“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.