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Andrew Brown: Progress in the Communion, no one cares

13 October 2017


THE news that the Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden had been consecrated as a bishop by one of the traditionalist groupuscules in Canada (News, 6 October) had in fact been done four years ago was utterly delightful.

He did not, it appears, do anything with his little-known identity. That would have led to legal complications. But he treasured it.

I like to think of him popping into a quiet phone booth to put on his episcopal cincture, and then, for a while, just standing there radi­ating episcopacy, before folding the costume neatly and putting it away. Then he would re-­emerge and wander unremarked but for his sad, brave smile among the crowd of ordinary Chaplains to the Queen. No one must ever know that he was actually a hero of the resist­ance. . .

Then, I suppose, the liberals abolished phone booths.


I FOUND absolutely nothing in the news­papers about the outcome of the Primates’ Meeting when it happened. Not even the demonstration against it seems to have been noticed. So much for my powers of prediction last week (Press, 6 October).

But the lack of interest is, I think, a triumph for the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is not ironic. What he has brokered is such a com­monsense resolution of the problem, such a straightforward recognition of reality, that it took a remarkably skilled and hard-working political operator to bring it off. It constitutes the best possible recovery from the schism he inherited.

For one thing, the world has stopped notic­ing, or caring, that the “world-wide Anglican Communion” exists. This is progress. The constant effort of pretence, the constant guff about being “spiritual leader of 80 million Anglicans”, must have been a huge drag on resources that could have been otherwise employed.

The three big GAFCON Provinces have unequivocally split away, and those that remain have unequivocally decided not to go. Whatever you call the new arrangement, it is something substantially different from the one that Lord Williams spent so many years trying to preserve.

The old make-believe, if it did nothing else, provided an opportunity for 20 years of stories about how it might split, and these were damaging to the reputation of Christianity, and of Anglicanism, even if no one could ever explain why.

What remains is a framework for co-operation, which is obviously a good thing, but in which individual Churches may set their own policies about sexual behaviour. There is a penalty still for solemnising same-sex marriages, but it is time in a sin bin, to use the ice-hockey term. The Provinces punished will be readmitted when their time is up, with­out “repentance” being demanded.

I am, parenthetically, very glad not to have to explain to a news desk why it is deemed a punishment not to sit on a committee discuss­ing ecumenical relations. Gay marriage will sweep the Communion once word gets out.


AND so to a dead bishop. There was what looks like a significant scoop in The Mail on Sunday, which reports that the inquiry into the handling of the allegations against Bishop George Bell (News, 25 November 2016) will conclude that these were flawed and unfair: “Insiders said the review, commissioned last year after criticism of the Church’s handling of the case and which was led by top lawyer Lord Carlile, is believed to be critical of the investigation, although it does not rule on the bishop’s guilt or innocence.”


I DOUBT that there are many keen students of the Norwegian tabloid press in the national papers here, which means they have missed an unusual tale of press ethics. The Oslo tabloid Verdens Gang uncovered a paedophile site on the dark web, running on a server in Sydney, Australia.

Further investigation disclosed that this was actually operated by the Queensland police, who had taken over the account of the real founder after he was arrested, and were now collecting as much information as possible about the users, posting illegal pictures them­selves to prove that they were not police: that had to be done every month as a precaution against police infiltration put in place by the original operator. After a year of this, and numerous arrests, the site was shut down.

At this point, Verdens Gang reported the arrests and the police operation, but with a twist. Other papers, among them The Guard­ian, reported it as a triumph for law enforce­ment.

VG’s angle was now that the police had been violating the human rights of the children whose pictures they posted to entrap the abusers. This was also the line taken by Am­­nesty International, which is hard to credit.


IT WOULD qualify as the silliest and least re­­sponsible story of the week, were it not for the decision by the events committee of Balliol College JCR to ban the Christian Union from the freshers’ fair this year.

Fatuous, nasty, self-important, elitist, and silly-clever, it stands in the finest traditions of Oxford student politics. I can’t wait for Boris Johnson to condemn it.

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