Show cover of Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke

The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.


What are Church of England services really like?
Last week, out of a mixture of curiosity and boredom, I ended up watching an online Church of England Eucharist from a parish church in Hereford. The text of the liturgy was almost identical to that of the Catholic Mass I had attended the night before. We'd even sung the same hymn, and the celebrant’s vestments were indistinguishable from those of a Roman Catholic priest. But the person wearing them was a woman, and it reminded me that since that particular battle ended nearly 30 years ago I had been present at only one C of E Sunday Eucharist. So in this episode of Holy Smoke I ask William Moore, The Spectator’s features editor, what it’s like to attend Anglican services outside London, as he does weekly with his young family in Sussex. I think you’ll enjoy what he has to say. 
33:08 28/11/22
Sixty years on, Vatican II turns nasty
Ten years ago the Catholic Church happily celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Most people thought it was a good thing – and those who had their doubts were careful to express them diplomatically.  Sixty years on, by contrast, Vatican II is the source of rancorous division in a collapsing Church. Liberals, describing themselves as 'The People of God', are invoking it to propose surreal changes to the doctrine that would have scandalised the Council fathers. They like to portray the forthcoming two Synods on Synodality – whose consultations attracted only a minuscule number of lay Catholics – as the fulfilment of Vatican II. Even, in some circles, as a sort of Vatican III.  Meanwhile, traditionalists, assured by Benedict XVI that they could attend the Latin Mass without rejecting the Council, are now regularly mocked by Pope Francis for their 'rigidity'. He's busy banning their Masses, claiming that they're incompatible with Vatican II. And some traditionalists are wondering if he's right – in the sense that it was the Council that sowed the seeds of what they regard as the Bergoglian heresy. Conspiracy theories abound.  In this episode of Holy Snoke I ask whether, considering not just this present nastiness but also the failure of the 'People of God' to meet the evangelical challenges of the Council, it might have been better if Vatican II had never happened. 
14:24 20/10/22
The Catholic Church is falling apart at the seams
This headline may seem sensational, but the evidence is overwhelming. The Catholic Church is experiencing a bewildering range of crises, some of them long-term and familiar, such as demographic collapse and the continuing scandal of sex abuse. Others are being manufactured by a Pope who is allowing a faction of Catholic boomers to push an incoherent 'New Age' agenda. Whether Francis truly supports their ideas is anyone's guess – but he's increasingly willing to spout their inanities. On Saturday the Pope's official Twitter account told the faithful: 'The plant paradigm takes a different approach to earth and environment. Plants cooperate with all the surroundings [sic] environment; even when they compete, they cooperate for the good of the ecosystem. Let’s learn from the meekness of plants!' This was tagged #TimeofCreation. But creation of what? Yesterday, Luke Coppen of The Pillar reported that the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherland – where plant-based spirituality has been trendy for decades – will be closing 99 out of its 164 Catholic churches over the next five years.  This may be a depressing episode of Holy Smoke – but, given that the mainstream media isn't interested in the fate of the Catholic Church, I do recommend that you listen to it.  
19:33 27/09/22
Why has the West caved in to the progressive witch-finders?
Is western society in the grips of a progressive hysterical epidemic comparable to the Salem Witch Trials?  My guest on Holy Smoke this week, Andrew Doyle, argues precisely that in his book The New Puritans. He suggests that gender ideology, and particularly the dogmas of trans activists, together with the fantasies of Critical Race Theory, are dragging society into an alternative reality that resembles a fanatical religion. But it's one that doesn't have to employ its own ideological police – because actual police forces, along with other powerful institutions including the churches, have signed up to the New Puritanism (usually without understanding it).  Andrew Doyle has a doctorate in Renaissance poetry from Oxford University, so he's well acquainted with the postmodern manipulation of language and epistemology that equip proponents of so-called cancel culture. He'e also someone the new puritans would dearly love to cancel, in his roles as broadcaster, comedian and the creator of Titania McGrath, the hilarious Twitter parody account that's been suspended several times for poking fun at people who enjoy being satirised about as much as your average witchfinder-general.  Don't miss my interview with the formidable Dr Doyle! 
33:45 02/09/22
Is Pope Francis protecting a convicted sex abuser?
