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Press Column

Like almost everyone else in England I rushed out for a copy of Hello as soon as I heard: "With his wife at his side on the eve of a landmark summit, the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomes us to historic Lambeth Palace."

They got Diana into the first paragraph, of course. And the second paragraph, which was about his letter to the churches of the diocese, urging them to pray for her. The third paragraph opened "in his role as Primate of All England, it was Archbishop Carey who conducted the moving funeral service for Diana in Westminster Abbey."

The stately sycophancy of a Hello interview clearly suits him. It seems to be a convention that they never ask follow-up questions. Perhaps this allows him to be a little less nervous. In any case it has been a while since any normally animated interviewer got him to say anything as memorable as "Iíve never seen an angel, though I think Iím married to one!"

But the real comedy of the interview came from the clash between his own beliefs and the pieties of Hello. It is an extraordinarily devout magazine. The interview kept wondering back to the one sacred subject: "Last year you performed the funeral ceremony of Diana, Princess of Wales. Was it difficult to maintain your composure on such a sad occasion.?" He was asked, and "What is our favourite memory of her?"; "How do you think Britain should mark the first anniversary of her death?"; "Is there anyone you would like to see succeed to her unique role?" It would have been a nice ecumenical gesture at this point to suggest the Virgin Mary, even if her dress sense was not worthy of the role.

But he played a straight bat to all these questions. On the subject of his own beliefs he said a couple of fairly bizarre things. For instance his explanation of the process by which bishops are appointed: "the Church selects two named and offers them to the Prime Minister. He has the right to choose either name and commend it to the Queen but the Church controls the process from beginning to end." This will come as news to the Prime Minister and to several speakers in the Synodís debate on the subject last week, if press reports are to be trusted.

He also told the magazine "I donít think anyone in his or her right mind could say modern people no longer need the Christian faith and its firm foundations for life" which must have made even funnier the climax of the interview, when he was asked the sort of religious questions that really bother Hello readers: "How did you feel about Glenn Hoddleís use of a faith healer to help the England squad?"; "How do you feel about people who dabble in the spirit world?"; "Do you believe in angels?" and finally "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

It must have been this last question that made his shirt change colour to a violent plaid.

What counts as memorable behaviour among the children of religious leaders does vary from culture to culture. Dr Carey complained to Hello about the "intrusive journalism" which pursued his children after they were divorced. Perhaps they should have followed the example of Franklin Graham, Billyís son, who is being readied to take over his fatherís ministry. Peter MacKayís gossip column in the Daily Mail retold the story of how, as a young man, he felled a neighbourís tree Ė with a machine gun "Itís not the most economical way to do it. It took 720 rounds and each round was about 20 cents. You could buy a good chainsaw for that."

The Independent gave almost half a page to Penny Jamesonís extraordinary speech urging women not to follow her: "You will not find in me a very powerful advocate of women as bishops. For I cannot recommend the job and I cannot think that anyone would want it or seek it. Ö to victimise a bishop seems like a contradiction, but it is not. I am too ashamed of my church to give vice to some of the tactics and sick projections that have been used. The continuingly subtle, even underground power of patriarchy, whether exercised by men or women, to wound and destroy from a base of self-righteousness, is truly appalling." No one else seems to have covered it at all.

The troubles of Wells Cathedral are as nothing to those of Westminster or Lincoln, but they still show how easy it is to produce a cathedral row story at the moment. The Dean, known to readers of the Guardian as "the Very Rev Lewis", has commissioned freshly embroidered copes and altar hangings at a cost of £143,000. I donít know, and none of the stories say, how much they would have cost if they had been plain as table napkins. In any case, to judge from the Daily Telegraphís illustrations, these are gorgeous. The money has in any case been raised by special appeals, according to the Cathedral administrator.

All it takes to transform this into a row is one complaint from a parish asked for money. In this case, it was a PCC member in Dulverton named Philip Hall who complained about "paying for lots of Aztec decorations". Of course, there is no reason to suppose that he is paying himself. He just objects to other people paying for them, but any story involving a cathedral dean will get in the papers now that the Westminster Abbey story has grown so big. The Daily Telegraph had the story on Saturday. John Ezard, in the Guardian had almost exactly the same story, down to the same quotes, the following Tuesday, but this time spun round to focus on the Dean rather than the embroideries.

Much coverage of the case of Daniel ??, the six foot six schizophrenic sent to Broadmoor for life after he battered to death the elderly woman described in most reports as a devout or evangelical Christian, who persuaded him that God wanted him to come off his medication. Only Nick Davies, in the Guardian, gave details of her form of Christianity: "Se turned her council flat into an improvised church where she drank heavily, smoked dope, read the scriptures, played guitar and gathered a flock of stray dogs and stray peopleÖ she used the bathroom to baptise several of them."

I understand that not all house groups are like that.

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