YOU would have thought that a story about 45 middle-aged women
who don't have sex would be a hard sell to the newspapers; but wrap
it up in a trend and all at once it looks like news.
I found five pieces on the rise on vocations among Roman
Catholic nuns, all presumably sparked by the same press release
from the Catholic Communications network. It was interesting to see
who had put in the most work and got the most understanding out of
The first thing is that only one paper talked to an actual nun.
Four of the papers had quotes from 29-year-old Theodora Hawksley, a
former post-doc who had joined the Congregation of Jesus, and who
made the religious life sound extremely attractive to sane and
clever people. But she's still only a postulant, having joined in
As the press release puts it, she is "making the first steps
towards making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience".
The Independent didn't even have Ms Hawksley, and
contended itself with recycling the press release. It did, however
have the most sensational spin on the numbers: "The number of women
going into convents has risen six-fold in the past decade, and is
at its highest in 25 years according to new figures released by the
Catholic Church." That would be from seven to 45.
The Mail also ran a recycled press release, adding one
interesting detail, that 14 of the 45 women who joined last year
were under the age of 30.
The Times picked up on the same figure and the same
quotes, but added a second paragraph inaccuracy all of its own:
"The number of women in Britain becoming nuns has reached a 25-year
high, according to figures released by the Catholic Church.
"Last year 45 women took their holy vows, three times more than
in 2009 and up from an all-time low of just seven in 2004.
"The figures have been steadily rising for the past decade and
reflect, experts say, the 'gap in the market for meaning in our
culture' which the religious life offers."
For "experts" read "Fr Christopher Jamison", who is credited
with the quote everywhere else; and for "took their holy vows"
(which they didn't) read "entered convents".
The Telegraph and The Guardian both put some
effort into their reports, and were rewarded with real
illumination. John Bingham managed to keep the canned Theodora
Hawksley quotes to the very last paragraph, and before then got in
the relevant statistics showing that things have, in fact, changed
since the turn of the century, and some explanation as to why this
"Under Fr Jamison, the Catholic Church has adopted tactics once
more associated with Evangelical protestant groups - setting up a
network of small groups for young Catholics to discuss their plans
for life on university campuses or through dioceses, as well as
running youth festivals and even a mass rally at Wembley Arena
earlier this year. The message will be underlined in parishes
across the country this weekend on what is now known as Vocations
"The work of nuns in settings as far removed from the
traditional Sound of Music image has also played a key
role in making life in religious communities more appealing to
"One group of nuns based in London have become key players in
the Government's drive to tackle modern slavery, caring for
trafficked women rescued from brothels, even routinely accompanying
the police on raids."
The Guardian, meanwhile, got in a proper interview, by
Rachel Williams, with the tireless Ms Hawksley, and one of her
colleagues, Sister Naomi Hamilton, who has been four years in the
Order. Williams got some lovely detail out of the convent kitchen:
"The nuns take it in turn to cook, sharing a meal at 7 p.m. each
"Older members tend to cook 'the kind of food my grandparents
eat', Hawksley says (without complaint), while the younger women
serve up more pasta dishes. The kitchen shelves reveal a mix of
styles that includes Slow Cooking for Yourself and Delia
Smith's 1976 classic Frugal Food, plus a Nigella Lawson
and a Nigel Slater.
"Hawksley, who has cooked rabbit pie, enchiladas, and falafel
for the group ('I'm kind of experimenting on them - they're
tremendously game'), keeps her Marcella Hazan, Thomasina Miers and
Allegra McEvedy upstairs."
A LITTLE further up the hierarchy, The New York Times
had a piece on the pre-emptive fight-back against Pope Francis's
encyclical on climate change.
"Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the Pope
to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr Boehner should
prepare for some uncomfortable moments.
"I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the Pope to speak
to Congress," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the
National Catholic Reporter. "Can you imagine what the
Republicans will do when he says: 'You've got to do something about