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Sex scandals: a basic primer

03 October 2014

THIS week the difference between Anglicans and Roman Catholics was not too theological for the papers: the Anglican sex scandal was gay; the Roman one was straight. Kieran Conry, Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, is someone I have always liked for being straightforward, clever, and interested in people.

Handsome, too; so he probably had to spend a lot of his priestly life fighting off women with a stick. It appears that sometimes his arm grew tired. To be forced to resign because a furious ex-husband blames you for the breakdown of his marriage is one thing; to do so on the grounds that six years ago you were having a relationship with an entirely different woman is really more friendly to the media than even a nice press officer such as Conry once was should be.

There were fewer details in Bishop Alan Wilson's mischievous interview about his book on gay marriage with John Bingham in the Telegraph. The book itself is eminently serious, and I think clearly argued, but the Bishop of Buckingham can never resist a good joke - and seldom a bad one. So he told Bingham: "I think I'll get a range of responses. My favourite response to something I put on my blog was a bishop who said: 'Of course I agree with the more progressive things you say but if I said that I would be crucified.'

"The answer to that, of course, is, well, other people have been - it's an occupational hazard."

The quotes taken from the book were a reminder of just how much chaos can be caused when an insider speaks like an outsider, and says the things that are blindingly obvious to everyone except the parties involved. What caught the headline was his claim that as many as a dozen bishops are gay.

That's not a huge number out of 112, and I can't think of more than four or five. This in turn provoked a furious response from Peter Ould, writing on the Cranmer blog.

Bishop Wilson, in the book, put the knife in with precision and subtlety: "By 2014 there were said to be a dozen or so gay bishops.

"By definition, these men are outstanding priests who have managed to navigate the complexities of a structurally homophobic institution well enough to become its iconic representatives.

"They may well have a bigger investment than others in keeping the closet door tightly shut."

Ould's counter-attack was, first, to accuse the Bishop of wanting to out these men; second, to claim that, if they ever were outed, this would show that Ould was right, since: "Most, if not all, aren't hypocrites at all, and most wouldn't agree with Alan on this subject."

I'm sorry, but this is absurd. Straight bishops, and bishops with children, are generally happy to have their wives and children mentioned in press releases. The suggestion is that they are modelling how a Christian should live.

If there really were no inner conflict attached to maintaining a conservative position, we might expect press releases announcing of the new Bishop: "Cyril is gay and has been happily married to Petra, a lesbian, for 30 years. The couple have two children, four dogs, a goldfish, and 39 Siamese cats."

The people who don't present themselves like this can reasonably be accused of hypocrisy, especially when they commend in others the behaviour (even if it is virtuous) that they will not admit in themselves. 

OF COURSE, the pursuit of hypocrisy can lead to all kinds of journalistic vices. The Sunday Mirror's entrapment of a Conservative minister who sent a picture of his member to someone he thought was a young woman but who was, in fact, a male freelance journalist raises some nasty ethical issues.

I personally think that sending pictures of your equipment to strangers over the internet ought to be a sackable offence in a minister, if only because it shows an astonishing recklessness. But if you take the conventional Guardian view that sex need have nothing to do with morality, and is essentially a kind of neutral transaction between consenting parties, then the minister did nothing wrong. If anything, the newspaper did, by deceiving him as he was hoping to deceive his wife. It will be very interesting to see what IPSO, the new press regulator, makes of the case. 

MEANWHILE, the backlash against the New Atheists continues. The Guardian ran a 4000-word essay from Karen Armstrong arguing that religion is not, in fact, the cause of violence.

Not everyone is convinced. The Mail ran a story from Northern Ireland, where the police were called out because someone was flying an "Arabic" banner. But it turned out not to be a call to jihad but a celebration of a victory at golf: it was the flag of the European Union.

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