SO FAR as the tabloids were concerned, there was only one item of religious news this week: the wedding plans of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (News, 1 December), which have obviously been set up to give both Church and Crown the maximum amount of television exposure round the world.
It has been fascinating to watch the comments on the Mail website about the upcoming wedding. Few people are very worried about the bride’s divorced status, any more than the Church of England is, but there is something about her which deeply disturbs them, even if they cannot quite name it.
An awful lot of them seem terribly upset that the Prince should be marrying a Canadian (she is, in fact, American), and this, of course, brings to mind the Macpherson report, which found in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder that the Metropolitan Police was suffering from institutionalised Canadianism.
It is an unironically good thing that the Church and the royal family should so publicly combine to scorn this distressing prejudice, and to show that Canadians can be as, well, British as anyone else (in a contemporary liturgy, that is like “as well British”).
NO DOUBT the Oxfam scandal and the wider crisis in humanitarian aid will be covered at length elsewhere in the paper, but on the day The Times broke the story, my eye was caught by a piece in The Economist about Muslim charities, and in particular their giving statistics: “A survey by ICM, a pollster, in 2012 found that British Muslims give an average of £371 each year to charity, compared with £202 for Protestants and £116 for atheists.”
Now, there are problems with this (the Charities’ Aid Foundation has no directly comparable figures, and does not try to collect them), but it does seem to reflect the way in which, if people call themselves Muslims, they take the obligations seriously. Compare this with the attitudes to immigration in another recent poll, in which the most hostile grouping was Christians who did not actually go to church, and the most friendly were those Christians who actually did go to church. “Nones” had attitudes in between the two groups (News, 9 February).
IT IS also worth noting that the Daily Mirror had what seems to be a genuine scoop about Meghan Markle, who “has visited the Grenfell Tower site alone to comfort victims of the inferno.
“In an echo of Princess Diana’s charity work, she made the trips in secret. One resident said: ‘It means so much.’ Prince Harry’s fiancee has twice been to comfort those affected by the inferno that left 71 people dead and a community shattered.”
And then the kicker: she was actually visiting a mosque when she did this. It will be very interesting to watch the reactions if she makes a habit of this, and if she brings her husband along from time to time. It just might do something to diminish prejudice against Muslims.
THE Synod made news almost entirely in the context of sex abuse. In particular, the announcement that there were 3300 cases of abuse outstanding drew a crisply snarky report in the Daily Mail: “Despite the growing controversy over false allegations, bishops will continue to call those who make claims of sex abuse ‘victims’ and ‘survivors’. But they say this ‘does not presuppose that any allegation will be substantiated’.”
Indeed. It is hard to tell what is going on here. I am also confused by the fact that only one in five of these complaints is directed at the clergy or church officers. If the C of E were really to be held criminally responsible for the behaviour of every churchgoer, it would be bankrupted in no time at all. On the other hand, that is how the court of public opinion works, even if it has no power to levy fines.
THE New York Times carried an enchanting obituary of Fr Peter Colapietro, a very fat Roman Catholic priest (he had worked as a commercial fisherman in his youth, and boasted that he outweiged by 100 lbs the 185 lb Mako shark that he once caught).
“His final Mass at Holy Cross ended with a standing ovation and an accompaniment of bagpipes and drums from the city’s Sanitation Department. For years he was the department’s chaplain, and a chaplain for the Manhattan Restaurant and Liquor Dealers’ Association, the Metro-North Railroad and the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
“Some Sundays he officiated at Mass after a breakfast of coffee and cigarettes, and sometimes there were tense moments. At Holy Cross, a man once threw a beer bottle toward the front of the church during Sunday Mass.”
He was also credited with dissuading the actor Mickey Rourke from murdering a man who had offended his wife and then killing himself, although he himself claimed to have no memory of disarming the actor.
The obituary records that he heard the call to ordination while working as a bouncer; he spent the last years of his life in what is delicately described as a “rehabilitation facility”.