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Ecclesiastical knifings, north and south

17 March 2017

Torsten Schneider/Markus Koljonen

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

THE débâcle of the Philip North story was played pretty straight by the papers. The only interest came in the Daily Mail’s coverage, which fell between two pigeonholes.

On the one hand, his views of the hierarchy were pretty much in line with the paper’s: “He said that working-class people were frozen out of the economy and suffered shrinking wages, but ‘they are routinely accused of xenophobia, or worse, when they express concerns about changes imposed upon their communities by those who live far away.’

”Bishop North accused the Church of following an agenda set ‘by academics, the moneyed élites, and certain sections of the secular media’ and being out of touch with the concerns of working people who voted in favour of Brexit.”

I don’t suppose the Mail will ever quote so much from a Church Times article again — that is where all these quotes were lifted from (Comment, 2 December).

So he might have fitted the persecuted traditionalist pigeonhole were it not that his objections to women clergy are repulsive to the Mail’s readership even when they are comprehensible.

The broadsheets treated the story as a simple victory for the women clergy. Only The Yorkshire Post noticed that the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, said that the fight would continue: “The continued possibility of traditional Catholics being chosen as diocesan bishops was an integral part of that settlement: the House of Bishops Declaration imposes no stained-glass ceiling on mutual flourishing,” his quote ran.

I would not put money on the proposition that this is still true.


THE other ecclesiastical knifing of the week, at Exeter Cathedral, got even less attention. Only The Daily Telegraph noticed it at all. It is another story that would repay a great deal of digging; the financial position of some cathed­rals is obviously now horribly precarious, whatever the politics of the attack on the Dean.


A LITTLE to the south was an even stranger story, which appeared as a brief news item in The Times: a Plymouth man has been barred from all churches or places of worship for five years as part of an Antisocial Behaviour Order.

According to The Times, this was because he had been “mocking Christianity”, but this turns out to be untrue. The Plymouth Herald reported (and a few clicks on YouTube con­firmed) that he was actually making specific allegations against an independent Pentecostal church, both about their theology and the sexual conduct of the leadership.

It is clear that he was obsessed with the case: “Skynner has bombarded the Herald for nine months with long emails making allega­tions, with links to YouTube.

“He also sent messages to officers and churches and urged recipients to pass messages on.

“The defendant urged the press to cover his trial, so convinced he was that he was expos­ing wrongdoing.”

He may well be a crank. But this was not a general campaign against Christianity, or against all religion. And the punishment — eight weeks in jail, the confiscation and de­­struction of his computers, and a five-year ban from any place of worship — seems out of proportion to any offence.

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the magistrates have sentenced him for an of­­fence, perhaps “religiously aggravated troll­ing”, which does not actually exist on the statute book. Had he been a street preacher calling the prophet Muhammad a paedophile, Christian Concern would have been all over the case as one of religious liberty. But given who his targets actually were, the case may languish unnoticed.


OVER at The Spectator, Damian Thompson had a long piece denouncing the Pope, which was full of the kind of authoritative statements we would expect from a man who predicted the fall of the Church of England as a result of women priests, and for years assured us of the success of the Ordinariate.

“It is no secret in Rome that certain car­dinals who voted for Francis are now worried that he is leading the Church towards schism, and that he must therefore be stopped. There are many more than a dozen of them and, though they may not yet be ready to act upon their concerns, they would like this pontificate to end sooner rather than later.”

He then goes on to explain — and credit here for honesty — that there is little chance that any such plot will succeed. But he ends: “Many priests have absolutely no intention of giving communion to couples in irregular marriages. So the couples are left wondering who is right: their priest or their Pope? The conditions for a schism are there, for those with an eye to see them.”

And this is just ludicrous. It leaves out entirely the core of the matter, which is the couple’s own judgement of whether they are truly married. If they believe they are, they will take as little notice of their priest’s views as they do of the official line on contra­ception.

Still, it is not quite up to the Daily Express story that Wikileaks is too scared to reveal, apparently: the CIA is in possession of a time machine built by the Vatican.

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