NOT a lot of Anglican news this week, but some interesting cracks running out in the schismatic edges of the Roman Catholic Church. The comparison with the way Anglicans do things is instructive.
Some weeks ago, Church House, Westminster, put out a press release about guidance for dealing with gender-identity issues in schools (News, Press, 17 November): a really dull subject that got a great deal of coverage for the suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury was entirely onside with small boys’ dressing up in tiaras. The press release was in clear English, and drew attention to the most sensational part of the document.
By contrast, when the Pope announced that it was now official teaching that some Roman Catholics married after divorce might receive communion (Comment, 7 April), no one noticed at all for four months — even though this is a genuinely sensational story, and one where there is no shortage of people to give quotes about how the end of the world is approaching as a result.
But, then, the Pope’s announcement was made in Latin, in four lines buried in a routine document 1000 pages long, which is issued every quarter, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. And all it said was that the Argentinian bishops’ interpretation of footnote 351 in last year’s document, Amoris Laetitia, was correct, and to be treated as part of the magisterium. Even the specialist correspondents missed that one. Not so the heresy-hunters on the Catholic Right.
The point about the magisterium in this sense is that Roman Catholics are obliged to obey it and to be loyal, unless they are theologians. Even then, they may not complain publicly. This was completely obvious to traditionalists when they believed that the magisterium was in their hands. Now, of course, it is outrageous.
I followed some Catholic Herald links off Twitter, and found myself in a world of hatreds familiar from the Anglican schism: “Are the Vatican Rats turning on each other?” one blog asks. One characteristic of this mindset is the use of the demotic to refer to opponents, while your own beliefs are garlanded in flowery language. So, remarried Roman Catholics become “couples in a state of permanent and public adultery who are not committed to living in complete continence”.
The same Twitter posting recommends Dictator Pope, a book by a pseudonymous author. I could not resist. When I got to its Amazon page there were links to other books purchased by people who had liked this one. One click brought me to an originally Russian book, The Mosque of Notre Dame, blurbed as “A resistance movement thriller set in a sharia dystopia”, which also appealed to people who liked The Political Pope: How Pope Francis is delighting the liberal Left; No Go Zones: How sharia law is coming to a neighbourhood near you; and, of course, Islamophobia: Thought crime of the totalitarian future.
THE algorithm that offered me those books — people who liked this thing also disproportionately liked some other thing — is central to the digital economy. It is what drives purchase recommendations on Amazon; it decides what should be next on your newsfeed in Facebook; and it is what suggests videos on YouTube, where they will also be played automatically if you are not careful.
It is one of the recognised drivers of radicalism, since each successive step must deliver a slightly greater emotional charge. And here we can watch it shaping an ethnocentric and authoritarian form of popular Christianity which is quite out of control of the men at the top.
THE GUARDIAN has sacked Giles Fraser, its “Loose Canon” columnist. There will be no room for him in the tabloid redesign, which is due on 15 January, and he says that he was not offered anything on the web. He sounded confident, even for him, about the future, however; so I think it’s safe to say that the column will be reappearing somewhere else without a break. The decision leaves the paper with no regular religious feature or comment space, although it does have a full-time religious correspondent in Harriet Sherwood. The tradition of the godslot, though, is dwindling quietly away.
IN A year that has been largely full of gloomy stories about the media, I found one genuinely inspiring one from Hong Kong. Three people have kept a fornightly free magazine afloat for 22 years, after it was founded to serve the interests of the 190,000 Filipino workers there.
Most of them are domestic servants, who get one day off a week, if that. But, in its lifetime, the magazine has trained 100 of them in news reporting.
Many of the stories are accounts of terrible exploitation: conditions are, of course, far worse in the Gulf; but very bad things can happen to maids in Hong Kong. But there is a note of empowerment in the fact that these stories are reported at all, and that women have learned how to write and research them. Good journalism is not just a luxury to be enjoyed by the powerful and educated.