SO THE mountain laboured and brought forth - a hamster, maybe?
The difficult thing for the national presss about the women-bishops
story was to comprehend the motives of the opponents, and the
politicking behind it.
The outcome, however, was easy enough: "The Church of England
overcame bitter conflict yesterday by finally approving the
consecration of women bishops," as The Times said.
"The move brings to an end four decades of debate and 20 years
of disagreement within the established church as well as breaking
with nearly 2,000 years of tradition.
"It leaves open the possibility of a woman being appointed
before the end of the year, and removes the bar on one being
appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the church and
spiritual leader of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion."
The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian both put
the vote on their front pages. It was squeezed out from the
Mail front by acres of reshuffle coverage, which is,
though shrewd, a sad commentary on the general interest of the
In the tabloids, it was a small story inside: The Sun
got a clever headline about the "C of She", and the Mirror
ran it in a curious double spread with a group of rejoicing women
priests facing the rather more exuberantly dressed singer Rihanna
in a paroxysm of pleasure as she danced in Brazil. It's
extraordinary the way that bodies change with age when picture
editors get at them: a middle-aged woman's head becomes a much
smaller object than a young woman's breast.
John Bingham, in the Telegraph, was hard- working and
awake enough at the end of a long day to pick up a news line from
the exhausted and anodyne news conference given by the Archbishops
after the vote was over and the Synod floor emptied.
"The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have signalled they are
glad the previous attempts to ordain women bishops collapsed
because the new arrangements are more likely to hold the Church
"The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, disclosed that he was
'not disappointed' when previous legislation failed to pass the
General Synod less than two years ago, despite the fact that it
threw the church into its biggest crisis of recent times.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said
the new deal which relies on trust rather than detailed rules was
'much more Christ-like' than what was on the table before."
Yet I have seldom been to an occasion of such historic
significance which felt so unexciting. The result of the vote was
not entirely surprising, and the arguments had haunting echoes of
familiarity. Only the astonishing speech by John Spence really
shook the afternoon - and increased my respect for the Synod
managers' powers of stage management.
THE real surprise had come on Saturday, with Lord Carey's piece
in the Mail in praise of assisted suicide. Here, too, we
saw the recruitment of Jesus to the side of an Archbishop. I
suppose it's an occupational hazard.
"Those arguments that persuaded me in the past seem to lack
power and authority now when confronted with the experiences of
those suffering a painful death," Carey wrote. "It seemed to me
that both the Bible and the character of God laid far more
importance on open-hearted benevolence than on upholding this
By pure coincidence, the present Archbishop of Canterbury had a
piece the same day in The Times: "Compassion is not simply
a feeling; it is a commitment to sharing in the suffering of others
while trying to alleviate it. "True compassion can be shown through
care, through expending time and resources on those suffering, and
through offering hope even in the darkest of circumstances.
"More than 500,000 elderly people are abused every year in the
United Kingdom. Sadly, the majority of such abuse and neglect is
perpetrated by friends and relatives, very often with financial
gain as the main motive.
"Compassion must be extended to these people when we consider
changing the law to accommodate the smaller number of people who
wish for help in ending their lives."
I don't think this is a religious argument, though it will
undoubtedly be dismissed as one. But it is, in the best sense,
high-minded and elitist. It proceeds from the sense that many
people are bad and greedy, and that it is the duty of the law to
restrain these tendencies.
The trouble with that is democracy, which proceeds on the basis
that, if a majority of people are bad and greedy, then it is the
job of the law to accommodate them and of the ethicists to comfort
them. We see this in policies on asylum-seekers., Why not on