The Press Saturday, August 29th 1998

At least Diana never slept with women. If there is one fact that makes me believe the anti-gay forces in the Church are genuinely homophobic and not just concerned to restore biblical morality across the board, it is the fact that their efforts concentrate on what is still a largely despised and small group of people. There is no mention of usurers, adulterers and those who consort with mediums as worthy of the special condemnation of the Christian churches. So my heart goes out to the Bethany Christian Fellowship, in Wallsall, where a couple of well-rounded fundamentalists have got into trouble by assuring the children in their care that the Princess went to hell but not for the obvious reasons.

According the Times "Darryl Prince, 8, and his brothers Sam, 5, Courtenay, 7, and Lewis, 10, have been withdrawn from the Sunday school. Darryl, who keeps a picture of the Princess by his bed, as deeply upset, according to his mother, Sarah Bailes, 39." Parenthetically, if her name is surname is Bailes and her children are called Prince, there may have been some Diana-type activity in her own marriage. But the tragedy continues. "She said 'He suddenly became very withdrawn and tearful and finally told me what had happened, I was absolutely horrified because I used to tell him that Diana was a star in heaven. How dare they pick on someone they loved like Diana and say they are in Hell?' "

The answer, it emerged, was simple. One of the teachers involved, Chris Mansfield, said "The lifestyle Diana led didn't point to the fact that she had repented and so she would go to Hell", the other, Jeffrey Jones, that "The Princess's lifestyle was, on the evidence, immoral, anti-biblical and not one of Christian principles or one that a believer in Jesus Christ would live." But the clinching argument, surely, came from the Rev Patrick Currey, president of the Fellowship of Evangelical Ministries. "It is a simple fact of life that the Princess consulted mediums and that is one thing which God hates. I was deeply moved by some of Diana's charitable works but that in itself is not enough to get into Heaven."

This was nicely followed up by the Sunday Times, which got Lord Coggan to describe her as a "false goddess" and added. "The British people identified with someone who had pretty loose morals and certainly loose sexual morals. A period of disillusionment is bound to set in, but that provides the church with the urgent task of presenting Christ in a fresh and clear way."

Thank God the BBC religious affairs department has no such tedious scruples. A story in the Daily Mail describes the resurrection of the career of Catrina Skepper, a pretty blonde who ten years ago peeled off her stockings for a television commercial in a way that convinced viewers she had hidden depths. So now she is to move into religious broadcasting. "Forget the Sabbath gravitas of Songs of Praise or Highway. The new show will have a magazine format, featuring everything from interviews with celebrities to cookery."

I am not quite sure what fits into the gaping void between celebrity interviews and cookery. Celery? The more detailed descriptions do little answer this question:

"Miss Skepper who is said to have strong religious beliefs will be asking guests such as John Cleese, Uri Geller and Jo Brand how they like to spend their Sundays.

"The Heaven and Earth Show will also feature a 'soul food' section in which guests such as Rabbi Lionel Blue and the chef Antony Worral Thompson will prepare dishes that mean something special to them."

What I find really shocking about this is that the last dish I ate in one of Worral Thompson's restaurants clearly meant nothing at all to him.

"Yorkshire nun defies Rome to be a priest" I didn't make this one up either. It is a fine story in the Yorkshire Post about an elderly solitary in Whitby, Sister Frances Meigh, who is to travel to Ireland and get herself ordained by the schismatic Fr Pat Buckley. He is probably a heretic, too; but it is his schismatic status which is interesting here, since he had himself ordained a bishop last year after being excommunicated. This tends to be downplayed in reports of his activities. It is a pity, because the fact that he obtained his episcopal orders from a Lefevrist and is going to use them to make a woman priest is one of God's more mysterious little ways.

The whole story is wonderful, and it will be very interesting to see how many people turn out to see the hermit's first mass in England. The Catholic Media Office very kindly offered me her telephone number but the only question I would want to ask is why a hermit needs a phone anyway.

A very nice question of judgement for news editors last Friday: was it more unexpected that one of Morris Cerullo's assistants had been caught embezzling, or that a Welsh chapel preacher is to become a woman? The Daily Telegraph gave four columns to the Rev Bill Parry, now known to his wife as Dian, and only one to the jailing of Richard Jones, once Cerullo's "vice-president of European operations". But this may have been because they had a wonderful photograph, taking a further two columns, of Dian in her bearded ministerial days hitchhiking with a banner that says "Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish".

The Times, sadly, cropped the picture down to his head, but managed a better headline "Preacher gives up struggle to confrom". This was dwarfed by their Cerullo coverage, which also revealed that he had been caught as a result of an audit at St Mark's Kennington, where he  had worked before going on to Cerullo. He had stolen 10,000 from them, too. But he skimmed 60,000 from European donations to the Cerullo organisation in the year he worked there. Some of what he stole he gave to charity: what would a good casuist make of that?

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