In this episode of Holy Smoke, I look at the ever-deepening mysteries surrounding Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who was given a job assessing Vatican finances after he was forced to resign from his diocese in Argentina following allegations of abusive behaviour and financial mismanagement. This year Zanchetta received a lengthy jail sentence for abusing seminarians. But he’s serving his time in a comfortable monastery, while the clergy who investigated him are the targets of a mysterious Vatican investigation. Now one of the abused seminarians has spoken out, accusing the Pope of protecting Zanchetta. This is potentially the biggest scandal involving a reigning pope for decades – and yet the mainstream media seems to be looking the other way. But I’m not. Don’t miss this episode. 
21:17 16/08/22
Why the Pope's 'Synod on Synodality' has become a joke
The Catholic Church is half way through a two-year consultation exercise that will culminate in a 'Synod on Synodality' in the Vatican next year. A synod on what? Don't worry if you're confused. No one in Rome seems to be able to define synodality, either. What will the world's bishops discuss? Probably not the figures revealing how many Catholics have taken part in this exercise, because they're acutely embarrassing. The English and Welsh bishops couldn't even get 10 per cent of Mass-goers to take part in a consultation process that many observers suspect has been shamelessly rigged by Pope Francis's bureaucrats. And in Belgium, a country where some six million people identify as Catholic, the number of participants is somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000. My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke is Ed Condon, editor of the influential Pillar website. His judgment is as impartial as ever – but, make no mistake about it, we're looking at one of the most expensive and self-indulgent fiascos in recent Catholic history. Produced by Damian Thompson and Cindy Yu.
24:51 14/07/22
The Queen's powerful Christian faith
In this week's Holy Smoke I offer some thoughts on the impressive and distinctive Christian faith of the Queen – impressive because it's so refreshingly direct compared to that of many of her politics-obsessed bishops, and distinctive because Elizabeth II is one of a dwindling band of Low Church but not Evangelical Anglicans whose favourite Sunday service is old-fashioned Matins. Questions of churchmanship aside, however, there is no doubting the intensity of her convictions, about which she has spoken with increasing candour and confidence in recent years. Will she turn out to be the United Kingdom's last robustly Christian monarch?
11:39 06/06/22
Why is the Church of England so obsessed with racism?
My guest on Holy Smoke this week is, many people believe, a victim of the intolerant progressive ideology currently gripping the Church of England. He's Calvin Robinson, a name possibly familiar to you from the row over the Diocese of London's decision not to ordain him.  Calvin is a young TV presenter with conservative Christian views that conflict with the liberal opinions of the hierarchy. He's been told they are too divisive – which is a bit rich coming from an organisation whose senior bishops routinely express opinions far to the left of those of the average churchgoer. Particular offence was caused by his insistence that the C of E isn't 'institutionally racist'. The fact that he's mixed race and London's bishops are white made no difference: he had expressed a heretical opinion. So much for 'diversity'. Do listen to what he has to say.
24:36 30/05/22
The Catholic Church's muddle over Roe vs Wade
So Roe vs. Wade is as good as dead. Americans are about to lose their constitutional right to an abortion. Five out of the nine Supreme Court justices have drafted an opinion in their forthcoming ruling on a Mississippi abortion case which strikes down the 1973 Roe ruling as 'egregiously wrong from the start'. As we all know it’s been leaked – but it’s expected to be issued pretty much unchanged in the next few weeks because, even if they wanted to, the justices can't change their votes without appearing to succumb to political pressure. The unprecedented leaking of that draft opinion has been greeted by jubilation from religious conservatives and the degree of outrage that I don't think I've ever seen before by liberal opinion and the mainstream media, which amount to the same thing, really, in America. And in Britain too, at least on this topic: I haven’t seen certain BBC hacks so distressed since Trump got elected.  In this episode of Holy Smoke, I concentrate on one specific aspect of this extraordinary situation. Given that the striking down of Roe vs. Wade wouldn't actually make abortion illegal, but instead make it a matter for state law, you might think that Catholic bishops would have no reservations whatsoever about this decision. Isn’t this the famous subsidiarity in action?  Not so. For quite a few bishops, including liberal cardinals loyal to the Biden administration, this week's news has come as a very nasty surprise. To find out why, listen to the podcast.
