ALL credit to the ingenious Jonathan Petre at The Mail on Sunday for unearthing a letter in support of Bishop George Bell from Lord Carey, who would doubtless have been horrified if any of his predecessors had weighed in on his running of the Church. Some credit, though is due to Carey, who wrote the letter privately, to the bishop’s niece, rather than phoning up a journalist with his opinion.
Still, it was a strong one: “In a move that will embarrass his former colleagues, Lord Carey has added his weight to protests that the diocese’s investigation into the claims had been flawed and unjust, saying an individual had been crushed by a ‘powerful organisation’.
“He said in a letter to Bishop Bell’s niece Barbara Whitley that he had been ‘frankly appalled by the way the church authorities have treated his memory’.
“He said: ‘Your uncle was a man whose contribution to this country and the Church was outstanding.
“‘He was without question one of the greatest church leaders of the 20th century.’”
It’s wonderful thing that Lord Carey should now see Bishop Bell as a Christian hero. I’m less certain that he would have taken this view in wartime, when everything about the former Archbishop’s record and character suggests he’d have seen the strategic bombing of Germany as necessary, and not terribly controversial. That was, after all, the majority, conventional view, held by large numbers of decent people.
And it has to be said that Lord Carey’s trust in the essential goodness of Bishop Peter Ball — another aspect of his deference to Establishment views — was one of the things that gave the diocese of Chichester its present equivocal reputation.
Defenders of Bishop Bell suppose that his condemnation was motivated, above all, by a wish to avoid further accusations of an Establishment cover-up. On the other hand, if Carey’s instinct for the conventional wisdom remains sound, this suggests that Bishop Bell still enjoys a great deal of sympathy.
OVER in Rome, a different child-abuse story plays out. Cardinal Pell, a man who makes enemies as fast as he tells his rosary, is hated (however inconsistently) by at least three groups of people: liberal Catholics, for his reactionary views on sexual matters and global warming; child-abuse campaigners who believe that, at the very least, he was insufficiently concerned about the problem when he had pastoral responsibility; and, finally, the old corrupt Vatican, whose finances he is meant to be cleaning up.
Two of these strands came together in a Sydney Morning Herald interview with Francesca Chaouqui, the “bomba sexy” who was to be tried for leaking Vatican secrets from another reforming commission. The Sunday Times reports that her trial has been quietly postponed indefinitely now, but that’s another story.
She told the Australian paper that it was alleged by his enemies that Pell had got himself into the Vatican so as to dodge the Royal Commission looking into child abuse in Australia. “No one can touch him now. The cardinal is serene; Australia is far away.”
I like this as an example of just how poisonous the gossip of the Vatican can be. There can hardly be anyone who sincerely believes that it is wrong to reform the Vatican, and just as wrong to pursue child abusers, but the two can be combined to score points in a manner from which even the Daily Mail might shrink.
THE most significant story of the week was covered only by The Times, as far as I could see. I hope I’m wrong. But otherwise you had to go the Facebook pages of experts on British Islam such as Yahya Birt or Innes Bowen, or else read The Guardian’s leaders, to discover the weight of support given in British mosques to Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, because Taseer had criticised the blasphemy laws and their application to persecute Christians.
Qadri was hanged on Monday of last week, and his killing provoked a huge demonstration in Rawalpindi. Also much support here: the Times story, by Faisal Hanif, mentioned one imam in Bradford and one in Bolton: “Imam Muhammed Asim Hussain, a young scholar from Bradford who has more than 135,000 followers on Facebook, called the killing of Qadri ‘a dark day in the history of Pakistan’.
“Mr Hussain, who is a prominent speaker on the lecture circuit within mosques, also said: ‘Ghazi Mumtaz was wrongfully executed and martyred in the way of Allah, when he did what he did in honour of the Prophet.’”
In addition to this The Guardian mentioned one of the two largest mosques in Birmingham, and a mosque in Dewsbury. Yahya Birt added a horrible story of taking his 14-year-old son to Friday prayers and hearing Qadri praised.
As Birt’s involvement shows, the mosques involved are mostly Barelwis or Sufis — exactly the kind of Islam that is supposed to be peaceful and apolitical. This is a horrible story. There will be more.