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The C of E just got Googled

20 May 2016

Search engine: the front page of Monday’s Times

Search engine: the front page of Monday’s Times

IT WOULD be nice to write a column where the religious coverage was more about money than sex, but I don’t know if it’s possible. Let’s try.

Start with The Times’s splash on Monday: “Millions of pounds put into Google by the Church”. This was a perfectly straightforward and merciless thumping, of the sort that is simply impossible to avoid if you run a successful pension fund while preaching about the evils of serious money.

“The Church of England is investing millions of pounds in Google despite its promise to confront companies that are accused of tax avoidance.

“The Church also paid one of its executive commissioners £463,000 last year, almost six times the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stipend and about 20 times the minimum pay for a parish priest.”

I thought that the second paragraph was the most squirm-making, because of the way it was defended: “A spokesman said that Mr Joy’s remuneration was within the Church’s policy to speak out against bonuses worth more than 100 per cent of basic salary, and that it was comparable with similar roles in the market.” So it’s all right to give him a £200,000 bonus when his salary is only £246,000 a year to start with. Everyone knows that Google is cheating on tax, morally if not legally, but the amount paid to the director of investments does come as rather a shock.

All the rest was just well-done routine work for a story like this. Find the Church Commissioners claiming virtue? Check: “Caroline Spelman MP said in February that ‘it is just a year since the Archbishop of Canterbury said that a good economy is based on “the principle that you pay the tax where you earn the money”.’”

Find that the Church Commissioners have done nothing about it? Check. “A spokesman for the Church Commissioners confirmed yesterday that the Commissioners had not engaged with Google over its tax affairs.”

That was a really properly executed raid, besides being another demonstration of the fact that you cannot ensure from your press release how the story will be reported, unless you release the story that people want to write.

MR JOY, the well-named and well-paid director of investments, pales compared with the Revd Robert Parker, who made it into the Telegraph’s Lifestyle section as “Britain’s richest vicar”. This was not the customary story of a rich man that repenteth. He started off as a priest, but lost his licence, his job, and his marriage in the 1980s when he was sacked from a job in Church House after an extramarital affair.

Only after that did he start making money. He married again, borrowed to buy a care home, and then some more of them, until he had a business that he sold for £43 million.

I hesitate to draw the moral of this. He invested part of the proceeds in seven country houses, one of which he is now selling. Yet still something was missing from his life. “He’s reluctant to play the martyr, but admits that his fellow clergymen were not as compassionate towards his human failings as their professions might dictate: ‘It was painful to find that colleagues could be extremely critical, lack understanding or compassion.’”

The then Archbishop of Wales gave him a licence (one assumes, non-stipendiary), and his only problem was that one of the houses he owns could not be used as a country retreat because it was so successful as a site for holding weddings at weekends. So he’s selling it off, and keeping only a six-bedroom cottage in the grounds.

I’m not sure I can actually believe this story. Perhaps it is just a romcom treatment of the Book of Job.

BUT, then, the world is full of strangeness these days. Who would have thought to find Lord Carey shoulder to shoulder on a barricade with Canon Giles Fraser (and Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin)? Yet here they all are, urging us towards Brexit.

Lord Carey came out for what the Mail called “Brexodus” in a piece of quite astonishing incoherence: “Those of us who are older have known a time when the UK was entirely independent — like most countries in the world.

“But to imagine life outside the EU is not an act of nostalgia and a return to the 1950s and 1960s, but simply a case of looking around the world at countries like Canada, Australia, and indeed the United States.”

What other reason could there be for our being not as rich, as powerful, or even nearly as large as Canada except for the machinations of those dreadful Eurocrats?

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