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The inside story, honest

05 October 2012

Search for an Archbishop: the Mail on Sunday's story

Search for an Archbishop: the Mail on Sunday's story

A WEEK marked by two authoritative stories from the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for which we have no sources at all. Jonathan Wynne-Jones, in The Sunday Times, announced, with complete confidence, that "the commission had reached a stalemate this weekend. They have, however, ruled out the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres. . .

"It is understood that representatives from the Canterbury diocese objected to his refusal to ordain women, demanding that Williams's successor be supportive of female clergy.

"'I've been told that the Bishop of Dover is exercising a lot of influence over the whole process, and that the Canterbury six [representatives from the diocese] are making life very difficult,' a senior cleric said. 'They have too much say, with six out of the 16 votes, and can block anyone.'"

If this turns out to be true, it is a really excellent scoop, and a chastening reflection for the rest of us that the little so-and-so was able to get it from Chicago, where he is now based.

THEN we had Ruth Gledhill, two days later, saying that "The Bishop of Durham Justin Welby is thought at present to have the majority vote at the commission, but before two names can be voted on and placed in a definite order, a second name has to be agreed on.

"The commission is understood to be currently divided over whether the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu or the Bishop of Norwich Graham James should be the second name. Once that is agreed, the two names then have to be voted on again to be given to the Prime Minister in order of preference. It is currently the convention for the Prime Minister to choose the first name."

The only thing to learn for certain from this is that the commission won't do things this way next time around. There are all sorts of difficulties in the choice of candidates, but the voting procedures and the make-up of the commission have clearly failed.

The Guardian's contribution was an editorial that suggested that it would be better for lay people to elect all bishops and the archbishops. It is a terrible thing to disagree with a leader-writer, but this is about the most fatuous idea for governing an established Church that I have ever read. How many free churches has democracy produced in Scotland?

Meanwhile, Arun Arora is still feeling his way into his new job. He and Kerron Cross, his successor as York's press officer, appear to have decided that an aggressive approach to social media is the way to keep journalists - or at least Guardian journalists - in line. This is not going to end well.

First, Cross had a go at me for The Guardian's interactive guide to choosing an Archbishop. Clearly there was something wrong with it, since the CNC failed to reach a decision. But was it really sensible to respond to it as "Guardian uses CNC as another cheap excuse to attack Church and its members", and then to claim that it was all made up? "No-one supplied info, it's your take on what u think they believe."

Then Arora had a go at Stephen Bates on Facebook. Bates had complained that Catherine Pepinster, the Tablet editor, had removed from his piece for her a remark that Dr Sentamu is considered a bully by many people - "because of the grief he gave them last time something critical was written about him". Immediately, up pops the Church of England's chief press officer to say "what total nonsense. Sentamu didn't use to complain. I did. I remember complaining to The Tablet after a particularly condescending piece."

To which Bates replied: "Oh, so you complained when you were the Archbishop's press officer, did you, Arun, and it was therefore nothing to do with him?"

If you want real control over the news, I'm afraid, you need to be the Vatican. Even there, the old walls are crumbling, with the proliferation of well-informed gossip sites. The Atlantic's website had a very interesting piece about how Rome is being forced into transparency.

Yet still the old habits linger: "One interview subject insisted that I remove my computer and my tape recorder from his office before we began talking for fear, I suppose, of being surreptitiously recorded. . . People are nervous about communicating anything of substance on the phone or through email.

"'Remember, you can't quote me by name!' one priest told me. 'If you do, they'd send me to Central Africa tomorrow!'"

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