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But he’s supposed to be reactionary

21 February 2014


ON BALANCE, the Church should be grateful to Archbishop Vincent Nichols for angering some really powerful people over the weekend. He kept the House of Bishops statement on gay marriage largely out of the papers - though I think there was also a strong sense that the opinion of the House of Bishops was not really of interest to anyone. This is quite worrying for people concerned about the cultural establishment of the Church.

So is the curious coverage of Archbishop Welby's Synod speech. Perhaps it's just me, but the stuff about walking among unburied corpses and standing beside mass graves in South Sudan seemed obviously fascinating. No one, so far as I could see, got any of it into the papers. This may be because people don't care about South Sudan. But I think it is also a measure of uncelebrity. Had it been a comedian, a musician, or even a politician who had talked about such experiences, his or her fame would have illuminated an otherwise dull story.

When there is nothing incongruous or remarkable in an Archbishop's doing something genuinely brave, it's a sign that such behaviour is so unexpected that it doesn't register at all. In part, this is because he travelled without journalists, but that can't be the only reason.

I think that Benedict Brogan, who interviewed Archbishop Nichols for the Telegraph, was a little surprised by the result. Certainly he led with the Archbishop's having learned of his elevation to the cardinalate from his iPad, and not with his attacks on government policy. Even here the argument was presented as one about means, not ends: "His priests, though, tell him the safety net has been removed - 'destroyed' - and that the administration of welfare is 'punitive'. That's why, he says, food banks - 'scandalously' - have become so popular.

"It is noticeable that he does not question the need for reform, either of spending or of social security. His criticism is specific: are the reforms being properly administered, and in particular is there an inherent cruelty in a system that sends people away without support for days on end?

"'I wouldn't for a minute say it's the intended effect, but otherwise why would there be this remarkable increase in people having to come to food banks?' he asks. 'There shouldn't be people living with nothing, in destitution, in a country which is as prosperous as this.'

"He is equally critical of politicians on immigration. He accuses all leaders of talking up fear, and being 'quite distant from the precepts of the gospel. . . Fear is being fed for political gain.' He doesn't name them, but it is clear that in his eyes David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage all have a case to answer."

None of this is terribly surprising to anyone familiar with the Roman Catholic Church in this country, but there is, I think, a general belief that it is only Anglican bishops who are supposed to be Lefties. Roman Catholics - and this is largely the result of the incidental fighting over women priests - are meant to be reliably reactionary by contrast. The Telegraph knows better now.

The other moral is that the next time Archbishop Welby visits Sudan, if he wants his visit to make news, he should make sure to take a selfie with corpses, and tell us which model of phone he used to do it.


OTHERWISE, he could try to ensure that the coffins used in mass graves have the right sponsors. The Mail had a rather depressing story about a woman who died of cancer and chose to be buried in a coffin advertising over-priced coffee: "Her family commissioned a coffin in Costa's trademark burgundy colour with the brand's livery on the side along with the words of her favourite order: 'one shot, extra hot skinny latte'. The coffin was carried into the church to the sound of 'More than a Woman', and, following the service, was carried out to 'Viva Las Vegas'."

It's clear from the photographs that the service took place in church, but the name took a little digging: it was, in fact, Christ Church, Swindon, although that was not her parish. But her parish church could not have had room for the 450 people who turned up for her funeral.


THERE were a couple of rather premature pieces in the Telegraph and The Guardian about who is to be the first woman bishop. The Telegraph (Peter Stanford) went for Rose Hudson-Wilkin, while The Guardian preferred Vivienne Faull. Bear in mind when reading these things that there are at least 20 women who would make good bishops and, to judge by the men appointed, flamboyance and newsworthiness are not what the selectors are looking for in the first place, although evidence of fecundity is always useful.

Of course, the newsdesk's ideal candidate would be a Muslim.

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