Press Column Saturday 02 October 1999

Let’s get the violence over early, since all the rest is marriage. First, a letter in Monday’s Daily Telegraph from Jenny Thornton: "Sir, I enjoyed Craig Brown’s send-up of Dr Carey’s archiepsicopal vagaries. Presumably, Lambeth Palace will now cancel its subscription to the Daily Telegraph." Craig Brown’s "Day in the Life" read eerily like a modern mission statement: "Once again we have shown ourselves to have a firm hand on the pulse of the backbone inside the heart of the community — and this gives us a clear vision of the road ahead … 3 pm I look into the whole question of whether there is a great deal more to be done. I conclude there is a great deal more to be done before we can understand this whole question. To employ a footballing analogy, there is little point in tackling the goalkeeper when the referee is still in possession of the ball."

Ms Thornton’s letter arose from a story in the Peterborough diary on Wednesday, claiming that Mrs Carey had cancelled the family subscription to the Church Times in protest over my article lampooning her husband in the previous week’s Daily Mail. Why she should pick on the Church Times is nowhere explained; if she really wants to avoid helping to pay my mortgage, she’s going to have to boycott a great many more papers than that. But the process is part of the differentiation of the press into friends and enemies which everyone goes through after a while in public life. The real question that seems to me the Careys are entitled to put to their attackers is "What would you have done differently?" The job may well be an impossible one, and the only real choice confronting any Archbishop is to decide how he should most gracefully fail. But this is a defence unavailable to anyone who believes in heroic leadership.

The Independent picked up a report in the online magazine Salon about the Columbine High School shootings. According to a journalist who has spent the last four months trying to get close to the law enforcement people who are slowly piecing together what actually happened there, the story of Cassie Bernals — that she was a martyr, shot because she refused to renounce God when one of the killers asked her to — is, so far as the police are concerned, simply untrue. It was another girl who was asked if she believed in God, and who was shot when she replied. But she survived. Nor is there any evidence that a different answer would have saved her. The killers were driven by hate for everyone and everything in a way that was not exactly undiscriminating, but in which differences among their victims simply provided new reasons to hate them. Some people were shot for being black, others for being racists. This is a much more convincing or realistic glimpse of evil than that of two miserable Goths setting out to kill the Christians; I doubt it will make much headway against the established story.

But most of the week was spent with marriage and divorce everywhere. It was pretty good luck for the Church that the story of the Bishop of Hull’s wife setting up house with a married priest in the West Country did not come out until a week after the report on marriage, or, as the papers had it, on remarriage. Because I write these pieces on a Tuesday morning, I was too hasty in claiming that no one had noticed that the Church does already remarry divorcees. Victoria Combe had an excellent and thorough piece on the Telegraph on Wednesday pointing out that all 43 dioceses do in fact remarry divorcees along with an interview with a divorced and remarried priest who had remarried a — at this point it all gets rather confusing, but the idea is clear.

Clarity is not something of which the Telegraph’s leader writer could be accused at all. "It is only natural to hope that those who want new relationships acknowledged in a marriage ceremony can be accommodated by the Church — especially for those who were the injured party in broken marriages or who have only recently come to the Church. But it is their position that must be the exception and not the Church’s teaching." More interesting was the letters column, in which Trevor Beeson, Michael Scott Joynt, and the Orthodox Archpriest Sergei Hackel all came out in favour of remarriage. You would expect the Bishop of Winchester to do so, since he had written the report. But he made a point I had not seen quite so clearly put elsewhere: that there is no question of the Church of England not recognising second marriage. "The Church of England doe .. not ban divorced and remarried people from Holy Communion … [it accepts] that all legal marriages, solemnised in church or registry office, are true marriages .. the debate is not over whether divorcees should be able to marry again but whether such weddings should take place in church."

Bishop Rodrigo Borgia wrote to me to ask whether I had seen the Guardian’s article on how Christianity sweeping the Universities, which turned out to be about the Christian Union at Durham. He had met his wife there, he said, when they were both denounced as heretics and realised that the must have something in common. Jonathan Margolis found that the real problem with the CU types was that they didn’t seem dysfunctional. "Falling for the blandishments of Christianity — the stability, the ready-made friends and the social life is today’s version of temptation in the student world, rather than sex, drink and drugs." The CU types appear to have found a really effective technique for staying celibate, according to one student, Lucy Evans: "You have to imagine talking to a really cool-looking man at a party or in the pub, and after two minutes he’s talking about his relationship with Jesus. You just get out, fast."

But it was elsewhere in the same day’s Guardian where the truly countercultural nature of all this became clear: in Francis Wheen’s column there was a mention of the sort of television programme that students are meant to watch, including a parlour game called "Private Dicks" in which a young woman was shown five penises and asked to say which one belonged to her fiancée. I’d rather talk about Jesus.

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