THIS week, it would be easy to fill the column three times over.
There is a wonderful opportunity for gloating over the discomfiture
of the American Right: George Weigel, a man notoriously more
Catholic than the Pope, and always happy to explain this to the
Vatican, discovered on the morning after the election that he is
now also more American than the President. The resulting outburst
(in the National Review Online) is one for the ages:
"Those who booed God, celebrated an unfettered abortion licence,
canonized Sandra Fluke, and sacramentalized sodomy at the
Democratic National Convention will have been emboldened to advance
the cause of lifestyle libertinism through coercive state power. .
. [An email from London] suggested that Obama's re-election was a
cataclysm for America similar to Henry VIII's break with Rome: a
politico-cultural-economic game-changer the effects of which would
be felt for centuries."
Beat that, Melanie Phillips.
Then there was the opportunity for sententious reflection
offered by the shambles at the BBC. I'll pass on that this
Oh, yes. One other piece of religious news. The two best
profiles of the new Archbishop, in that they contained some actual
reporting rather than the regurgitation of known facts, were Cole
Moreton and Edward Malnick in The Sunday
Telegraph, and, ahem, Lizzy Davies in The
These were full of the reflections of people who had actually
worked with the new Archbishop. The Sunday Telegraph had
also done some proper digging into his time at Eton.
"Francis Gardner, his housemaster there, told The Sunday
Telegraph: 'He was, shall we say, a serious-minded student,
who always worked to the best of his ability, academically. He was
not a great games player, as some schoolboys are, but he took an
interest in people and anything sensible. He was a model boy,
though not one of great distinction.'
"But behind the photograph of the boys of Gardner House lies a
hidden truth. Master Welby had a problem, according to a family
friend. His erratic father had enough money to send him to the
public school, but didn't give any of it to Justin to pay his way,
day to day. In a class that included two Rothschilds, he was almost
certainly the poorest child. That cannot have been easy."
One angle that was not very well pursued was the influence of
Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), and of Alpha. At his inaugural press
conference, I noticed William Fittall, another HTB alumnus, leaning
against a wall; later, Mark Elsdon Dew, the organisation's press
officer, was handing out cards. There's obviously scope for a
proper investigation of how HTB works and thinks, and how it came
to be the most influential grouping in the Church of England. I
have even written the headline myself: "Straight outta Brompton:
vicars with attitude".
I don't think Peter Stanford's piece in The
Observer was it. He had been to the church and looked
around the bookshop, but almost all the quotes were from outsiders:
"'They are very good at numbers,' says the broadcaster and
Northamptonshire vicar, the Revd Richard Coles, part of the more
liberal wing of Anglicanism. 'So it would be foolish to be
disparaging. In fact, the rest of us look at them with envy.' And
novelist Salley Vickers, while conceding that the HTB approach is
'not my kind of Anglicanism', applauds its proven appeal to a
younger generation usually absent from the pews: 'It seems to be in
touch with something more basic.'"
At a guess, this is because the piece was commissioned about a
day before it was delivered. Stanford is too much of a pro to let
this show in his easy style; but there are some things that take a
lot of time to dig out and understand. And at least he went to the
right church: the piece was illustrated with a shot of the Brompton
Leader-writers were generally very positive towards Bishop
Welby. They didn't even kick his predecessor too much. The
Times, though, was remarkable. Consider these two sentences:
"Bishop Welby was baptised as an adult and came to his ministry in
his maturity, after he and his wife suffered the tragedy of the
death of a young child. He is unusual as a Christian leader in
having come to faith through the Alpha course, a form of evangelism
pioneered by Holy Trinity, Brompton, an evangelical church in
There are only two errors in this, according to HTB: he was not
baptised as an adult; and he did not come to faith through an Alpha
course. The Times also found room to claim that the news
of his appointment had been broken by Ruth Gledhill, but not -
somehow - to mention her tweet, three hours earlier, proclaiming
even more exclusively that he would not get the job.