11:57 05/05/22
A plan to rescue Christian art
Few things are more depressing than the art, architecture and furnishings of the average modern church. The glorious aesthetic of light and colour of the Middle Ages and Renaissance has been replaced with an infantile modernist decor more suited to a primary school than a place of worship.  In the Catholic Church, especially, bishops who may privately have reasonably good taste happily commission cringeworthy 1970s-style art because they think it's demanded by 'the spirit of Vatican II'.  Is there any way Christian art can escape from the grip of mediocrity? My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke thinks there is. She's the charismatic Rome-based art historian Dr Elizabeth Lev, whose TED talk about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is both erudite and, in places, hilarious. Liz's plan to rescue Church art is ingenious and, I think, achievable. But to find out more you'll have to listen to the podcast. 
24:23 28/04/22
Monsignor Michael Nazir-Ali on his first Easter as a Catholic
My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke was an Anglican bishop for 37 years – one of the Church of England's foremost scholars and its leading witness for persecuted Christians. He was also an evangelical who, as bishop of the ancient see of Rochester, ordained women priests. But, as of this month, his title is Monsignor. I am, of course, talking about the Pakistani-born Michael Nazir-Ali, whose decision to join the Ordinariate has come as an enormous, if surprising, boost to the fortunes of that small but dynamic organisation for ex-Anglicans set up by Pope Benedict XVI. This will be his first Easter not just as a monsignor – he has just been made a Prelate of Honour by Pope Francis – but as a Catholic. I hope you enjoy our wide-ranging discussion in which, inevitably, I ask Mgr Nazir-Ali whether he's changed his mind about women priests.
21:52 15/04/22
It’s time the West saved Nigeria’s persecuted Christians
Did you know that in the last year more Christians have been killed for their faith in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world combined? In 2021, at least 6,000 Christians died for their faith, and 80 per cent of those were Nigerians. Their murderers were – you may not be too shocked to learn – almost to a man Islamists. But, this being Nigeria, a supposedly secular state where northern provinces impose Sharia on their populations, the situation is chaotic.  Four different groups are implicated. They are: the notorious Boko Haram; the so-called 'Islamic State in West African Province'; armed bandits; and an ethnic group of Fulani militants, often described in the media as herders – which they traditionally are, but these days they seem to more interested in slaughtering Christians than in their livestock. To quote the Christian charity Open Doors, 'killing Christian men is a key strategy for these groups because it destroys livelihoods, with men tending to be the family's main breadwinner, and depopulates Christian communities.'  The violence employed by the Fulani herdsman in particular is so grotesque that I won't describe it in detail, but if I tell you that their targets include pregnant women and specifically their unborn children that will give you some idea of the apocalyptic horror involved. My guest on Holy Smoke today is a remarkable man: Pastor Ayo Adedoyin, based at Jesus House in London. He's also chief executive officer of an international development and human rights charity, PSJ UK, which tries to mobilise Africans in the UK into a cohesive voice on this subject. It's an urgent task. We're talking about a genocidal campaign that Ayo compares to the blood-soaked slaughter in the streets of Ukraine – but for years it hasn't attracted anything like the publicity it deserves. And the reason for that is that the international media and also international politicians don't seem particularly interested in the religious dimension of this conflict. The British Foreign Office – despite various promises – hasn't really responded to repeated calls to make it a higher priority. The Trump administration made some attempt, but a US administration led by a supposed Catholic, Joe Biden, has fallen quiet. Do please listen to what Pastor Ayo has to say. 
