Press Column

Only the Times did ten years of Dr Carey, presumably because Valerie Grove was the only journalist he’d talk to. The result was the most favourable profile of him that I have ever read. This was partly because it was the most domestic. There was a picture of him reading to two grandchildren and another of him gesticulating at the kitchen table; we were also told that he and Eileen read a poem every day at breakfast. This kind of thing is so much more attractive, and believable, than Carey the World Spiritual Leader, that one wonders why they never did it before. The quotes on large matters of public policy were as plonking as ever, but they seemed to come from a genuinely nice man rather than one who was taking a kind of sadistic pleasure in seeing just how little could say that anyone would think it worth paying 45p to read.

Certainly Valerie Grove was charmed by him: "Some C of E Clergy think of him as a rather unexciting fellow, ‘but harmless’. But he is more than that: kindly, optimistic, sociable, curious, dauntless. Compared to the snooty traditionalist and shrill campaigners, neither of whom show much Christian charity, he is a good man, an appeaser between factions."

The lessons of this piece seem to be clear: if you want a favourable profile of the Archbishop, get it done by a woman — since the second-kindest was done by Madeleine Bunting; and deal as little as possible with his work as Archbishop. Talk to him instead as if he were a parish priest; use lots of grandchildren. I had been going to say that the grandchildren are the most important, but I think on reflection that is wrong as well as snide. It may well be that what really matters is to use a woman. There is a sense in which he locks antlers with men — quite unconsciously, no doubt —it goes with his undoubted ambition and drive. Women seem more prepared to take him at his own valuation, and see a more likeable and impressive man as a result.

The Daily Telegraph had to make do with a speech he gave for Inform at the LSE. (Eileen Barker, who runs the charity, and is as resolute a non-fool as you could hope to meet, comes to mind as another female fan of the Archbishop’s). The Telegraph’s piece was notable for a perfect example of the paragraph through which you can hear the banshee shrieking of a newsdesk deprived of its prey: "It is the first time the Archbishop has spoken of his interest in New Age but there are no indications that he has taken to using crystals, reflexology, or aromatherapy."

The other big story was the Nolan report on child abuse. This got mostly favourable coverage, and lots of it. There has been some criticism of the Nolan report for failing to go far enough in offering an apology: not all of it has come from people who stand to gain from such an apology. Any thoughtful Catholic who has hoisted in the enormity of some of the recent child abuse cases should feel that the Church owes an apology for what has happened. If the Pope can apologise for what was done in the crusades by completely unknown miscreants 800 years ago, surely the church can accept responsibility for what was done and allowed by people still holding office today? The difference is that the victims of the crusaders can’t sue, while the victims of paedophiles are itching to do so. There is a distressingly literal sense in which the Church as a body can’t afford to acknowledge responsibility for what some of its priest have done.

But in the same way, it must do everything possible to ensure there are no more scandals in the future. I don’t know how many paedophile priests there are. Probably no one does. But it would be a rash man, and a rasher bishop, who supposed that they have all been caught and identified. So the Nolan report concentrates on avoiding scandals that haven’t happened yet. In a climate where the Irish police are digging up the body of a boy who died in a Catholic-run reform school to discover if he was murdered by the Christian Brothers, as the Times reported under its Nolan coverage, it’s clear that the next case of a paedophile priest in this country will be covered with huge enthusiasm.

The Guardian’s news report was I thought very shrewd, if suspicious: "The report represents an all but unprecedented wide-ranging secular assault on the practices of a church where bishops and clergy have traditionally had unquestioning authority". But was followed by a grotesque rant by the Scots television person Muriel Grey in the second section: "His stating the bleeding obvious, that this corrupt, hypocritical and decadent institution needs grown-ups from the secular world to try and prevent any more children suffering at its hands, is merely there to be taken up on a voluntary basis by the church. To precise for those of you too busy to plough through it, what it says is, ‘Aaaargh! Stop shagging children you bunch of perverts. Or else . . . well nothing, actually’."

I think this was probably the worst and silliest piece the Guardian has ever published about religion. Sorry, Polly. We know you tried. It drew a rebuke from the Catholic chaplain to the University of Sussex: "I have lived as a celibate even longer than I have read the Guardian and, while I would be happy to see married folk ordained, I have yet to discover why freely embraced clerical celibacy is a 'quite wicked requirement'. To live well celibately requires rather more self-knowledge and understanding of human relationships than I detect in Ms Gray's writing. She is the weakest link. Goodbye."

I must have been frightfully drunk at a friend’s birthday party the other week: I could have sworn that I was told then by the editor of a great national newspaper that Lambeth Palace had been trying to get him to sack his religious affairs correspondent. Unfortunately, none of my phone calls to Jeremy Harris have been returned so I can’t bring you an authoritative denial of this story.

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