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‘I kept seeing the Pope before me’

04 December 2015

Taking a wider view: one of the more staid photos of Francesca Chaouqui in Panorama magazine

Taking a wider view: one of the more staid photos of Francesca Chaouqui in Panorama magazine

IT IS a great disadvantage in a religious correspondent not to speak Italian. I mean, what on earth could this headline be trying to tell us: “Francesca Chaouqui, una bomba sexy che imbarazza il Vaticano”?

It comes from Panorama magazine, which has added a lot of pictures to help non-native speakers get their drift.

Mrs Chaouqui is on trial in the Vatican for conspiring to leak damaging documents. With her is a Spanish priest, Mgr Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda Antonello Nusca, who claimed in a statement to his lawyers that she pressured him to have sex with her. “I couldn’t give in. I kept on seeing the Pope before me when he spoke of the sanctity of married women and marriage.”

Then he claimed that he had given in in any case. Her response — in The Times at least — was magnificent: “Everything he has stated is false and I have sued him for defamation. I doubt that Father Vallejo Balda would have slept with me because he does not go for women.”


THE other notable Times story was that the Synod had come out in favour of bombing Syria. The Guardian also had this. The Telegraph, oddly, did not. I suppose that it was swamped by the Government’s plan to do the same thing, but it is still an odd reversal of the pattern of recent decades to find an Archbishop of Canterbury keener on war than the leader of the Labour Party.

In The Guardian: “The Church of England has effectively backed military intervention by the UK government in Syria by unanimously passing a motion which implied support for the use of armed force in establishing safe routes for refugees, with the personal endorsement of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“Justin Welby spelled out that the motion, debated at the C of E Synod in London, essentially committed the Church to supporting military action. ‘The implications are enormous,’ he said, adding that he backed the motion.”

I feel this ought to have been very much bigger news, but then the Archbishop has had a generally bad time since his reaction to the Paris bombings.

Matthew Parris (who opposes the extension of the war) had a go at him in The Times. “The Paris atrocity has not occasioned in me any new doubts, but Justin Welby’s remarks have caused me to doubt Archbishop Welby. Speaking on behalf of God, I have to ask the Archbishop: ‘Justin, where are you in all this?’”

I think this is unfair to the Archbishop, but it is also memorably unfair, and in this business being memorable is the quality that really counts.


THE Ven. Karen Gorham, the Bishop-designate of Sherborne, was exposed in the Mail on Sunday — they wish.

Actually, their story about her upbringing in a naturist family had to be contented with a tasteful sepia-tinted photograph of a naked blonde holding a football in the air at a nudist gathering, while an admiring, largely male, audience admires her skill, technique — something about her, at any rate.

There is something wonderfully innocent and old-fashioned about this photograph, taken presumably some time in the ’50s, when you could instantly spot the bishop in a nudist camp by his gaiters. The same quality attaches to Jonathan Petre’s story.

“It's enough to make Adam and Eve blush — the Church of England’s latest woman bishop is a strong advocate of naturism who stripped off in her youth.

“The Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Venerable Karen Gorham, 51, was brought up in a naturist family, though she gave up going nude on beaches in her teenage years.

“The unmarried Archdeacon, 51 — who was named by Downing Street on Thursday as the next Bishop of Sherborne — has even written a controversial treatise defending the practise of disrobing in public.”

I just adore “a controversial treatise”. It makes it sound like something from Tracts for the Times, although it seems not to have made any noise on its publication.

But what really makes this piece fit perfectly into the lost arcadia of Carry On films is the final quote from the Revd George Curry, “a vicar in Newcastle and former chairman of the conservative Church Society, [who] said the Archdeacon’s comments made her unsuitable to be a bishop.

“‘Wandering around with nothing on goes against traditional teaching,’ he said. ‘Except for medical emergencies, nakedness should be kept between man and wife.’”

Even that seems to ignore the dangers of modern technology. Mr Curry should consider that it is all too easy for a man and his wife, decently naked in the dark, to actually see one another’s bodies now that many Christian homes are equipped with electric lighting.

Is this a sight which might itself constitute a medical emergency; or is that what happens when you try to defuse una bomba sexy?

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