Press Column

And so the world waits, poised for unprecedented sacrifices. Nothing will ever be the same again. But the news is completely clear. The Archbishop of Canterbury will get his pay rise, and so will the ordinary clergy of the Church of England. Differentials will be maintained. As the Times report explained: "The new stipend compares well to the wage of the average Roman Catholic priest of between £4,000 and £6,000 a year, depending on the diocese. Most Catholic priests do not have families to support. [Slight pause while we work out exactly what was meant by this undoubtedly truthful statement.] but even Methodist and Baptist ministers, many of whom do have families, are paid less than £15,000 a year."

Clearly the idea is to move towards fewer, but better paid clergy: the Daily Telegraph helpfully explained that the costs of the pay increase would be offset by a reduction of the number of clergy by 10% over the next ten years. Curiously I can’t have been sent the press release explaining this triumph for the church, and it doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the glossy brochure on "the Church of England" forwarded to me with a disgusted note by a priest friend.

Actually, the increase in clergy salaries seems perfectly justifiable. But to increase everyone else’s above them looks farcical. We already know the church is opposed to performance-related pay. It doesn’t need to demonstrate the fact quite so spectacularly.

The image of the unworldly priest gets a curious boost from a story in the Sunday Telegraph about the quest to find "Britain’s cleverest cleric". Actually, this is a game show stunt. Not only will the winner be paid nothing at all — and it seems to me that anyone who would go on television on those terms has rather ruled themselves out of being Britain’s cleverest anything — but the spokesman went on to explain, "We don’t necessarily want the most intelligent. We want those who are entertaining and will make good television." You have been warned. Perhaps the winner will get an invitation to appear on Big Brother, and a lunch with Schmuley Boteach.

The Sunday Telegraph had found a wonderfully discouraging precedent: "In November, a vicar succumbed to one of the seven deadly sins - anger - when he was voted off the television quiz show The Weakest Link. The Rev David Smith, who was until recently a chaplain at the Greenwich Dome, appeared to be red-faced and shaking with rage after his fellow contestants voted him out of the show.

"Mr Smith, who was wearing his clerical collar for the show, claimed that he had been ejected only because he was a cleric. ‘I'm afraid right from the start this has been a case of `kick the vicar',’ he said. ‘I'm very disappointed with the other contestants. They didn't want me there regardless of what I was like at answering the questions. It is all because I'm a vicar’."

The ending should be read by anyone cosidering a career as a press officer: "A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who is expected to trigger an internal Church race for his successor by retiring three years early next year, declined to comment."

Yet, despite all this excitement, the attention of the rest of the world continued focussed on the attack on Afghanistan which will, I suppose, have started by the time you read this. The most interesting story in this hardly appeared: it was the resolute pacifism of the Pope. He himself has said almost nothing to encourage an invasion. An unnamed Vatican source has said that they understand there will have to be a war; and this has been widely reported. But the Pope himself has not gone even that far, and, on his truly heroic visit to Khazakhstan, he said: "Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions."

This seems to me a clear demand that no one in the present war should believe that God is on his side. But the Daily Telegraph headline was "Pope urges unity against fanatics", which suggests that he was urging everyone to sign up to the West’s coalition, since it is well-known that our opponents are the only fanatical ones. I don’t think this was deliberate distortion at all. It is simply that newspapers have a hard time dealing with things that are genuinely unexpected; and the Pope’s neutrality in what seems like a war against militant Islam is pretty counter-intuitive.

The very next say the Daily Telegraph carried a fairly full report on the Catholic Bishops’ statement urging peace, or at least a very small war indeed: "They said that if military action had to be taken, it should be done to ‘restrain evil’ and to target the guilty. ‘Many of those most immediately guilty have already died,’ said the archbishops. ‘Whole peoples must not be attacked and punished for the actions of small and unrepresentative groups.’

"They also criticised the term ‘war against terrorism’, initiated by President Bush, as carrying ‘a danger of unrestrained escalation’. They said the notion of a war against terrorism could perpetuate the conflict and ‘multiply the number of enemies in the next generation’."

All of this suggests once more that one of the great divisions of our time is between those who agree with the Pope about sex and those who think he’s right about violence. Nobody seems to do both.

The truly tragic story of the week came from the Times letters columns, where Mrs Mary Munro-Hill of Yorkshire wrote in, citing an earlier clerical correspondent, to say that the word "bollocks" was once a slang term for a clergyman, and only by extension came to mean nonsense. What makes this tragic is that the OED offers no support for the story at all. The nearest it gets, with supporting quotes from James Joyce, is "A person (in a state of entanglement or confusion)". So nothing to do with the clergy at all.

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