Press Column

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the Tories in their recent struggles over race and I’m not that brutal. I think it is all hilarious. There is an important Christian angle to this too: years ago, when John Taylor was standing in a quite impossible seat on the outskirts of Birmingham, I spent a day trailing round the suburbs with him; and his fervent, pretty fundamentalist, Christianity was much the most notable feature of his character. I hesitate to attribute unworldliness to a successful lawyer, but he seemed to reverse the illusion of the preceding generations, and to think that the Conservative party ought to be what the Church of England did when it was not praying. Perhaps he still does believe something like this: when he wrote an article defending himself in the Times, the constituency he thought that Tory racism would offend was a specifically Christian one: "The image of the Tory party among younger voters, committed Christians of all races and decent people from all walks of life has been battered. Mr Townend insists that his comments ‘went down a bomb in Yorkshire’. I have rather more faith than he does in his electorate. I suspect that for many — in the Church especially — it is Mr Townend who has bombed."

One of the letters defending Taylor in the Times described him as "a Christian gentleman" but the only one from a professional Christian came from George Austin, boasting of his Celtic ancestry: "Perhaps both [Taylor and Townend] should think again and follow Australia’s example towards the Aborigines. Will they (or any politician) bite the bullet and apologise for the treatment meted out to the native inhabitants of these islands by such European incursions? And frankly, a bit of compensation wouldn’t go amiss."

Well, of course, he has got to have something to supplement his pension, if the Independent is to be believed. An article on the Church’s finances contained the immortal phrase: "Assets held by the Church Commissioners were last valued at £4.4bn but it is thought the forthcoming review will give them an even lower value." This drew a letter from Dr Beaver claiming everything was, on the contrary, quite all right, and that attendances couldn’t be falling because they had discovered they were undercounting. Then the Sunday Telegraph got hold of an analysis prepared for the Archbishops’ Council: his story started "Church of England dioceses will be plunged £11m into the red within two years, according to confidential figures which reveal that the Church’s financial crisis is deeper than previously feared." Expect a letter next week from Dr Beaver explaining that everything is all right because they have discovered a new way to count the money.

Talking of press relations, as I write this, I get a phone call from Jeremy Harris, who says, amongst other things, that "Lambeth Palace has made no attempt get any religious affairs correspondent sacked. The very concept is ridiculous." So let us talk of happier things.

The Daily Telegraph carried briefly on its front page and for most of its editions on an inside page a remarkably strong piece about homosexuality among Catholic priests. It was pegged on a Channel Four program which is going out this Saturday; and though it contained little that an attentive reader of the Tablet would not know these things are changed by wider exposure. "A leading Catholic cleric has given warning of the dangers of a homosexual ‘subculture’ emerging in seminaries due to the number of homosexuals in training for the priesthood." Since the man in question, Fr Kevin Haggerty, runs the seminary at Wonersh, there is no reason to doubt his word.

What is interesting, though unspeakable, in all this is that the problem is being caused by celibate gays. Uncelibate ones cause different problems. But camp is amazingly destructive — think what it did to Anglo-Catholicism — and very hard to root out, once it has got a foothold in a culture. This is threatening to the long-term future of the priesthood, if only because it is not necessarily something that can be cured by a married clergy. Of course, any attempt to maintain compulsory celibacy through the reign on the next Pope will make things really difficult to correct in the future. The Daily Telegraph story ended with possibly the most pathetic comment ever made by an official spokesman on anything. "A spokesman for the Catholic Media Office questioned whether the programme was helpful." You can’t help feeling they have rather missed the point of journalism.

Better news from Ireland, where the remains of St Therese of Lisieux are causing huge excitement, according to the Guardian. They are on tour in a 400lb gold and silver casket, and "If the first few weeks are indicative of the whole trip, more than 2m people will see the relic, as many as turned out to see Pope John Paul II on his 1979 visit."

The Sun had a truly wonderful story about Richard Pickles, a carpenter who has come up with a line of multi-purpose coffins. Some can be used as bookcases, and his local pub wants one for a phone booth. A Pickles bookshelf is not merely good for the soul. As he says himself "A lot of undertakers charge ridiculous prices for coffins. Mine are a lot cheaper and you get a lot more use out of them."

This column is researched using a high-tech system which occasionally fails, as even the computers in the space shuttle do. In this instance, I stuck the wrong drawing pin through a clipping so that it didn’t get collected with all the other ones for last week. But, like astronauts, I make the necessary repairs and continue unflinching on my mission as if nothing had happened. So here finally is a story from the Times: "Peter David, a lay preacher from Neath, South Wales, whose numberplate is DEUT 818 — Deuteronomy, viii, 18: God gives power — has been charged with driving without insurance, with an unlicensed number. He said he did not need insurance because he had divine protection." Sounds like Church Commissioner material to me.

Front Cuts Book Back

This stuff written and copyright Andrew Brown. If the page looks bad, that's my fault, unless you're using Netscape 4.x. Then it's yours. Upgrade, and do yourself a favour.