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Press: Newspapers circle as Archbishop Welby digs in

26 January 2018


OVER at The Economist, there has been a vigor­ous discussion of polygyny, starting with the observation that every extra wife that a rich and powerful man acquires condemns a poor young man to sexual frustration.

“This is one of the reasons why the Arab Spring erupted, why the jihadists of Boko Haram and Islamic State were able to conquer swathes of Nigeria, Iraq and Syria, and why the polygamous parts of Indonesia and Haiti are so turbulent. Polygamous societies are bloodier, more likely to invade their neighbours and more prone to collapse than others are.”

This drew a riposte in the letters page the following week from an anthropologist in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania): “In fact, the causal relationship between polygyny and conflict is unclear. Societies with the highest polygyny rates, such as Benin, Burkina Faso and Guinea . . . although impoverished and poorly gov­­erned, have yet to experience civil war.”


THE difficulties of deciding what is evidence in this case, and the inconveniences of collect­ing it, are very much less than in cases of alleged sexual abuse.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s approach to the Bishop Bell case appears to be: “When you’re in a hole, hire a bulldozer.” In response to mounting pressure from historians and others, he doubled down on his assertion of Bell’s guilt.

I don’t think that this can be the result of calculation. This is not a case in which it is expedient that one man be blamed for the sake of the people, since the people who matter will not be mollified by the sacrifice of Bishop Bell’s reputation. “There is no credible evid­ence at all that Bishop Bell was a paedophile,” the seven historians wrote to the Archbishop (and released their letter to the Telegraph). The Archbishop’s blunt reply boils down to the assertion that there is such evidence, in the testimony of “Carol”.

Then you get a letter in The Times from ten former choristers who were at Chichester in Bishop Bell’s time: “We choristers had a fair sense of George Bell as a man whose funda­mental integrity we saw, and throughout our life have continued to value. . .

“We, alas, had some real experience of what a paedophile could be: a master was relieved of his post and replaced without police involve­ment. . . We have never accepted that ‘Carol’ identified Bishop Bell rightly as her abuser.”

The Economist’s religious blog, Erasmus, has also come to Bell’s defence, or at least joined in the criticisms of the Church’s behaviour: “Bishop Bell’s record as an internationalist and humanitarian is a matter of general historical interest, not just a detail in the history of the Church.

”It follows that the investigation of his life should be conducted outside the confines of the Church, as transparently as possible, with a fair hearing for all interested parties. That has still not happened.”

When you have The Economist, The Times, the Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Mail on Sunday all attacking you, it is safe to say that you have lost the press. And it is really hard to see what is gained as a result.


AT LEAST, until you consider the troubles of Pope Francis, whose trip to South America concluded with a huge row that infuriated abuse sur­­vivors.

At stake was not an accusation of abuse itself, but a claim that a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros Madrid, had, as a priest, covered up, or even witnessed, the crimes of his then superior, Fr Fernando Karadima, who was an influential figure in the right-wing Chilean elite.

There is no doubt that elements of the Chilean Church dismissed Fr Karadima’s accusers, and tried to protect him. Pope Francis refuses to accept that Bishop Barros was among them, despite the testimony of at least two survivors. As The Times reported: “In Chile last week, the Pope was criticised for hugging Bishop Barros and snapping at a journalist. ‘The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,’ the Pope said. ‘There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?’

“Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the Pope’s top adviser on abuse, said the statement had caused ‘great pain’ to victims. He runs the Pope’s commission on abuse, which has been aban­­doned by two key members, both victims, who claimed recommendations were being ignored.

“The Pope said he should have said he wanted ‘evidence’ not ‘proof’. ‘Here I have to apologise because the word “proof” hurt them,’ he said. ‘To hear that the Pope told them to their face that they need to bring a letter with proof? It’s a slap in the face.’”

Cardinal O’Malley took over from the thoroughly disgraced Cardinal Law in Boston, where the Roman Catholic Church was, per­haps, mortally damaged by paedophile priests. There is no doubt that he is sincere in his sympathy for survivors. But the survivors believe that they have evidence; indeed, some have come to believe that their whole sub­sequent lives are evidence of abuse.

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