Press Column 11/3/97

Press Column 11/3/97

Saturday’s Independent op-ed was almost entirely devoted to religion. The commentary came in two flavours: genial scorn from David Aaronovitch and just scorn from Richard Dawkins. On the other hand, Dawkins was right. The burden of his complaint was that "religious leaders" were taking up time and space in broadcasting studios to discuss the cloning of sheep from a base of complete ignorance. The examples he gave, un-named, though one of them was surely Lord Jacobovits, amply made his point. But surely this should be blamed on media, rather than religion. As Canon John Inge, of Ely Cathedral, wrote to the paper:

"Though there is no shortage of religious people who could be relied upon to produce intelligent, informed, and constructive contributions to any debate, the media deliberately seek out individuals who can be guaranteed to voice an exaggerated, sensationalist viewpoint — polemic disguised as rational argument — which would be disowned by many of the community which they clam to represent.

The media play the same trick with scientists: I wonder whether it has ever occurred to Professor Dawkins that this might be why he is so often called upon by them to speak and write on behalf of the ‘scientific community’."

Aaronovitch was having ago at the Church of England: "What extraordinary sin has joined the Waleses together in animosity towards the Archbishop? After all, whom God has rent asunder, let no man put together. Is it because he is into tambourines and singing? Because he calls the Queen Mum … Poor George. Even his name is against him. Was there, in Snow White, an eighth, spiritual, dwarf? In line behind Doc, Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey and Sneezy, may we find Carey, the compassionate, slightly vague dwarf? Poor George, whose fate is to be praised by William Rees Mogg as possessing ‘a personality with a steady rather than a dramatic pulling power.’ "

In that case, I would still rather be praised by old Mogg than by Clifford Longley, who had this to say in the Telegraph: "[Carey] manifestly does not relax on camera, nor does he have any time for the mixture of frivolity, cynicism, and irreverence which has become the flavour of much of the British media. For this self-made man, life is an earnest business, time is not for wasting.

"The suggestion is not so much one of snobbery on his part, more of insecurity , of his not being confident enough to take risks with the conventions. He clearly enjoys being ‘in’, even if he is not as in as he thinks he is. If there is snobbery on the royal side, this is the sort of thing it would feed on."

This is not exactly feline cruelty: cats, eventually, kill their victims. It is more like being treated by a very competent dentist who suspects you are having an affair with his wife.

The Mail prefers the bludgeon to the toothpick, but best of all it likes the sawn-off shotgun: "The Archbishop of Canterbury was coming to terms with a royal humiliation last night. Dr George Carey is the first primate this century to be denied the chance to officiate at the confirmation of a future monarch and head of the Church of England … there is widespread astonishment that the royals have snubbed Dr Carey for such a significant service."

This was the front page splash on Thursday, beating into second place "Nanny faces life with no parole." — and anything more interesting to the readers of the Daily Mail than a nanny murdering her charges has to be very big news indeed.

Poor George: the news of the documentary which was to remake his reputation entirely swamped. For all the energetic damage-limitation of Dr Andrew Purkis, who seems to have taken up an unofficial post as Archbishop’s Scud missile, fired bravely at incoming bad news stories, it is hard not to believe that the Mail got it right. There is no precedent this century for an heir to the throne being confirmed by anyone except the current Archbishop of Canterbury: to have him done by the next Archbishop of Canterbury just isn’t the same.

The rest was almost all Winning, except for one act of Episcopal moral turpitude so dreadful I will save it for the end. Cardinal Winning’s offer of help, if necessary financial, for mothers considering abortion had a much better press than I was expecting. It seems to have outflanked the defences of the pro-choice lobby in a way that the similar offer, last year, of money to a woman considering aborting her twins did not. This may be because he didn’t seem to have any money. The small print even in the Sunday Telegraph, the paper the broke the story, revealed that the Archdiocese was £2m in debt and that neither of the main pro-life organisations had made any preparations for any flood of prospective victims. On the Monday, such is the rhythm of these things, the pro-choice lobby had a bash at the Cardinal; on Tuesday, the op-ed commentators came out to defend him.

This led the discover of the secular, pro-choice case favour of the Cardinal, best put in the Guardian, by Isabel Hilton. "Of course women have the right to choose, but why should others not have the right to influence that choice?

No pregnant woman is being forced to take Cardinal Winning’s cash, or listen to his arguments or read SPUC leaflets. On the other hand, if a woman can be helped to see her way through an unplanned pregnancy, why should we not applaud? The pro-choice lobby seems to be stuck in an order of battle that forces it to pretend that abortion is always the best solution to a problematic pregnancy. That was never supposed to be the point."

And so to the final, unbelievable Episcopal scandal, exclusively in the Sunday Telegraph. The new bishop of Truro, the Rt. Rev William Ind, was once sent off from a "friendly" hockey match against the local Mothers Union, for, as he told the paper, offering to feed the referee’s guide dog after a goal he’d scored was disallowed.

His only excuse is that the offence took place in the diocese of Lincoln, where the cathedral clergy are always offering to feed the referee’s guide dog — usually with strychnine.

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