22:11 08/04/22
'I don't think we've gained anything' – Cardinal Pell on the Vatican and China
Cardinal George Pell has given a wide-ranging interview to The Spectator's Holy Smoke podcast in which he criticises the Vatican's 2018 deal with Beijing and especially the secrecy surrounding it.  The unpublished pact allows the Chinese Communist Party to choose Catholic bishops, whose appointments are then rubber-stamped by Pope Francis. 'I know high-up people in the Vatican are very dissatisfied with the way things are going,' says Pell, the former Vatican Prefect for the Economy. 'The agreement is there to try to get a bit of space for the Catholics. Obviously that's praiseworthy. [But] I don't think we've gained anything. The persecutions seem to be continuing. In some places they've got worse.' Nobody 'outside a small circle' knows the details of the agreement, 'which seems to me to be quite irregular.' The cardinal was imprisoned in his native Australia on trumped-up sex charges before being acquitted by the country's High Court. It is widely believed that his enemies in the Vatican played a part in framing him. In the interview, Pell doesn't discuss his own ordeal – but he does express concern at the lack of transparency in the ongoing Vatican trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the Pope's former chief of staff, and his associates, who are accused of committing large-sale fraud. While affirming his loyalty to Pope Francis, Pell also makes clear his unhappiness with the sudden move last year to restrict celebrations of the traditional Latin Mass. 'I think it was a most unfortunate decision and I think a bit inexplicable, too,' he says. But he advises traditionalists to keep calm, because there are signs that the very hard line taken by the Vatican's liturgy chief, the Yorkshire-born Archbishop Arthur Roche, is now being reconsidered. Last month, Pope Francis told the traditionalist Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) that it could continue celebrating Mass and other sacraments using the old Missal, granting them a greater degree of freedom than Roche favoured. Cardinal Pell says 'the working presumption' should be that the clarified rights of the FSSP also extend to other traditionalist priestly fraternities, such as the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).
18:59 21/03/22
In Ukraine and China, a power-obsessed Vatican is betraying heroic Catholics
Four million Christians in western Ukraine belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which since the end of the 16th century has adhered to a Byzantine rite while recognising the authority of the Pope. For this reason these Ukrainian Catholics are despised by the Russian Orthodox and its political masters: Stalin tried to force them to become Orthodox again and threw their leader, Cardinal Slipyi, into jail, where he remained from 1945 until 1963.  And how was his heroism rewarded? Pope Paul VI denied him the title of Patriarch and, after Vatican II, the Catholic Church set about Westernising their traditions – for example, discouraging them from having married priests. Rome saw Greek-rite Catholics as an obstacle to reunion with Eastern Orthodoxy, and in 2016 Pope Francis met Putin's stooge Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Havana, of all places, to issue a declaration that undermined the spiritual identity of this brave community. Does that sound familiar? It must ring a bell with underground Catholics in China. They were betrayed even more cynically by the Vatican's secret 2018 pact with Beijing, which herded them into the quasi-Christian services of the CCP's "Catholic" Church.  The comparison between Rome's treatment of Ukrainian and Chinese Catholics is now inescapable, and in this week's Holy Smoke I discuss them with Fr Benedict Kiely of, a leading advocate for persecuted Christians. Will the Pope boost the morale of Ukrainian Catholics by making their current leader, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a cardinal like his predecessors? (Francis loves to withhold red hats from archbishops of major sees who don't sign up to his incoherent progressive agenda.) More importantly, will he grant Shevchuk the title of Patriarch? Given that Francis refused to join Western leaders in denouncing Russia's invasion of a sovereign state, just as he has kept silent about Chinese atrocities, I wouldn't hold your breath.
24:19 03/03/22
Does Putin think he's fighting a holy war to preserve Orthodox Russia?
Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine is fundamentally inspired by his determination to preserve the Orthodox identity of Holy Mother Russia, according to the Rev Giles Fraser, writing for UnHerd today. That's not as preposterous a suggestion as you might think, given that the first mass baptisms in the ancient homeland of 'Rus' took place in Kiev – and that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently repudiated the authority of the Patriarch of Moscow. But does that mean that Putin's murderous behaviour should be seen in the context of a war of religion? Does the former KGB agent have a religious bone in his body? Is he secretly laughing at those Christian right-wingers who have cast him in the role of defender of Christendom? (Giles Fraser, I should add, is certainly not one of them.) Joining me for this episode of Holy Smoke is Archbishop Nikitas, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain, who – as you might expect – is deeply sceptical of attempts to ascribe spiritual motives to the Russian dictator. 
