ON THE Monday morning, the royalist Daily Mail devoted 17 straight pages to the story of Meghan and Harry; the republican Guardian had fewer stories, but eight of the most-read news stories on its site were about the couple.
Needless to say, there was almost nothing actually known about what was going on. It was The Guardian that reported the most worrying detail of all in the story: that Prince Harry would not only upbraid individual journalists for what they had written, but would dip into the online comments on the stories. If he ever did that on the Mail’s site, the only surprise is that he has chosen Canada to retreat to rather than somewhere a little further — an island off the coast of New Zealand, perhaps, or a cottage in Kashmir where there is presently no internet at all.
Reading comments that have not been moderated online is one of the very last stages of derangement. The only thing worse would be trying to answer them. Reproaching individual journalists, though, can be a very useful exercise. It can sometimes just be bullying or attempted bullying. But, otherwise, it’s a reminder that the other side is composed of human beings as well. Both parties need this.
ONE man who will be secretly delighted that the fuss has come now is the Prince of Wales, who might otherwise be rather embarrassed by the exhumation of the Peter Ball story in a two-part BBC2 series. The Daily Telegraph ran three separate pieces about the story, one of them a long interview, by Peter Stanford, with one of the survivors. The television review (which will have been read by people who have no interest in the Church) was brutal: “The Church of England staged a press conference after Ball’s initial arrest, dismissing the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, lent his support, saying: ‘Bishop Peter has always given unstintingly to the service of Christ.’”
All mentioned the use that the bishop made of his friendship with Prince Charles, not just to get a place to live after he was forced out of his episcopal chair, but as a way of intimidating young men with the splendour of his connections.
MEANWHILE, Private Eye keeps digging at the Jonathan Fletcher story (Press, 3 January). It led with the reaction provoked in Lambeth Palace by its last piece, on the C of E’s Safe Spaces project (News, 3 January) (to be able to do that must have given the Eye enormous pleasure): “On the day the story appeared the Archbishop of Canterbury was personally contacting senior bishops to tell them how cross he was (nice to know he reads the Eye on publication day).”
The article went on to say: “Jonathan Fletcher, son of former Labour minister Lord Fletcher of Islington, may have been a mere parish priest but he was at least as well-connected as any bishop. He was a mentor to the young Justin Welby — who, like him, became a ‘dormitory officer’ at the Iwerne camps. A Festschrift compiled on Fletcher’s retirement included tributes from Nicky Gumbel . . . and former Archbishop Rowan Williams.”
THE death of Sir Roger Scruton divided opinion almost entirely on political grounds, but he was much more interesting than that. His strain of Christianity, as set out in The Face of God, seems to me to contemplate the possibility of a meaningless universe much more seriously and perhaps bravely than Bertrand Russell’s atheist rhetoric. He did not believe in the afterlife, nor in much of the Bible, nor in the possibility of the divine action. But he played the organ in his parish church for 22 years.
OVER in Rome, there is tragicomedy being played out over married priests and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. First comes a Washington Post report: “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has issued an ardent defense of clerical celibacy, breaking his pledged silence on major church affairs just as Pope Francis is considering an exception that would allow some married men to serve as priests.”
This was a summary of a book that he has apparently co-written with Cardinal Robert Sarah, a liturgical traditionalist who has several times been slapped down by Pope Francis for his enthusiasm for pre-Conciliar practices. The story that Benedict had denounced one of his successors’ more controversial policies ran round the world.
Then came a statement from Cardinal Sarah, in French, denouncing the rumours that Pope Benedict had not, in fact, approved of the book. Then a statement from Benedict’s close friend and ambassador to the world, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, saying that this was not at all what the former Pope had intended. Hours later, the Cardinal announced that the book would be withdrawn and reissued, with the most controversial passages credited to him alone, although containing a long essay in praise of celibacy, which Benedict had apparently sent him in the autumn.
No one in all this mentioned that Benedict had himself welcomed married Anglican clergy to his Church. That breach with tradition did not, apparently, worry traditionalists, since it was one in the eye for the Protestants.