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An Easter serving of Welby

25 April 2014

"I am notthe Pope": headline and photo for the Cole Moreton interview with Archbishop Welby inThe Sunday Telegraph on Easter Day, the second instalment of a two-parter

"I am notthe Pope": headline and photo for the Cole Moreton interview with Archbishop Welby inThe Sunday Telegraph on Easter Day, the second instalm...

THE GUARDIAN and the Telegraph both decided to celebrate Easter with big stories about the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Cole Moreton, in The Sunday Telegraph, had a lot of access - at least he got to travel in the car and produced for the website some lovely videos of the Archbishop and Cardinal Vincent Nichols visiting a day centre in Folkestone. But the guts of the copy was concerned with picking over the two stories left over from last year: homosexuality and money.

The money story was the more interesting one, Kremlinologically, because Archbishop Welby's remarks suggest a real gap opening with the Church Commissioners. He must know that there is nothing they can realistically do about their very indirect investment in Wonga; so it is odd that he should emphasise so much that it's their problem, not his. Even Lambeth Palace is described as "their house".

You can see that this makes political sense, but I'm not sure it's very edifying.

On the gay issue, he continued to circle around his earlier remarks. "'What I said is that I have been in places where that has been the reason given for attacking people,' he says. 'Now, as I said then - and this is where there was misinterpretation - that doesn't mean that you don't do certain things. That would just be giving in to that kind of terror.'"

To this, Moreton responded with exactly the right qualification: "To argue that you should not bless a gay marriage here just in case it might cause a killing over there would be a kind of moral blackmail, wouldn't it?"

Archbishop Welby replied: "It would be. You can't say, 'We're not going to do X, which we think is right, because it will cause trouble.' That's ridiculous."

It seems to me that the Archbishop, though absolutely clear and right here, is missing quite an important twist. If you are an intelligent person with a developed moral sense, you will understand that it is ridiculous to say "We're not going to do X, which we think is right, because it will cause trouble" long before you get to the position of actually being able to say it. And the obvious way to avoid this bind is to decide that we don't think X is right after all - since if we did, we would have to make a difficult choice. The argument from political consequences works far more often in that indirect form than in the clumsy realist version.

's long profile was based around ten or 15 minutes on the phone and a lot of background research. None the less, I think it stood up to Moreton's, in part because there was so little interview involved. If you really want to know what someone is like, don't ask them on the record, and certainly don't ask them about those policy questions on which they can say nothing both honest and new. That's a game to play at press conferences.

THE actual news content of Easter coverage was all in The Sunday Telegraph's examination of Islamist attempts to take over Birmingham schools. If any significant part of this story is true, it really matters, and makes the people defending the status quo look silly at best.

It is true that these stories do nothing for community relations, and feed a general suspicion of Muslims; but that's not really the fault of the people or papers who report them honestly.

Andrew Gilligan has been chipping away at the story of a plot by fundamentalist Muslim parents to take over schools in Birmingham for months now, and he seems to have struck gold with some leaked OFSTED reports on the schools causing concern.

"At Golden Hillock, five Christian students in Year 11 'have to teach themselves' in one GCSE subject, religious education, because the teacher gave all his or her time 'to the students who are doing the Islamic course'.

"Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, an extremist preacher who 'is known to extol . . . the stoning of homosexuals, anti-Semitic views [and is] sympathetic to al-Qaeda', was invited to address students at Park View, the inspectors found."

Sheikh Shady is apparently an Australian convert.

"Though all the schools are supposed to be secular, the inspectors said they were not sufficiently welcoming to those of other faiths or no faith, with students at Park View encouraged to 'begin and end each lesson with a prayer', and loudspeakers used to 'broadcast the call for prayer across the school'.

"The report added that the respected non-Muslim headteacher was marginalised, and female staff at one of the schools were treated in a 'rude and dismissive' way."

It is stories like this that explain why people are frightened of "faith schools". Picking on the poor old C of E is merely a way to evade the hard choices that they lead to.

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