15:30 24/02/22
How bureaucrats are suffocating the Church of England
In the latest Holy Smoke, I ask the Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, about the Church of England's plans to create a new breed of bureaucrat-bishop who will pontificate about climate change, Brexit, Covid or whatever without having to bother looking after a diocese. He also discusses a related proposal to put ordinary bishops on fixed-term contracts that will be renewed only if they toe the party line. If adopted, these ideas would lead to the biggest shake-up in the Church's government since the Reformation – with dreadful consequences for independent-minded bishops and ordinary worshippers. All very worrying for Anglicans – and Catholics, too, since the Vatican's risible 'synodal way' is inspired by the same liberal control-freakery. Don't miss this outspoken episode! 
13:47 14/02/22
Remembering my lovely sister
My dear sister Carmel died aged 57 on November 23, after a three-year cancer ordeal during which she displayed the most astonishing courage. I interviewed her twice on this podcast about her faith, her illness and her unquenchable optimism. I knew at the time that one day I'd have to record an episode paying tribute to her after she died, and here it is.
16:43 31/01/22
Why tradition is sacred: an interview with Archbishop Nikitas, leader of Britain’s Greek Orthodox Church
In this episode of Holy Smoke, Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain, leader of Britain’s Greek Orthodox, defends sacred Christian tradition with a robustness I’ve never heard from a native British bishop.  The Florida-born Nikitas has exhilarating and controversial things to say on all sorts of topics: the Western Churches’ cosy relationship with secularism, the devastating civil war between Moscow and Constantinople, and the essence of Orthodox mysticism.  Needless to say, I couldn’t resist asking the Archbishop what he makes of Pope Francis’s grim persecution of Latin Mass Catholics. Nikitas is generally a fan of Francis – but I doubt that the Vatican will be reassured by his wise and candid comments on this topic. 
26:55 12/01/22
Why the Catholic Church is facing chaos this Christmas
Pope Francis renewed his campaign against the Latin Mass this month, permitting his liturgy chief Archbishop Arthur Roche to issue all manner of threats to clergy celebrating the ancient liturgy. This 'clarification' has been greeted with horror by bishops around the world, including many who aren't keen on the old rite.  This episode of Holy Smoke puts this outrage in the context of what one distinguished priest calls the 'Wild West' of the Bergoglio pontificate. Never have I known such widespread despair among all but the most hardline liberal clergy. That this should be happening at Christmas underlines the grim unfairness of it all – and the desperate need for regime change in the Church. And if that means the Vatican as we know it ceases to exist, perhaps that isn't such a bad thing. 
14:28 23/12/21
Did a 'mafia' of liberal cardinals pressure Benedict to resign?
In this episode of Holy Smoke, I interview Julia Meloni, author of The St Gallen Mafia: Exposing the Secret Reformist Group Within the Church. It's the first detailed study of the self-described 'mafia' of liberal cardinals who worked tirelessly to prevent and then undermine the pontificate of Benedict XVI.  The book contains many disconcerting revelations, and also well-sourced speculation that the group's founder, the Jesuit scholar Cardinal Martini of Milan, may have visited Benedict shortly before his own death in order to pressure him to resign. By 2013, when that happened, Martini was dead, but he had given his blessing to a St Gallen candidate: his fellow Jesuit Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, whose initiatives as pope – and particularly the vicious attempt to suppress the Traditional Latin Mass – coincide very closely with Martini's own agenda.  Do listen to my conversation with Julia, formerly one of Pope Francis's biggest fans. I promise you won't forget it in a hurry. 
30:14 29/10/21
How Christians can fight the menace of university 'cancel culture'
The University of Nottingham has been forced to abandon its sinister attempt to ban Fr David Palmer from becoming its Catholic chaplain because his defence of unborn life might upset snowflakes. In this episode of Holy Smoke, I talk to one of Fr Palmer's key allies, Ryan Christopher, UK director of Alliance Defending Freedom, about that appalling episode and its backdrop: a sneaky culture of below-the-radar censorship driven in large part by student unions. Needless to say, the latter are furious that this government is passing legislation to protect free speech on campuses. Ryan has the details. 
30:33 11/10/21
Can C of E parishes stop bureaucrats wasting their money?
