Press Column

The thing about stories is that after a while, no one controls them. You may think that you have written all there is to be said on the subject — and nothing has been substantially added to the Carey succession story since the first rush of Nazir-Ali stories — but the natural competition between newspapers will always ensure that there is something to shift the story along. The first journalist may kick a stone at the top of the hill; the first candidate may jump up and down a little. But soon the whole scree starts shaking with its own momentum, and then it falls. We’re all swept down, waving and shouting and trampling at the shifting rock, making things worse by our desperate attempts to keep upright. Still, it’s even worse to fall over. So we have reached the stage where no candidate can do anything without advancing the story somehow.

If he publishes an ancient sermon, he is making a move for the job. If he says nothing, however, the headline in the Times runs: "Welsh bard’s eloquent silence speaks volumes." The story underneath was more interesting, if only because it relied so very much on the stereotype of a voluble Welshman. "The Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Monmouth, the Most Rev Rowan Williams, speaks several languages, but was saying nothing in any of them about the top job in the Church of England "It has been a rare silence, according to those who know Dr Williams, who was born in the Swansea Valley and is renowned for his independence of mind and willingness to speak it."

All this guff about Welsh eloquence seems to me to be fairly obvious code for "windbag", which is presumably how he’ll be attacked if he gets the job. It won’t last, though, because he doesn’t do waffle. On the other hand he does — as is apparent — talk to journalists himself. His views on the war in Afhganistsn, though hardly news to Church Times readers, made a big splash in the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph but the Times and the Daily Telegraph the next day gave him room to explain exactly what he had and hadn’t meant.

There was a letter in the Times from G.C. Newman: "Sir, Yesterday you published a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Public Affairs explaining what the Archbishop believes, although one would have thought that the Primate of All England was pre-eminently qualified to do that for himself

"Today it is the turn of the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Rochester to explain a ‘personal focus’ of his bishop, who might similarly be expected to speak for himself.

"How can these prelates possibly justify the cost of apparatchiks with which long titles to an institution which, for as long as anyone can remember, has been complaining that it is strapped for cash."

This sat underneath a letter from Monica Furlong, complaining about discrimination against women in the diocese against London. In due course that was answered by a letter from the Director of Communications for the Diocese of London, herself a woman.

While on the subject of letters, I can’t resist one from Saturday’s Independent , in a discussion of linguistic tabus. This came from a man in Hailsham, East Sussex, who had been working through the crossword in his parish magazine some years ago. "The clue for 18 across was essentially feminine (4) and crossing words left me with *unt. The correct answer, apparently, was ‘aunt’."

It’s a wonderful reminder of the kind of innocence which I thought had been lost forever until someone faxed me Andrew Carey’s column in the Church of England Newspaper, where he explains that while some stories do come from "gossipy and unpleasant clergy, thwarted themselves in their ambitions, or with such a loaded agenda that they have forgotten how to follow Jesus" these creatures "are always either liberal or anglo-catholic in churchmanship. I have never come across an evangelical counterpart." My sainted aunt!

He also mentions a sinister journalist who was best man at the wedding of one of the bishops mentioned in the ‘race’. But he doesn’t name him, for no very obvious reason. It’s Christopher Morgan, who was Rowan Williams’ best man. I don’t think this is responsible for any of the flaws in his journalism, if such can be imagined. It would in fact be an anguish for a journalist to be a real friend of an Archbishop. What on earth could you talk about? But then I’m biased, too. I think there are only two people who might be up to most of the demands of the job, Rowan Williams and Richard Chartres, which is one kind of bias; and I wouldn’t wish it on either of them, which is another kind.

And now for a completely different bias: after all the accusations of anti-Catholic reflexes in the Guardian it was a real delight to see a story there praising Genevieve O’Farrell, a nun who ran a single-sex Catholic school in the Falls Road in Belfast. "The school building stretch across an expanse of the Falls from the Whiterock to the Milltown cemetery where the IRA bury their dead. When Michael Stone infamously shot into the crowd at a Republican funeral, the incident could be seen from some of the classrooms."

The story was written by a former pupil who hugely admired here, painted a wonderful picture of a woman who stood up to everyone: the British Army, the IRA, and even her own hierarchy, in order to give the children a proper chance in life. She made them pray for British soldiers who had been killed as well as for those from their own community. ‘Protestant tears are the same as Catholic tears’ she would tell us." She worked furiously to give her children self-respect and courage as well as knowledge. She even struggled against the eleven plus. And at the end of this truly inspiring life she had a stroke, and lingered on for seven years, unable to speak or move, before dying. The whole of the rest of the story might have been read as highly effective propaganda against anti-Catholic bigotry. But the end changed it into an occasion for more sombre and profound reflection.

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