Press Column

Everyone did "Shame of the violent vicars", as the Express headlined the BBC programme about ministers who beat their wives. The only original twist was found by Clare Garner in the Independent, who went to the Roman Catholic church for a comment; I do hope this was meant as a joke. That story made a nice pair with the pictures of Eileen Carey hanging on her husband’s arm to stop him getting down to some serious evangelism with Peter Tatchell after Outrage disrupted a photocall in the grounds of Lambeth palace. I should not mock, since I made the cover of Capital Gay was when I was photographed removing the whistle from the mouth of an Outrage! member who was disrupting a press conference. Dr Carey, though, looked as if he would rather be inserting it. I suppose the he, too, will now end up on the cover of Capital Gay.

It is difficult to tell who gains from such stunts.. The photographers do: the Telegraph used the story on its front page, and their pictures got a great deal more prominence than the intrinsic interest of a Lambeth Conference would generally merit. Outrage may have gained: it certainly did profit from its original outing campaign, and those of us who were too pompous or high-minded to admit this at the time were wrong.. The group has made its point to the bishops who will be attending the Lambeth conference; and to Dr Carey: he will not be able to keep the issue off the agenda. He can almost certainly prevent any decisions being made. That is not something any archbishop finds difficult. But it will provide an easy way in to the story for the press; and one of greater interest to an English readership than the business of polygamy in East Africa, which is the other hot sex story of the conference.

On the other hand, the demonstration overshadowed John Austin Baker’s speech about sexuality. At eleven pages, it was difficult to distil into seven paragraphs, and the Independent ignored it completely. The best report was in the Telegraph, where Victoria Combe was given a lot of space. People who live with the story forget how complicated it is: she had to cross eight paragraphs of explanation to reach anything the Bishop had actually said. But she got the quotes which typify the new arguments: that it is "unjust" to deny homosexuals "the potential spiritual blessing of a sexual relationship."

A similar point was made was made by the Archdeacon of Southwark, in a letter to the Times, which read, in full; "Archbishops of Canterbury (like Popes) should be ignored when they talk about sex. Why should homosexual priests be celibate when heterosexual priests like the Archbishop and myself are not? Could the Archbishop have remained celibate if he were refused the option of marriage?

"I could not, and would not, therefore, enforce celibacy on anyone."

This letter was a response to the final television programme in the series Archbishop. So was the decision of the Rev Michael Peet, in East London, to come out to the Sunday Times, with his lover of 22 years. The paper also quoted Richard Holloway as saying that he had "no problem" ordaining gay priests in stable relationships.

The programme that provoked all this must have been going out at about the time the Dr Carey was fending off Mr Tatchell: but the workings of television publicity mean that each episode was trailed on the Wednesday before transmission, after a showing for the press on Tuesday. So Ruth Gledhill, in Wednesday’s Times, said the Archbishop "makes it clear that the Church will never bless gay ‘marriages’."

She went on to quote him: "If people think we’re living in limbo now, and the church can’t make up its mind, they’ve got it absolutely wrong. The discipline of the church is that we recognise two lifestyles, One is marriage and the other is celibacy, and there can’t be anything in between."

Who we?

Victoria Combe brought out the humour in the situation better in her account of the same programme, by starting with the Prince of Wales. She quoted the Archbishop’s desire that other Anglicans "would follow the Prince’s example". Admittedly he was praising the Prince’s prayer life, not his sex life. But if he wanted to praise the Prince of Wales and pronounce celibacy the only alternative to marriage he should have done so in separate television programmes.

Of course, the Daily Telegraph is the Prince’s paper. On Saturday it ran a leader celebrating his decision to host the jubilee celebrations of the Prayer Book Society, written with its customary magisterial detachment from reality: "The Church of England depends on the Prince’s support more than some of its members appear to realise … While it is proper for the Prince of Wales to praise those aspects of the Church that he most admires, he must refrain, as he so far has done, from public criticism of those he does not."

Turn, then to Victoria’s story on page seven of the same paper, and we find: "In a private Palace document which was seen by the Daily Telegraph in December, the Prince reflected that in the past thirty years liberals had damaged what was a previously robust institution: ‘The Church I love has been swept away by pathetic politically-correct progressives’, he wrote, adding that many of the liberal reforms had been unnecessary and destructive."

Is this supposed not to be criticism, or not to be public?

Perhaps all this confusion is only a return to Biblical morality. The Sunday Times picked up Ruth Gledhill’s story about an American book which concentrates on dirty bits of the bible, and given it the full Sunday Times treatment. One paragraph in particular is exquisite.

" The Harlot by the Side of the Road — the Forbidden Tales of the Bible, by Jonathan Kirsch, claims that the entire history of Israel, as detailed by the original Hebrew scribes, was dominated by incest, rape, murder and inter-racial tensions."

So now you know.

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