Review of 2013: Press

20 December 2013

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.

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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 immorality.

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.

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