that Sir Thomas More, a Catholic, was tried and convicted of treason in 1535. He was subsequently executed. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized him on the 400th anniversary of his death.
But back to, alas, the official story of the day — the alleged terror threat. Here’s the AP lede:
LONDON – British police staged a pre-dawn raid at a London garbage depot Friday, arresting five street cleaners in a suspected terrorist plot against Pope Benedict XVI on the second day of his state visit to Britain. A sixth person was arrested later in the day.
The Vatican said the pope was calm despite the arrests and planned no changes to his schedule. But the arrests overshadowed a major address by Benedict to British politicians, businessmen and cultural leaders about the need to restore faith and ethics to public policymaking.
Finally, six paragraphs into the report there is this detail:
The detained suspects worked for a contractor on behalf of Westminster Council, the authority responsible for much of central London. Benedict spent much of the afternoon in Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey; the depot were the men were arrested is responsible for cleaning another part of London that the pope is not scheduled to visit, however, police said.
Police confirmed that some of the suspects were thought to be from outside Britain but declined to comment on media reports they were of Algerian origin.
One street sweeper at the depot, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said at least one of those arrested was Algerian, and that he believed all five arrested in the morning were from North Africa.
Much further down, there is this tiny dose of extremely vague history in what is, for AP, a very lengthy report:
Benedict’s predecessor Pope John Paul II was wounded in an assassination attempt in 1981 in St. Peter’s Square. Police in the Philippines also disrupted an alleged plot to assassinate John Paul in Manila in 1995.
So, GetReligion readers, is this read-between-the-lines approach enough? Is this wink-wink style the right thing to do today in tense times?
The police jumped very firmly on this and the hard details are few. Stay tuned.