If you belong to or care about the Church of England, you may be shocked by some of the things you learn in this episode of Holy Smoke.  I'm not referring to the familiar evidence that the Established Church, in common with all mainstream Christian denominations in Britain, is watching its congregations shrink at a humiliating rate. In 2019, an average of only 690,000 people attended Church of England services on Sundays – 50,000 fewer than in 2016. And that was before Covid. This is what people mean when they talk about churchgoing falling off a cliff, and it’s a desperate problem for a church facing the impossible challenge of maintaining 16,000 buildings, many of them Grade I listed. What shocked me was what my guest, the Rev Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, revealed about the horrors of the C of E’s insatiably greedy and tediously right-on bureaucracy. An ever-growing army of administrators and busybodies – he describes their numbers as ‘astronomical’ – is raiding the collection plates of local parishes so that they can force-feed churchgoers with their drivel. Marcus is one of the best-connected priests in the Church of England – and one of the bravest. In our interview he talks candidly about the ‘despoiling’ of parishes by the managerial culture promoted by the bishops, which has thrown away more than £240 million on doomed projects to attract new worshippers. These schemes are mostly cack-handed attempts to foist the charismatic evangelical model of ‘church plants’ on ordinary parishes. (For an idea of just how badly this can go wrong, read the under-reported story of the resignation of the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, a hardline evangelical whose obsession with mega-churches and alleged harassment of vicars led Winchester to be dubbed ‘the diocese of North Korea’). It was a barking mad scheme to create 10,000 ‘lay-led churches’ that prompted Marcus Walker, writing in The Spectator in July, to launch a ‘Save the parish’ campaign that, among other things, encourages parish priests and their congregations to lock away their money so that the power-crazed mediocrities who control the church can’t get their hands on it. Trust me: you don’t want to miss what the Rector of the oldest parish church in the City of London has to say. And, once you’ve listened to him, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that St Bartholomew’s is absolutely thriving under his stewardship. (Note to Catholic listeners: I couldn’t resist asking Marcus, former deputy director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, what he makes of Pope Francis’s campaign to suppress the traditional Latin Mass…)
30:47 30/09/21
Has Pope Francis just thrown Joe Biden under the bus on abortion?
Say what you like about Pope Francis, but he's incapable of giving a boring in-flight interview. On Wednesday, coming back from Hungary and Slovakia, he was asked about the problem of pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion. He immediately launched into a ferocious denunciation of abortion, describing it as homicide, saying there was no middle way and stating that support for abortion was grounds for 'excommunication'.  Francis then slightly qualified this by explaining that these 'excommunicated' Catholics needed to be lovingly shown the error of their ways, but it was hard to escape the obvious conclusion. The Pope regards the President as barred from Communion – which drives a horse and cart through the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy of Biden's own bishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington.  In this week's Holy Smoke, Dr Ed Condon, canon lawyer and editor of the brilliant Catholic website The Pillar, offers us an admirably lucid 'explainer' on this complicated topic. His conclusion is basically the same as mine. Though Ed wouldn't put it this way, the Pope has just thrown the fanatically pro-choice President of the United States under the bus. 
18:15 17/09/21
Joe Biden and the betrayal of religious freedom
Religious freedom is already being mercilessly attacked in Taliban-run Afghanistan: Muslim women in particular face a living hell unless they're happy to submit to their new rulers' psychotic brand of Sharia.  The United States is required by its own laws to do everything it can to champion religious liberty around the world. But Afghan's moderate Muslims, China's Uighurs, Myanmar's Rohynga and Christians in dozens of countries would be foolish to trust President Joe Biden, whose administration can't wait to dismantle the First Amendment Rights of conservative Christians back home.  My guest is Andrea Picciotti-Bayer of the Washington-based Conscience Project, which speaks up for people of faith who commit the thought crime of not subscribing to liberal gender ideology. Like many people, she's worried by Biden's partisan choice of personnel for US international religious freedom posts. None of them are Christians. It's an enlightening but alarming discussion. Don't miss it. 
26:27 27/08/21
Is the Catholic Church falling apart?
