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The Archbishop’s second pool

07 March 2014

Too modest: Google image of the existing mansion of Archbishop Myers, from the Newark Star Ledger

Too modest: Google image of the existing mansion of Archbishop Myers, from the Newark Star Ledger

THERE have been further developments in the case of Archbishop John Myers, whom the New York Times described last week as the "one-stop shop" for people who dislike the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The paper returned to the story of the Archbishop's retirement home, where "the ongoing renovations . . . will expand the 4500-square-foot home to 7500 square feet, complete with six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a three-car garage, two pools (one outdoor, another small one indoors for exercise), a library, an elevator and a gallery room. Myers is set to retire in 2016."

The real meat of the story came from the Newark Star Ledger (isn't the internet wonderful?), which had a helpful image from Google satellite maps of the house and its substantial outdoor pool, and a lot of interviews with parishioners who are voting with their wallets and refusing to subscribe to the annual diocesan fund-raising campaign, for fear that some of their money would go to fund the $500,000 expansion of the house.

It also quoted Fr John Bambrick, a priest in a neighbouring diocese: "'The average priest lives in two rooms with a bathroom, and the pope lives in a hotel room,' Bambrick said, a reference to Pope Francis' decision to live in a guest house instead of the papal palace. 'I don't understand why a 75-year-old man needs a 7500-square-foot mansion with two swimming pools.'

"Parishioners, Bambrick said, are now faced with a dilemma. By refusing to donate they are most certainly sending a message. But they're also depriving the neediest residents of care.

"'It does hurt the poor,' Bambrick said. 'As priests, that's the hardest thing for us. It doesn't hurt the archbishop. There's no way to hold him accountable. But the poor are held accountable for his bad decisions.'"

It is a really tricky dilemma. The only way out that I can see is to negotiate a house swap with the diocese of Bath & Wells.

The Archbishop's hapless spokesman, by the way, is called Jim Goodness.


THAT is a lovely story because it is so clear. No one is going to waste any sympathy on the Archbishop, although it does make plain what a monumental struggle Pope Francis faces if he is to reform his Church.

More complicated, or at least more interesting, was Boris Johnson's suggestion in the Telegraph that the children of radical Muslim parents be taken into care to stop them from going the same way. The point is that Johnson here is converging on the Richard Dawkins position: "The most important question now is how we prevent other young men, and women, from succumbing to that awful virus: the contagion of radical Islamic extremism.

"Some young people are now being radicalised at home, by their parents or by their step-parents. It is estimated that there could be hundreds of children - especially those who come within the orbit of the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun - who are being taught crazy stuff: the kind of mad yearning for murder and death that we heard from Lee Rigby's killers.

"At present, there is a reluctance by the social services to intervene, even when they and the police have clear evidence of what is going on, because it is not clear that the 'safeguarding law' would support such action. A child may be taken into care if he or she is being exposed to pornography, or is being abused - but not if the child is being habituated to this utterly bleak and nihilistic view of the world that could lead them to become murderers.

"This is absurd. The law should obviously treat radicalisation as a form of child abuse."

Religion as "child abuse", religion as a "virus": this language is straight from Dawkins, who himself retweeted this week some of Winston Churchill's fruitier animadversions: "How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays upon its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in aman as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy."

Johnson does everything he can to make himself more likely to be the leader of the Conservative Party, and appealing to this kind of atavistic contempt and fear is clearly something he thinks will help in that ambition. This, in turn, tells us something about the existence and spread of prejudice against Muslims, because, although fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, a loathsome ideology that inspires killers, it is by no means the only one.

I don't think he would ever advocate taking into care the children of Irish Republicans.

It is an extraordinary thing for a conservative to advocate the destruction of families to protect the state. That Johnson should do it tells us something important about Britain today. It also shows how much journalism can teach us about the world, even when it isn't true at all.

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