The Catholic Church’s one saving grace has always been its sense of humor. That recent joke about blocking condom shipments to AIDS-ravaged parts of Africa was a real hoot, and we can only thank Frodo that the Pope was joking. However, not everything the Vatican does comes across as a trivial lark. Of particular relevance to this article, which is itself of no particular relevance to anything at the moment, was its harboring in 1994 of some of the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide.
In such a complex conflict choc full of guilty parties, it would be biased and unfair to dwell on the deplorable turpitude of just one. But it sure does suit our agenda. I think it suffices to say that sheltering persons responsible for the deaths of up to eight hundred thousand people is perhaps a little off color, if you’ll excuse the tasteless racial pun.
I just can’t see the funny side in it. There’s no visual gag, because the genocidaires were squirreled away so quickly upon arriving in Italy that they never even saw the sun. It’s almost like the Pope didn’t want anyone to know they were there. But that’s absurd. Perhaps he was being self-referentially ironic. After all, it is exactly the kind of vulgar stunt you’d expect the Holy See to pull. But then they actually went ahead and did it, and confused observers worldwide mistook the move for a serious, tasteless act. If the irony is so dense no one gets it, you’re just not being funny.
Another elementary mistake made by those tricksters on the Tiber was their timing. By failing to add that pregnant pause between the genocide itself and cozying up to the criminals responsible, the comic effect was reduced to nil. Some subjects are notorious for inherently carrying that significant silent beat, and the pure act of mentioning them causes laughs: North Korea, Jesus, nipples. This arguably does not apply to genocide. Also, while it’s sometimes necessary to push boundaries a little, on this occasion it was perhaps tactlessly too soon.
All of this means that the only thing they got right was the costumes. There is no occasion on which a grumpy old man running around in a dress and a silly hat, waving a pointy stick in the air, can fail to be funny. It’s kind of like dressing up your senile grandpa for Halloween. That so many people frequently turn out to humor him by listening to his mad ravings is truly adorable. What it had to do with the subject of the joke isn’t entirely clear, but you can probably chalk that one up to old age.
Occasionally some people need reminding that genocide just isn’t that funny.
Well, it’s about as funny as Sharia.