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Press: Canons B11 and B14 make the front page

01 March 2019

THE General Synod discussed homelessness, gambling, the state of the nation, and evangelism. The only thing that the newspapers really noticed was a very minor change of rules to clear up something that has in any case been happening for years.

All credit, then, to Izzy Lyons of The Daily Telegraph, who managed the trick of looking at the Synod like a complete outsider (because she was one) and spotting a story in the changes to canons to relax the frequency of services in multi-church benefices. It is still astonishing that it made the splash in the paper edition, but it was a perfectly clear and properly sourced account of something that the target audience didn’t know, and would have found interesting. The target audience, of course, is the generation who expect the church to be there whenever they don’t want to go to it.

Not at all curiously, the decision that might have seemed most important from the inside — that every adult worshipper be encouraged to bring in others — made almost no mark on the outside world. Demographically, the Church’s problem is not that congregants do not bring their friends with them; it is that they cannot get their children to attend.

Apparently, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, asked Synod members to stand up to demonstrate when they had come to faith. The results showed that they were not at all unusual: the overwhelming majority were Christians by the time they were 21. The cruel but more illuminating question would have been to ask how many of them had managed to transmit their churchgoing habits to children and grandchildren.

IT WAS a worse week for the Roman Catholic Church. The long-awaited summit on child abuse in Rome opened with the publication of a book alleging that anything up to 80 per cent of the men working in the Vatican were gay. Two days after it closed came the news that Cardinal George Pell, once the third most important man in the hierarchy, had been convicted by an Australian jury of assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s, and will go to prison pending his appeal.

The Pell case has the peculiar character that no verdict would have persuaded those who wanted to reject it. There is no doubt he was guilty of being an arrogant and vile bully. To quote from The Guardian’s comment piece by David Marr, an Australian lawyer: “When a wreath was laid outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in memory of gay students in Catholic schools driven to suicide, Pell’s disdain was absolute.

“‘I haven’t got good statistics on the reasons for those suicides,’ he declared. ‘If they are connected with homosexuality, it is another reason to be discouraging people going in that direction. Homosexual activity is a much greater health hazard than smoking.’

“He reasoned that if they didn’t keep recruiting ‘new members to the subculture’, there would be no gay youths to commit suicide.”

But he was not on trial for his opinions. The right-wing American Roman Catholic George Weigel wrote in the New York Post: “The defense again demonstrated that it was physically impossible for the alleged abuse of two choirboys (one now deceased) to have occurred, given the layout and security ­arrangements of Melbourne’s Catholic Cathedral and the fact that the choir and Pell were in two different places when the abuse was alleged to have occurred.”

But this is a tendentious use of “demonstrated”. The defence certainly claimed that the alleged offence could not have taken place; the prosecution argued that it could have done, and the jury believed them. The weakest spot in the prosecution’s case seems to me the fact — reported in The Guardian’s news coverage — that the second boy whom Pell is accused of assaulting told his mother that it had never happened. But he died before the trial started.

JUST time to mention the astonishingly good and thought-provoking piece by Anthony Lloyd, the Times reporter who found Shamima Begum (News, 22 February). Describing the interview, he wrote: “I certainly did not loathe Shamima Begum. In essence, she was a classic victim turned potential perpetrator: the groomed minor sat before me as a radicalised young adult.

“Despite her predictable arrogance and didactic manner, her aura was primarily that of a confused and vulnerable young London woman. Most of the time we were together it seemed too that, despite her outward composure, she was in a state of grief and shock. Alone, frightened, she wanted someone to speak to. All I had to do was listen, coax and engage.

“She spoke repeatedly and in anger over her husband’s six-and-a-half month imprisonment and torture in an Isis jail over spying charges. She talked also of the hypocrisy, cruelty, and oppression within the organisation.

“‘I am scared,’ she said. ‘I am so confused. I’m really naïve.

“‘There’s so much oppression and corruption going on [within Isis] that I don’t really think they deserve the victory. Dawlah [Islamic State] has actually killed Muslims. People that have fought for them, they’ve killed. And for what?”

In the light of this, it seems not merely morally and legally wrong to strip her of her citizenship, but stupid, too.

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