Press Column Saturday 25 September 1999

I don’t know if anyone has done comparative statistics of the divorce rate among readers of the Daily Mail and the Guardian but it would appear that Mail readers are extremely keen to regularise their second unions, while Guardian readers are either don’t bother or they’re all still on their first. How else is one to interpret the fact that the Mail made the booklet on divorce and remarriage its splash "Divorcees can get married again in Church" while the Guardian had five pars on an inside page "Church Wedding ban on divorcees could be lifted"? The Guardian did not mention Camilla Parker Bowles at all and even the Mail did not bring her in until the seventh paragraph: this was definitely consumer journalism. Perhaps the Guardian would have been more interested if someone had come up with a service of Banns for Buddhists wishing to have an Anglican wedding. Among the just causes and impediments could be that the couple had already been married, sometime in the fifteenth century.

The thing that puzzled me about most of the coverage of the report was that you had to read it very carefully indeed to find a suggestion of one important fact known to all the reporters and the authors of the report they were discussing: that divorcees are already remarried in churches around the country. Only the Daily Telegraph got the undramatic nature of the report spot on: "Church eases its stance on remarriage of divorcees" with a fourth paragraph which read "In practice many parishes are already experimenting with alternative guidelines which, for example, allow a second marriage if there is a clear distance in time and setting from the first."

But then the Telegraph, too, had given Dr Carey room on the op-ed page the previous day to lay out his beliefs on marriage. It was a sensible and closely argued piece. I’m not sure why he can do it in the studio, so to say, and not live, but there we are. Perhaps the secret is in the overdubs. You would have had to read his piece with an eye more attentive than mine to find any reference to remarriage, though it clearly allowed divorce. The next day I was rung by a television producer, on an entirely unrelated and unreligious subject but the conversation came round to this piece. He had been much struck by the passage in the middle, where the Archbishop said "We are encouraged to believe that nothing will be good enough for long — there will always be something better, faster, shinier, round the corner. From its possession, we are encouraged to believe, will come the fulfilment we deserve and the gratification we crave. It may be an effective way of selling motor cars or washing machines but when it begins to colour personal relationships it is frankly pernicious. … The mindset of ‘This year’s model’ is not likely to promote the personal qualities and attitudes, the patience and tolerance, understanding and self-discipline required to make a marriage work over the long term."

Well, yes, said my friend the producer. The trouble is that what looks shinier and better very often is. He thought the church should somehow come to terms with this fact. I’m not sure that it possibly could. But in any case, this was an article that had got someone thinking who would never normally ask himself what was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s opinion about anything.

There has been an outbreak of savagery among the Catholic intelligentsia. Clifford Longley is incandescent about John Conrwell’s new book "Hitler’s Pope", which I praised last week. His anger starts at the title, which is "appalling, and nowhere borne out by the evidence. So why use it? The Catholic Church, according to Cornwell, is in the grip of a power struggle to take it back to the dreadful days of the Pope who reigned from 1939 to 1958, and who ran the Church as its senior civil servant in the 1930s before he took charge of it. The leading edge of this campaign is the attempt to have Pius XII declared a saint, which must therefore be stopped at all costs. To brand him "Hitler's Pope" is to aim a dagger at the heart of this campaign - how could the Catholic Church possibly canonise a man who had been called that?

But he doesn’t find the rest of the book sympathetic either: "The burden of proof against Cornwell's argument is overwhelming. The reimposition of 1930s Catholicism some time in the future is a completely impossible and inconceivable project, and the canonisation of Pius XII would not make the slightest difference to that fact. Because of his bad reputation, however, it would do some harm to Jewish-Christian relations, and for that reason I would regret it. However, that bad reputation owes a great deal to the notorious Huchhuth play The Representative. Hochhuth's work is unhistorical and his portrayal of Pius XII ‘ludicrous’, says Cornwell. Pots and kettles, surely."

I spend enough time listening to American conversations on the Web to know that whenever some lunatic gunman murders children in a nursery school, or adolescents in church, the gun lobby explain that it would never have happened if all teachers or sidesmen were armed. It took the Sunday Times to discover that Governor George Bush, who is running for President on the basis that he is more Christian and moral than his Democratic opponents, had in fact already signed a bill permitting the carrying of concealed weapons in church. "At the time, one Repbulican member of the Texas legislature joked that the change ‘enhances the quality of sermons and shortens the length of services." Ho bloody ha ha. It also emerges from this article that camcorders are such a natural part of American worship that two of the congregation filmed the killer at work, one of them right up to the moment when he was himself shot. I suppose this proves what anyone who has had a church service videoed already understands — that the man behind the camera thinks he is invisible as well as invulnerable.

Front Cuts Book Back