Press: Redemption, post-genocide, for a bishop

08 June 2018

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I KNOW people attack the Church of England for sitting on the fence, but look what happens when the clergy do speak out.

On the one hand, there is a bishop, reportedly consecrated at the request of Rowan Williams, who is fighting Home Office allegations that he was an instigator of the Rwandan genocide, and should therefore be expelled. On the other, there is the priest who says that the Syrian White Helmets are a terrorist organisation, but that Hezbollah are “just ordinary young men wanting to be engineers, doctors, teachers, whatever and . . . very committed Shia Muslims”.

It is enough to make anyone sympathise with Alexa, the Amazon AI that last week could not answer the question: “Alexa, what is good disagreement?” (Press, 1 June).

Both these stories were covered best in The Times. On Bishop Jonathan Ruhumuliza, there are some remarkable quotes: “The bishop, 62, a Hutu, is accused of failing to use his position as a senior cleric to halt the massacre, of arranging for Tutsis to be excluded from refuge and of having distributed weapons to the killers.”

Bishop Ruhumuliza was first refused legal permission to remain in Britain in 2008, and a later asylum application was rejected. In 2014, Theresa May, who was then Home Secretary, ruled that he should not be granted leave to remain because his presence was “not conducive to the public good”.

“An immigration tribunal ruling in 2016, upheld by the Court of Appeal last week, found that, even if he was involved in ‘crimes against humanity’, he had found redemption because of his work since the genocide. Neither court considered whether the government’s allegations against him were true or false. The bishop has denied any wrongdoing.”

Obviously it is difficult to judge the innocence or guilt of a man who is accused by the Home Office but defended by the Rwandan government. Neither is exactly a reliable character witness. But the view of the immigration tribunal, that the work of being a bishop atones for crimes against humanity, is very remarkable. It may not be widely held even among bishops.

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Perhaps, in future, instead of being sent to a life of prayer and penance in a monastery, alleged ecclesiastical criminals should be punished by preferment to a suffragan bishopric.

AS FOR the Revd Andrew Ashdown, the priest who organises trips to Syria (News, 20 April), his remarks at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London were passed to Dominic Kennedy at The Times. Apparently, he was appearing on a platform with the Rt Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali and Baroness Cox. She, who had earlier told a journalist that Russia’s foreign policy in Syria was more ethical than ours, now says that she thinks it “extremely improbable” that the Assad regime ever gassed civilians.

The most famous, or photographed, victim of the Assad and Russian bombing campaign was a five-year-old boy, Omran Daqneesh. Mr Ashdown has theories about him, too. The boy “was injured and covered with dust and in shock. He was picked up by the White Helmets and placed in the back of the ambulance and forced to sit there without treatment for 40 minutes while they photographed him. . .

“Later the international media offered his father thousands of dollars to say that he was against the Syrian government. The family had never supported the rebels and he refused to accept the money.”

Note that Mr Ashdown believes both that the child was an entirely innocent victim of a Syrian-regime bombing raid, and that the outrageous thing about this is that “the international media” and the White Helmets drew attention to these uncontested facts.

MORE Christian-Muslim arguments — although these ones without any real blood — over in the House of Lords, where The Mail on Sunday reported a spat between the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, and Lord Pearson of Rannich, the former UKIP leader.

“During a subsequent exchange of emails between the pair, seen by The Mail on Sunday, the Bishop wrote: ‘No one in their right mind would deny a link between IS and Islam — or between Christianity and the IRA/UDF, or Marxism and the Red Brigades, for example.

“‘But the connections are more complex than can be dealt with in an oral question.’

“However, Lord Tebbit, who was copied into the discussion by Lord Pearson last month, shot back: ‘I was concerned that you believe that no one in their right mind would deny a link between Christianity and the IRA’.

“That is simply not so since I would most certainly deny a link.” The Bishop was too Christian to pick him up on this.

NEXT week, I hope to take up the long Pew Foundation survey on religion in Western Europe, which has been largely ignored by the papers here, but got quite a lot of thoughtful coverage in the United States.

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