BEFORE we get to the serious stuff, it's worth noting a tic that
The Times has.
Every year or so, it runs a story saying that the Roman Catholic
Church is considering having married clergy. All that's needed is
for some respectable clergyman to point out that this is only a
matter of discipline, not doctrine. The Times's own search
engine (not the most reliable measure) gives me 60 mentions of
"married priests" over the past ten years.
Some have a certain poignancy: "Archbishop Keith O'Brien
yesterday strongly denied that he had said anything against the
Church's teaching on mandatory celibacy, homosexuality, or women
priests at a mass held days after his appointment as a cardinal"
(2003). Whatever happened to him, one wonders.
Some have been unjustly forgotten: "Radical proposals to reunite
Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of
the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has
learnt" (2009). Whatever happened to them?
And whatever happened to the "400,000 former Anglicans worldwide
seek immediate unity with Rome", which was how The Times
covered the Ordinariate?
Now we have James Bone in Rome, producing the news that "The
Vatican has opened the door to the possibility of married priests,
a move that would go against an established Church tradition.
"Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who will be the No. 2 in the Roman
Catholic Church when he becomes Secretary of State next month,
declared that the priestly vow of celibacy derived from an age-old
rule but was not Catholic dogma."
The whole point about this was that the interview was given when
he was just the nuncio in Venezuela. Had he said it as Secretary of
State, it would have been a real story. But nuncios are still
allowed to tell obvious truths in public, even if it is not
AND so to Melanie Phillips's last column in the Daily
Mail, which was, by an astonishing coincidence, almost the
same as the one she was writing 12 years ago. It is the fate of any
successful columnist to turn into a karaoke act of her younger
self. That is what the business wants: predictable variation. But
Phillips became just a little too predictable, even for the
"Looking back through my cuttings files, I see that my second
column after I started writing on this page in December 2001 was on
the subject of multiculturalism. . ."
And no doubt it contained a paragraph very similar to one that
appeared this week: "It is, in short, a mad reversal of truth and
justice that ultimately would destroy western society - a fate that
risks being brought about not by Leftist rabble-rousers or Islamic
fanatics, but by sanctimonious idiots like Nick Clegg."
There was a wonderfully self-important sign-off: "I will
continue to champion the values in which we all believe and to
stand up for truth, justice and the truly powerless against those
who would destroy them."
WHATEVER you think of Phillips's argument about the
niqab, this was far less forceful than Yasmin Alibhai
Brown, arguing the same case in The Independent:
"That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask - all
affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and
society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced
violently by Taliban, Saudi, and Iranian oppressors. They have no
place in our country. So why are so many British females sending
out those messages about themselves?
"We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within.
Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous, and
suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so
they can't be recognised, it is for Muslims, too.
"This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark
forces here and also in Islamic countries. The clothes symbolise an
attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking
for liberty, autonomy, democracy, and gender equality."
Yet, reading this, I find myself slightly less
anti-burqa than I was before. This is because both sides
in the debate talk as if there was, or ought to be, one proper way
to be Muslim. And that, in turn, tends to make Islam look stranger
and more alien, because in all the cultures and religions with
which we are familiar, argument and dissent is important.
Thus the existence of fierce arguments within the Muslim
communities tends to make Islam less alien. You could not have
these arguments without a few people on the wrong side, whose
facelessness makes more vivid the humanity of their opponents.