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Press: Scoops, suits, and slips

by
25 March 2009

by Andrew Brown

All bets hedged: runners and riders in The Times

All bets hedged: runners and riders in The Times

RUTH GLEDHILL in The Times had the scoop on the next Archbishop of Westminster: it will be either “the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols; the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith; the Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon; the Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche; [or] Bishop Bernard Longley, an auxiliary in the Westminster diocese.” Or it could be someone else we have never heard of: “It is possible [the Pope] will shun all five candidates vying for the post and impose a Vatican diplomat instead.”

If she hasn’t at some stage tipped the next Cardinal, it won’t be for lack of trying. About the only person who has not been mentioned by her in this context in the past two years is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. (No doubt the news desk will wish her to follow up this tip.)

This week’s story, though, was interesting in that the number of murky rumours had grown almost as fast as the list of candidates. (Three months ago, there were only three.) I particularly liked the assertion: “It is under­stood that the Pope has taken telephone calls from opponents of Bishop Roche, with several lobbyists claiming that Bishop Roche would be as divisive a figure as Archbishop Nichols.”

You have to love “it is understood”, which means: “Someone told me but made me prom­ise to keep his name out of it,” or sometimes: “I’m flying a kite on this one.” Unless the person was claiming to be one of the phone-callers himself (“As I was saying to His Holi­ness . . .”), I don’t see that this is understood at all.

But it does show that the Roman Catholic Church in England is now fully as­similated to the main­stream of national life, and everyone is speculat­ing about its appointments exactly as they used to speculate about the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

TALKING of which, there was one item of real news, a delightful triviality, tucked away at the bottom of Ruth’s story: “At the consecration yesterday of Bishop Canon Seamus Cunning­ham as new Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, the Cardinal began his concluding remarks with the phrase: ‘When I became Archbishop of Canterbury . . .’”

TALKING of totally unsourced rumours, I heard that the Catholic Herald, which is now facing a libel suit from Austen Ivereigh after he won his case against the Daily Mail, does not have any libel insurance. I rang the editor, who said that this was a matter of commercial confidentiality, and referred me upward; calls to a board member have not been returned. But if this is true, the paper is in deep trouble.

The bills for two years’ service of libel lawyers, on both sides, do not aproach the stagger­ing sums in the Mail case, but can hardly be less than £60,000 and might approach £100,000. Damages are not the problem: all Mr Ivereigh is de­manding is a conspicuous and humil­iating apology. But, even if he dropped the case entirely now, the poor starving lawyers would have to be fed.

The whole thing has been a ghastly drama, and it is not over yet. William Oddie lost his job as editor of the Herald after a much cheaper libel suit brought against him by Stephen Bates at The Guardian. Who will pay for this, if the paper survives at all? One of the ironies is that the Herald is better now than it has been for many years.

ON THE ANGLICAN side, I found a really rather tragic note on the PA wire’s “People” section. It topped the news that “a host of celebrity mums had joined the Prime Minister’s wife to launch a campaign aimed at raising awareness of mothers around the world dying during preg­nancy and child­birth”, and a story that a television presenter had got engaged.

More important, apparently, than either of these was the news that “Britain is not a secular country but is ‘uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion’ the Archbishop of Canterbury said.

“Rowan Williams made the coments during a speech at Leicester Cathedral, entitled Faith in the Public Square. Speaking to around 400 people from across Leicestershire, he said that although British attendance at church may not compare to 200 years ago, the Church offered something that could not be found elsewhere.”

There was no room in the report to explain quite what.

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