THIS has been a year of two new leaders making all the right
enemies and doing astonishingly well from it.
Since this is an Anglican paper, let's start with the Archbishop
of Canterbury, and note how he has largely shrugged off the burdens
of his predecessor, at least in the public eye.
The first big stories about him this year were all - you'll
never believe this - gay marriage. Before his enthronement there
were the scare stories about GAFCON: The Sunday Telegraph
announced that, "In the first major test of his leadership of the
worldwide Anglican Communion, the Most Revd Justin Welby will be
warned that [he] risks alienating millions of traditionalist
Anglicans in Africa and Asia.
"Nine of the Communion's 38 most senior leaders, or primates,
have said bishops in the Church of England were 'wrong' to approve
new rules allowing gay men to become bishops at a time when the
Anglican Church faces 'major challenges of disunity'."
Then there was the embarrassing fiasco of the gay marriage bill.
But after that things went wonderfully well. The Archbishop's
attack on Wonga showed a way to stand up for the poor without
looking lefty. Even The Sun praised that.
He showed later that he had learned the lessons of the
gay-marriage vote and the polls that followed it; the women bishops
vote was a personal triumph. The sense remains that he is a man of
action, who can learn from mistakes. That is a new sort of leader
after the last 20 years.
IT IS also the kind of man who was chosen as Pope. For a man who
prefers to act without ostentation, the new Pope's grasp of the big
public gesture is astonishing.
He started very badly, with the resuscitation of some slanders
about his part in the Argentine "dirty war", but since the moment
of his trip to Brazil he has been on an astonishing roll.
By simply talking to the press for an hour and 20 minutes on the
plane back, almost as if they were human beings, he turned around
the image of the Church. He did not want it to be legalistic, to
persecute gay people ("Who am I to judge?" he asked, and no one
seems to have replied: "the Pope"), or to bang on about sexual
With his astonishing Apostolic Exhortation, he made it clear
that he wanted his Church to stand alongside the poor, oppose
inequality, and fight "the tyranny of money".
Then there were the pictures: his embrace of a man whose face
had been disfigured by disease, and his posing in a "selfie" for a
pilgrim with a cameraphone. There was his phoning up of a priest to
urge the baptism of the child of an unmarried mother. These were
gestures with global reach.
By the end of the year, American right-wingers were denouncing
him as "Marxist", and heavyweight Guardian columnists were
explaining that even atheists should praise this Pope.
It can't last, but I think both men have already changed the way
their offices are seen.