Press Column

The claim that God is bigger than Oasis preoccupied the Guardian in the run-up to the Synod meeting. We shall certainly have to rewrite some hymns if this turns out to be true: starting with "He’s got the whole wo-orld up his nose".

But by Tuesday morning, the attention of the nation had shifted to more spiritual matters: the front pages of the Sun, the Mail, the Mirror, and the Express were all dominated by the friend and confidante of Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, wearing her traditional bathing suit. She had come over to speak to a boatload of journalists: the Sun and the Mirror both cropped their pictures so it appeared she was speaking only to their correspondents; though you could see the sleeves of the rivals. The Mirror, with really breathtaking dishonesty, tagged its story as "Exclusive". The synod meeting in York was relegated to a paragraph or two inside. But the same trick of slanting a story by leaving out — or cropping — important facts was in evidence in synod coverage.

The Sun, which ten years ago gave us "Pulpit poofs can stay", this time round had one tiny paragraph, under the headline "Carey Cool". "Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said yesterday he could foresee no ‘major change’ to allow gay clergy in the near future." And that was it, so far as the synod was concerned. But the Sun also had Anne Atkins doing an op-ed on the age of consent. "A gay friend once told me that he didn’t know a single gay who wouldn’t go straight overnight if he or she could … The life expectancy of a gay man without HIV is a shocking 43 years (with HIV it is 39). These are the facts we aren’t allowed to hear because they are supposedly ‘anti-gay’. But out of kindness and compassion we should know."

Someone should send that usage of "kindness and compassion" to the OED. Indeed it stands comparison with the first leader Rupert Murdoch wrote when he bought the paper in 1969: "The SUN will be the paper that CARES. The papers that cares -- passionately -- about truth, and beauty and justice."

When I rang her agent to discover where Anne Atkins had got her statistic, I was told she was on holiday. I had expected to find her at the deathbed of one her numerous gay friends, who must, if they are her contemporaries, by now be dropping like flies (or, nowadays, zips).

Those newspaper who had actually reported the synod debate, rather than the George Carey soundbite put out on PA, gave an uncropped picture in which the gay lobby appeared to be triumphing. Ruth Gledhill had the strongest line: "The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday paved the way for the ordination of practising homosexuals as Church of England priests even though he spoke out fiercely against all sexual relationships outside marriage."

This seems to me a nice example of a story being true even when the facts don’t support it. For a start, if the novelty in dispute were the ordination of practising homosexuals, the church would not have an urgent problem. The problem is that they have been ordained for years and years and no one is sure whether to admit to this. Then there is the fact that the meat of Ruth’s story is that "the synod was told that the next Lambeth Conference would decide whether a commission should be set up to consider the issue" – hardly an announcement to rouse the nation from its slumbers. But these are not normal times. What Ruth had to help resuscitate this story was a spin doctor from each side of the dispute: Jim Rosenthal of the Anglican Communion office told her that "It is the most serious way of dealing with an urgent topic like this. Gay clergy are already being ordained in the churches. The commission will pave the way to an intelligent, international debate." Given that he is the man in charge of press relations from the conference, it looks as if efforts to keep the question off the agenda there aren’t working.

And as if that weren’t enough Stephen Trott explained that "The floodgates have been opened. The debate will be seen as an amber light here and a green light in America. The commission will be an interim stage to an inevitable end."

The Daily Mail , however, has decided Dr Carey is a good thing. So its readers were given another picture, differently cropped: "The Archbishop of Canterbury signalled his hardening line against the gay and liberal lobbies yesterday by unequivocally declaring that sex outside marriage is wrong. Dr George Carey told the Church of England’s General Synod that the rule applied equally to same-sex relationships, and any move to approve homosexuality would undermine marriage."

The Guardian had Martin Wainwright filling in for Madeleine Bunting: a good reporter flung out of his depth. He thought the Lambeth Conference would receive the commission’s report, and added "Dr Carey said the body would work on the lines of the 1993 Eames Commission, whose concessions to conservatives such as ‘flying bishops’ took the sting out of the ordination of women."

Well, yes, except that Dr Carey couldn’t have said that, since it was not Eames, not 1993, and it is at least debatable that the sting has gone out of the ordination of women.

What a relief to turn to the simple, timeless certainties of the News of the World whose religious spread this week had two pages on "psychic detectives". One of them is a real policeman named Keith Charles (no rank given), who told the paper that he had discovered where Suzy Lamplugh was killed. "I received clear images of a street in Fulham, South West London, with parks and playing fields close by. To this day, I believe that Suzy was killed there, I gave all the information to the detectives in the case, but I never heard anything from them."

He had no better luck with the murder of Lord Lucan, who, he told the paper "was shot dead by a man dressed in gamekeeper’s clothes. His body was dumped in a drain in Uckfield, Sussex. I saw it. The killer was wearing plus-fours and a tweed jacket. I was so convinced I went to the scene and found a housing estate had been built on top of the drain, so, again, my insights cannot be tested."

Next week, I predict he will tell how he found Atlantis — but when he got to the site, it was all covered with water.

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