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Press: Getting dangerously close to the sell-by date

08 December 2017


THERE are a couple of important stories about the purpose and future of the non-religious press buried in the news this week. The first is the latest financial results from the Daily Mail group, which show the continuing collapse of print advertising revenue. DMGT, the holding company, made a profit of £200 million last year; this year it was a loss of £100 million. Shares dropped 25 per cent at the news.

If even the Daily Mail can no longer make money, we are in a new world entirely.

It was the Mail, also, that showed how the power of the print press is really exercised. The day after the collapse of the Brexit negotiations, and with them any realistic belief that this will end otherwise than in humiliating catastrophe, the front page had three stories: paedophiles, the singer Lily Allen, and whether strawberry jam is safe after its sell-by date. News? What news?


NO ONE but The Sunday Times seems to have noticed the proposed Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) ordinations in east London. I’m sure the specialists have, but for newsdesks on the nationals, the story is over. The killer line in Nicholas Hellen’s story is that Bishop Lines said: “the group had around 1000 members and wants to have 25 churches by 2025 and 250 by 2050.” In terms of numbers, that is even smaller than 1001 Maniacs.

There was something more for insiders in the story later, where the Revd Lee McMunn of the AMiE complained that one of its members “was blocked from ordination in the C of E because he expressed his conviction that every church leader should believe and teach that Jesus is the only way to be saved”.

In other words, he wants everyone outside the sect purged. Of course he does. This is what its members really believe. But the Church of England isn’t, and has never been, wholly Calvinist; so there’s no point in ordaining men who believe that it is, or perhaps even those who believe that it should be.


THE other vicarish story was the unhappy Revd Andy Thewlis, in Wiltshire, a cleric who has been put on three months’ leave for venting his feelings to his congregation on how awful they are. This is a completely pointless activity, since everything possible to say on the subject has already been said on the blog of Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. But it it is still possible to sympathise with people who are condemned to repeat completely pointless activities (see religious-affairs correspondents passim).

It did, however, provoke an interesting piece from the Revd Liam Beadle (here, the title adds something to the authority of the writer) on the hazards of clergy life, in The Guardian’s comment section: “I don’t know the specifics of what made Thewlis write the letter to his congregation. But all the clergy I have spoken to know how it feels to want to write that sort of letter. In particular, he says he perceived a lack of warmth among the people he served.

“That can be very painful for the clergy, who have often moved significant distances to live in a community they don’t know very well, to do a hard job with a lot of public exposure. It doesn’t take more than a few people who are adept at finding fault, or who resent a new person in their community exercising leadership and making decisions, to feel vulnerable and isolated. A throwaway, unkind comment or a hastily written, angry email can eat away at a parish priest for days.”


MEANWHILE, the end of the world rolls on. The latest recruit to this is Cardinal Burke, the American leader of conservative resistance to Pope Francis, who gave a literally apocalyptic interview to the Catholic Herald: “There is today confusion as to whether there are acts which are intrinsically evil and this, of course, is the foundation of the moral law. When this foundation begins to be questioned within the Church, then the whole order of human life and the order of the Church itself are endangered.

“So there is a feeling that in today’s world that is based on secularism with a completely anthropocentric approach, by which we think we can create our own meaning of life and meaning of the family and so on, the Church itself seems to be confused. In that sense one may have the feeling that the Church gives the appearance of being unwilling to obey the mandates of Our Lord. Then perhaps we have arrived at the End Times.”

It takes a peculiar kind of imagination to suppose that allowing communion to people in a second marriage (who are, along with gay people, the objects of the Cardinal’s horror) will be the thing that provokes the return of Christ in judgement. But the belief may make emotional sense. You would have to a peculiarly blinkered optimist to look at the world today and suppose that we will make it even to the end of the century without some global catastrophe.

The catastrophe will probably come as a result of the greed, fear, and stupidity of people who control nuclear weapons, and I know there is really very little I can do to improve their character or avert this fate. But if I thought God’s wrath could be turned aside by my being beastly to gay people, how much happier I would be.

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