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Outside world switches off; anoraks tune in

03 February 2017

Nothing new: The Times’ take on the Bishops’ report

Nothing new: The Times’ take on the Bishops’ report

“COME back when something new happens,” the news desk told one reporter who had a hot take on the House of Bishops’ attitude to­­wards gay people.

I think that the takeaway from the Shared Conversations is that the Archbishop of Can­terbury succeeded in his main aim — to post­pone a decision until it would no longer pro­duce an immediate formal split — but the price has been that the outside world no longer cares at all about the Church’s sexual teaching.

There was no outrage that I could detect from either liberal or conservative papers about a report that cannot really have pleased anyone. But neither can it have upset sig­nificant numbers of people. Lay gay people are not in the slightest affected, since they can get married where they like. Even if you take the Changing Attitude figure of ten per cent of the clergy as gay or lesbian, that is still only about 2000 people, and their sex lives are no longer of pressing interest even to the tabloid press.

There is still some interest in the details for anoraks: this is a document that has been as­­sembled like some great doomed Vasa ship with copious loop­holes on both sides. The re­­peated use of “same-sex attracted” is a way for the con­servatives to pretend that gay people do not really exist. On the other side, the pro­posed demand that or­­dinands “under­stand” the tra­di­tional position falls well short of a re­­quirement that they assent to it — and even “assent” is a remarkably elastic term, as the demand to “assent” to the Thirty-Nine Articles shows.


I GET a certain bitter pleasure out of watching the coverage of the mosque shooting in Que­bec. It turns out that the killer was a white man, an internet troll who specialised in abuse of “Feminazis”, and a fan of Marine Le Pen.

These facts have not been unduly high­lighted in the right-wing media. The Telegraph had a comment piece on the divisions in Canadian society, which noted that there are a lot of Trump voters there; but these are not the divisions that sell papers. It is not difficult to imagine the avalanche of comment pieces had it been a Syrian refugee who had machine-gunned a church congregation.

That disproportion of response is precisely what is meant by bias in the news, but it is not entirely a fruit of editorial judgement and con­scious decisions. It is just as much made up of the expectations of the readership, and the character descriptions that we all have in our heads.

And most of us have a character sheet for pathetic internet trolls (”An anonymous virgin hiding behind a cartoon frog”, as J. K. Rowling slapped down one Twitter troll last week), which doesn’t extend to their putting their inner violence into physical form. This is statistically justified — most of the people who go on and on about the coming apocalyptic war with Muslims would be completely at a loss if it ever broke out — but, every once in a while, statistics mislead.

Of course, it needs only a tiny fraction of all the hate and fear so copiously di­s­played on internet comment sites to leak out into the real world, and we’re running spontaneous re-enactments of pog­roms and terrorist attacks. The boundary be­­tween real life and pom­pous make-believe is very porous. Only a fort­night ago, we were taking ser­iously the vapour­ings of the Revd Dr Gavin Ashen­den (Press, 20 January), for which I now apologise. When I came to read his interview on the website The Conservative Woman — con­ducted by Dr Jules Gomes, who was last year found guilty of conduct unbecoming a clerk in Holy Orders (News, 4 November) — we find him gravely agreeing that Europe will be en­­tirely Muslim in ten years.

The source of this prophecy is Mgr Carlo Liberati, Archbishop Emeritus of Pom­peii — which sounds as if it means something, unless you happen to know what “Emeritus” means, or have ever visited Pompeii.


SIMILAR considerations apply to the Sov­er­eign Order of the Knights of Malta, and the attempt by Roman Catholic reactionaries to pretend that they were, in some sense, a real country. Damian Thompson, in the Spectator blogs, had a quote to bring giggles to the hard­est heart: “It’s like an invasion. Nine hun­dred years of sovereignty wiped out over­night.”

All this would be entirely risible were it not that the row in the Knights was obviously got up and maintained by American money. Pope Francis is the only world leader who could be ranked with Dr Angela Merkel as an enemy of all that President Trump stands for. He will undoubtedly be one of the targets of the Trump regime in the coming year.

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