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There may be trouble ahead . . .

31 October 2014

NORMALLY, I start this column with something serious, and put the joke at the end to reward anyone who has struggled through that far. But an exception has to be made for the Christian Legal Centre, who last week put out a press release stating that a named Christian school in Reading was threatened by the anti-extremism measures brought in after the Trojan-horse scandal in Birmingham: "The governors of Trinity Christian School in Reading, Berks, have issued a direct challenge to Nicky Morgan over the way rules introduced in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal are being applied by inspectors," as The Daily Telegraph's version of the press release had it.

"Staff at the school, which caters for pupils up to the age of eight, were warned they are failing to meet the new standards which require schools to actively promote 'British values' of democracy and tolerance.

"It comes less than a year after the school was rated 'good' by Ofsted inspectors and graded 'excellent' for its provision for children's 'spiritual, moral, social and cultural development'. But, following a further inspection earlier this month, carried out because of plans to expand, it was warned that it was being downgraded."

The mention of "plans to expand" prompted one curious bishop to look up the OFSTED report, from which he learned that, at the time of the glowing report, the school had had two pupils, and, at the most recent inspection, three.

Some small, detached, professional part of me rather admires the Christian Legal Centre for its utter shamelessness.

POSSIBLY there is nothing so absurd that it cannot be used as an excuse for atrocity. The most sobering thing I read all week was an interview in the Financial Times with Oleg and Sergey, brothers from Siberia, and Russian volunteers who are fighting with a militia involved in President Putin's invasion of the Ukraine.

Oleg, aged 41, had been "an economist for a well-known multinational" before signing up: "People say we're in a foreign country but we're not. This is our land," he said. "This isn't just material, it's spiritual. It's a fight against the values of the Western World.

"He rattled off a list of American and European wrongdoings, mostly centred around the West's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and advocacy for gay rights. 'We believe in love - love between a man and a woman,' he said."

It will no doubt be reassuring to the women raped by Russian soldiers in this war - as women are raped in all wars - to know that they are thereby being protected from the threat of same-sex marriage.

FOR years now, I have been tagging some Anglican news reports with "schism", but, last week, for the first time started doing so to stories about the Roman Catholic Church as well. It is a very remarkable thing that conservative RCs have been so outraged by the synod on the family that they are starting to wonder out loud whether Pope Francis is not an antipope.

Two small signs: Cardinal George Pell released the text of a homily he would have given at a traditional Latin mass in Rome which contained some meditations on papal authority: "Doctrine does develop, we understand truth more deeply, but there are no doctrinal back-flips in Catholic history. . . Pope Francis is the 266th pope and history has seen 37 false or antipopes," he wrote.

The clear implication is that Pope Francis might be reclassified as the 38th antipope if he keeps up his campaign to humanise the discipline on marriage. This was spelled out completely by the American conservative commentator Ross Douthat, in the New York Times, on Sunday. It contained a popular historical absurdity: "And on communion for the remarried, the stakes are not debatable at all. The [Roman] Catholic Church was willing to lose the kingdom of England, and by extension the entire English-speaking world, over the principle that when a first marriage is valid a second is adulterous, a position rooted in the specific words of Jesus of Nazareth."

I don't suppose for a moment that any pope at the time thought that there was a serious prospect of "losing the kingdom of England" - if Professor Eamon Duffy is right, the popes of the time had every reason to suppose that King Henry's rebellion would subside, as all previous ones against their authority had done.

But historical absurdity has never stopped people from believing what they want to. Douthat's serious point is that "[conservative Catholics] can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the Church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the Church itself resists him."

There probably won't be a schism: conservatives can go into internal exile just as liberals have been forced to do. But there will be fireworks.

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