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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.