THE news over Christmas seemed nicely balanced between acts of cruelty and exhortations to goodness.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Dover both got into The Guardian. First came the Bishop of Dover: “As Sajid Javid faced calls by Tory MPs to deploy the Royal Navy to stop migrants reaching the UK, the Right Rev Trevor Willmott, bishop of Dover, said the home secretary needed to remember that those attempting the perilous crossing were people in need.
“‘It is crucial that we all remember that we are dealing with human beings here,’ said the bishop, speaking with the backing of the church. ‘Across the nation, we have been celebrating the season of hope and goodwill as we remember Christ’s birth — let’s not forget so soon that every person is precious.’”
What was clever about this, from the media-management point of view, was that it allowed the headline “Church of England urges compassion.” Bishop Willmott had the right label on him, and was not just some random cleric who would not have got his sentiments into the paper.
The trouble with this is that we know that a large section of the Church of England does not think like that at all. Looking at the results of Linda Woodhead’s 2013 survey of British religious attitudes (Features, 26 April 2013), I see that the only thing that made people more likely to be hostile to immigration than lack of formal education was if they self-identified as Anglican: 41 per cent of Anglicans thought that immigration “had not benefited Britain in any way”.
The New York Times, meanwhile, had another of its excellent video explainers, this one showing how the Libyan coastguard, equipped and funded by the European Union, is helping refugees to drown rather than be rescued by ships that would take them to Europe.
This won’t go away. Refugees are for life, not just for Christmas.
HARRIET SHERWOOD’s take in The Guardian on Archbishop Welby’s Christmas message had some ingenious repurposing of things he had said earlier. On reconciliation, she quoted him from an ITV interview being remarkably practical about something that can sound entirely theoretical: “Reconciliation ‘involves regret and repentance; it involves acknowledging where things went wrong, where you went wrong, where the other went wrong; it involves truth seeking; it is a process that is cautiously piled layer upon layer upon layer until you’ve built this bridge across the gap,’ he told ITV in the run-up to Christmas.”
BUT he will never give such good copy as Pope Francis, whose annual speech to the Curia was, I thought, scandalously under-reported. Many people picked up on his denunciation of clerical child abuse, and his announcement that the Church would never tolerate it or any further cover-ups.
Some even picked up his praise of journalists: “I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard. Even if it were to involve a single case of abuse (something itself monstrous), the Church asks that people not be silent but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth.”
But only The Times reported as news the Pope’s apparent comparison of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — a former ambassador to Washington, who has accused the Pope of knowingly covering up the crimes of the abusive Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (Press, 31 August 2018) — with Judas: “Let me speak of . . . those who betray their vocation, their sworn promise, their mission and their consecration to God and the Church. They hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division and bewilderment. . .
“Behind these sowers of weeds, we always find the thirty pieces of silver. . . David the sinner and Judas Iscariot will always be present in the Church, since they represent the weakness that is part of our human condition. They are icons of the sins and crimes committed by those who are chosen and consecrated. United in the gravity of their sin, they nonetheless differ when it comes to conversion. David repented, trusting in God’s mercy; Judas hanged himself.”
This speech was billed as “an exchange of Christmas greetings”, but I have never suffered through any family Christmas where the exchanges were quite as full and frank as these.
In a possibly unrelated development, the director of communications for the Vatican, the former Fox News journalist Greg Burke, resigned abruptly at the New Year, together with his deputy. One wonders whether he will write a book about his experiences.
THE TIMES also had a cheering obituary of a good, brave man: Dr Bill Watson, who was awarded an MC for his part in a commando raid in 1942, and trained by correspondence as a doctor in his prisoner-of-war camp. After working as a GP in Shrewsbury for many years, he volunteered to work with the starving in Biafra in 1970, and, after that, worked in Iran, Ethiopia, and Ghana, among other places. When the headlines get you down, remember that there are still people like him in our midst.