In the last episode of Holy Smoke, I discussed Pope Francis's brutal and petty new document which seeks to ban as many Latin Masses as possible. This week we look at the other recent developments, which are arguably just as disturbing: two criminal prosecutions in which close allies of the Pope are accused of a range of hair-raising offences – and the question of how much Francis knew about their activities still hasn't been answered, either by the Vatican or its tame press corps.. Also, I touch on a new explanation for Rome's dreadful pact with China. Did the Pope's Secretary of State sign away the freedom of Chinese Catholics because Beijing was threatening to release data relating to the use of the gay hook-up app Grindr inside the walls of the Vatican? We may never find out. But one day there will be a new pope. Is it too much to hope that the college of cardinals will learn from the disasters of the past eight years? 
19:32 13/08/21
The plot against the Old Rite
Traditionalist Catholics are still reeling from the Pope's imposition of ferocious new rules limiting the celebration of the old Latin Mass. On Friday, he tore up Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI's document rehabilitating the pre-Vatican II ceremonies — and he did so while his predecessor was still alive. Francis's replacement, Traditionis Custodes, and the letter that accompanies it, relegate Latin Mass Catholics to that of second-class citizens. Their priests must now seek permission from their bishops before using the Old Rite. It's a shocking development, and the subject of today's Holy Smoke podcast, which asks how traditionalists should respond to what amounts to a poison-pen letter from the pontiff. 
13:12 18/07/21
The tyranny of bad hymns
Christian music lovers of all denominations – Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, whatever – know only too well that they enter their local churches at their peril. In this week's episode I talk to the irrepressible Lois Letts, a wedding and funeral organist for C of E churches in rural Herefordshire, about bad hymns. The funerals are appropriate, since when I first met Lois she wrote obituaries for the Times. Pity the wet vicar who tries to force her to play a bad hymn! We don't mince our words: our discussion is a euphemism-free zone and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And there's a musical coda, a treat in store for those many Holy Smoke listeners who are devoted to the memory of Dame Clara Butt.
25:14 29/06/21
The Christian mental health crisis
Is the mental health of Christians beginning to collapse under the strain not just of Covid and its effect on worship but also the bottomless contempt of progressive ideology for religious belief? This week's Holy Smoke is a conversation with theologian Dr Gavin Ashenden about a crisis of morale that is robbing some Christians of the will to live. One former churchgoer told me last week that he'd be perfectly happy not to wake up the next morning – and I knew exactly how he felt. But in conclusion Gavin suggests a way of breaking out of this existential nightmare. So, as they say on the BBC, if you're affected by any of the issues raised in this programme, make sure to listen through to the end.
34:10 09/06/21
How Biden's cardinals are trying to shut down free discussion
America's Catholic bishops are furiously divided among themselves this week, after a liberal faction led by the Biden loyalists Cardinals Cupich of Chicago and Wilton Gregory of Washington tried to stop them discussing the question of whether the radically pro-choice president of the United States should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.   As I say in the new episode of Holy Smoke, It looks as if most of the 290 active bishops are ready to enforce such a ban – goaded by Joe Biden's increasingly hardline support for completely unrestricted abortions, and his plans to remove constitutional protection for pro-life public employees.   The controversy is particularly nerve-wracking for the US bishops because they don't know where the Pope stands on this question. Francis is a big fan of the current Argentine President, Alberto Fernandez, who has recently legalised abortion in the country. When the Pope and the President met in Rome this month, the subject apparently didn't even come up.   For more thought on the wider ramifications of this crisis – and it's a big crisis – tune in.
16:05 28/05/21
The last legacy of the Soviet Union
Today’s Holy Smoke podcast is about the increasingly brutal bullying and silencing of people – especially Christians – who hold the ‘wrong’ opinions on controversial topics. A culture of censorship is becoming ever more deeply embedded in public institutions not just in Britain but also throughout Europe. There is a direct link between Europe's increasingly fanatical attempts to police public opinion and the former Soviet bloc. My guest Paul Coleman, executive director of free-speech legal advocates ADF International, explains that when Moscow and its satellites were involved in drawing up international human rights legislation after the Second World War, they insisted that it should include the criminalisation of speech. One wonders whether Boris Johnson and his ministers are aware of this and, if so, whether they care. As Coleman points out, although European bodies are hunting down heretics with predictable relish, the behaviour of the heavily politicised police forces of post-Brexit Britain is in some respects even worse.
33:13 13/05/21