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The unsung art of not making the headlines

19 May 2017


Doubtful: Pope Francis visits Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, on the centenary of the apparitions. On the journey back he told reporters other apparitions in Medjugorje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had little or no merit

Doubtful: Pope Francis visits Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, on the centenary of the apparitions. On the journey back he told reporters other apparitio...

NONE of the secular papers covered the schismatic consecration in a Newcastle sub­urb, although the phrase itself seems to fall straight out of an early A. N. Wilson novel. I found it inspiring, myself, that the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa, formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa, a Church which stoutly de­­fended apartheid for so long, should now have adapted President Obama’s slogan: “Be the Bishop you want to see in the world.”

Nor was there much coverage of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Jerusalem, though I think that is a measure of its success. The purpose of such a visit is to avoid all poss­ible headlines, and, apart from the embar­ras­sing suggestion that President Trump might bring peace to the Middle East, Arch­bishop Welby seems to have succeeded spectacularly.

Harriet Sherwood, in The Guardian, did her best, but her final report was very much a chronicle of news averted: “Despite the archbishop’s well founded pre-trip anxieties, the carefully calibrated visit was hailed a success. Among almost 80 meetings in 12 days were hour-long sessions with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and King Ab­­dullah of Jordan. The talks, which focused on the prospects of a new round of peace talks, were frank and surprisingly positive.”

I do wish, though, that I had been along to hear his off-the-record briefings, which are wonderfully indiscreet and free from cant.


HE SHOULD learn from Pope Francis, who seems to have enjoyed himself on the flight back from Fatima when someone asked him about Medjugorje. Reuters had the best re­­port: “‘The (commission) report has its doubts. I personally am more nasty. I prefer the Madonna as mother, our mother, and not a Madonna who is the head of a telegraph office, who every day sends a message at such-and-such an hour. This is not the Mother of Jesus,’ he said.

“‘Who thinks that the Madonna says, “Come tomorrow at this time, and at such time I will deliver a message to that vision­ary?”’ he said.”

The AP report had “naughty” for the word that Reuters translated as “nasty”; the Crux website had “mean”. AP added the succulent detail that the report he was talking about had been held up by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where Cardinal Müller wanted further work done by his own staff before releasing it.

Pope Francis also told the journalists that he has asked the Madonna to forgive him “my poor taste in choosing people”. I wonder what his subordinates feel when he says he has been keeping them in his prayers.


THE urge to believe is nicely illustrated by a story in the Daily Express of the Zimbabwean pastor who met with misfortune and three crocodiles. In the Express’s version: “Jonathan Mthethwa was killed by three crocodiles as he carried out a religious demonstration in Zim­babwe. Shocked witnesses said the clergy­man had ‘prayed the whole week’ before the stunt went tragically wrong.

“He had also fasted in the lead-up to the attempted miracle, which was inspired by a biblical tale of Jesus walking on water during a storm.”

This is notable for two things. The first is that it is a very much more feeble retelling of the original story, which ran: “A pastor who tried replicating the biblical story of Jesus Christ walking on water has been eaten by crocodiles. The pastor, identified as Jonathan Mthethwa, of the Saint of the Last Days Church, tried the demonstration at a river known as Crocodile River. Mthethwa, from a church in White River Mpumalanga died Saturday morning trying to demonstrate the biblical miracle to his congregants.”

The second thing, of course, is that it is not true. The original version is more stuffed with verisimilitudinous details than the Express one, although the author went a little far with the claim that there was nothing left of Pastor Mthethwa but his sandals and his underpants. I can believe in hubristic charlatan pastors, but not in a crocodile that knows how to remove the underpants from its breakfast.

The website Christian Today, which Ruth Gledhill now edits, ran the story as a fake. But some­­thing American called The Christian Post ran it as true, alongside such Express-worthy headlines as “Evidence for the Bible’s Tower of Babel discovered”, “Islamic ideology flour­ished because Christians deny Biblical ortho­doxy, Pastor warns” and “10 pro-LGBT TV programmes that were ratings disasters”.


MEANWHILE, Prince William was awarded a prize for being “Straight ally of the year” at the British LGBT awards.

There is a sense in which the sexual mores of the royal family are the clearest example of lay governance within the Church of England — as they have been, Roman Catholics would claim, ever since its foundation. One job of the Church is to sanctify what the royals do, since, in modern times, they have stayed bang in the middle of behaviour that the middle classes consider acceptable.

So the acceptance of this award marks an­­other sign that the Church repels people when it appears, and acts, hostile to gay people.

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