Press Column

One piece of industry gossip: the Independent is about to become the first broadsheet without a religious affairs correspondent at all. The job has been done on a part-time basis by Clare Garner for the last couple of years. Most of her energies, however, have been spent as one of the news reporters, which often means half the paper’s general reporting staff. Now she is leaving, out of boredom, she says. Simon Kellner is not much interested in religion; it’s possibly the only sort of balls that he thinks real men don’t want to talk about. And it is very hard for a religious correspondent to justify themselves to a newsdesk on any paper. This need not mean they’re not employed. The world is full of religious features. But the idea that the normal doings of the mainstream churches are worth coverage is just fading away. A nice example of this came in the Independent on Sunday where Precious Williams, a feature writer, was set to write an anti-dome piece. "Religious leaders throughout Britain are telling their congregations not to be taken in by the ‘utterly commercial’ hype of the Millennium Dome’s much-debated faith zone". The only thing anyone could object to in that sentece was the idea that anyone much was debating the faith zone. What was unusual was the list of religious leaders consulted. First came Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, of the Kingsway International Christian centre in Hackney, described as "Britain’s fastest-growing church". Then there was Jah Blue of the UK Orthodox Ethiopian Rastafarian Temple in south Londo, who said "it is a celebration of Christ as he is depicted by our Western oppressors", which is one criticism of the faith zone I had never heard before. Then there was Joel Edwards, and finally the Muslim Council who said with wonderful hyperbole, "we pray 24 hours a day, 365 days a year". The were no Roman Catholics, and the Church of England was represented by Stephen Parkinson of Forward in Faith complaining that the year of the millennium was wrong.

Another solution, of course, is to go abroad. The Guardian had long runners and riders piece about the Pope on Monday. There was a remarkable sense of urgency about this one: so many pieces have been written over the years suggesting that he is ill that it comes almost as a shock to realise that one year the rumours will have to come true. "In the past few weeks his decay has accelerated. Cameral crews were shooed out of a cathedral oin Georgai last month when convulsions wracked his body. ON the flight back he was heard to gasp ‘thank God I’m returning to Rome’, Most of his planned appearances at next year’s Jubilee celebrations have just been cancelled and there is speculaiton that he will use a key rather than the traditional hammer for the symbolic opening of St Peter’s Holy Door."

The list of runners was enlivened by one name I haven’t seen in the secular press before: Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Genoa, whoi is apparently a supporter of Opus Dei, and had a wonderfully dismissive paragraph on Thomas Winning — "tipped by no one beyond these shores". His Scottish colleague, Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of Edinburgh, had some remarkably human quotes. "Bishops gossip just as much as everyone else. I would say to Cardinal Winning, ‘who’s that guy down there? I saw Tettamanzi and I said ‘who’s the wee fat guy?’ I knew the famous ones like Martini and so forth."

The hot news from Rome in the tabloid press was the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Not only was it a story that illustrated itself, it also brought out all the Michealangelo-like creativity of the headline writers. The News of the World’s "Prisinte Chapel" was not bad, but easily topped by the Mirror’s "Ceiling is believing"

The priest most cruelly treated by the newspapers this week was a victim of the Times’s motoring page, which had a feature on the people who collect universally despised cars. The pride of place went to Ian Brown, a private detective who christened his first-born Ayrton Senator Brown after a Vauxhall of the late Seventies. The rev Colin Corke is at least childless, but he was photographed in front of the four Austin Allegros in front of his house. "the clergyman has allowed Alegro body parts to swartm across the house. Evidence of this oily fecundity can be found in the back garden, under the stairs, under the kitchen table and climbing the stairs." His garage, apparently,. Contains every edition of Autocar since 1957. The journalist judged him sane by comparison with some of the other people interviewed.

I’ve written often ewnough about the cult of leadership in the modern church, and it’s belief that if only it were more like a business it would do better, but it’s interesting to see that business journalists think the sae. An interview or profile in the Sunday Telegraph of Tom Peters, an American who is always described as a "management guru" brought out very clearly the degree to which business people believe they are practising true religion, and religion is just aping them badly. It’s not just that salemsne are routinely called "evangelists", There is also this. "He is decribed as the Billy Graham of Mangement. Anything he saus, even such OTRT phrases as the distinct of exctinct" carries conviction. The man has charisma, tubby or no.

"If every Christian church in the country had priests who held their audience like Mr Peters, the whole movement would get back on to its status of 100 years ago, fast." This is wonderful because it so completely ignores why people listen to him. They hear him promising them all the kingdoms of the world and for the rest of us, the prospect is not entirely inviting. "He does not believe in loyalty. "He says, you know what my idea of double Nirvana is, to walk into the office at 9am no one there, and know that they’;re all out making money." Sounds like hell to me.

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