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Press: Two examples of how not to handle the press

27 November 2020


APPARENTLY, all the materials of Living in Love and Faith are to be withdrawn after an unfortunate mistake was discovered in the heading. It should have read “Feuding in Hate and Suspicion”.

Fortunately, the outside world has taken very little notice. Only The Guardian registered the threat of the Bishop of Blackburn to withdraw from the Church if anything was changed as a result of the report (News, 20 November).

What makes the whole thing so frustrating is the need to pretend that any of it matters. The conservatives will never give up their threats to walk out so long as there is anything left to walk out of. Nor will they ever act on them. But no Archbishop will ever be able to call their bluff, even if one were found who wanted to.


IN ACTUAL news, the week supplied two wonderful examples of how not to handle the press. The Roman Catholics held a press conference after their bishops’ meeting; this took place on Zoom, and only pre-approved questions written into the chat box were allowed. The only questions that anyone wanted answered were whether Cardinal Vincent Nichols would resign in the wake of the IICSA report (Comment, 20 November; News, 13 November), and, if not, why not. This was not admitted, and those journalists who tried to shout it in the traditional manner were muted.

It must have felt like a triumph of news management, but it really upset the Telegraph, whose story started: “Cardinal Nichols has been criticised by child sexual abuse victims following a ‘Mafia-esque’ blocking of questions during a ‘meaningless’ press conference to offer his apology.

“Cardinal Nichols told the press conference that ‘abuse is a terrible wickedness’, adding: ‘I am so sorry for all that has happened over these years.’ However, he refused to take questions specifically regarding IICSA’s critical findings, prompting claims from victims that his apology is ‘meaningless’.”

No one else, so far as I can see, covered the story at all. I don’t myself think that the Cardinal did anything during the scandal to deserve being sacked. But someone has to carry the can for the years of inaction revealed by the IICSA report. However defensible his position may be morally, it is politically impossible, and damaging to the Church.


THE Telegraph’s reigning Roman Catholic intellectual, Tim Stanley, managed to draw from the week’s religious news the moral that the Archbishop of Canterbury should take a sabbatical because the Church of England was in such a critical state. “Whenever a trendy nun in jeans tells me Rome should move with the times, I point straight to the Anglicans as an example of a Church that surrendered to modernity on every demand, yet has fallen faster, harder, than anyone else. Chasing relevance leads to irrelevance because you’re no longer special — except as a lesson in what not to do.

“We are in the middle of a national crisis, and it’s a crisis about death. This should be the Church’s big moment because the central message of Christianity is that while death is bad — and we will accompany you through it — it’s not the end. Jesus lived. He died. He rose again. This, Christians believe, is a historical fact, and it’s this outrageous claim that converted much of the world to Christ.”

Stanley is too scrupulous to be a proper culture warrior, and he does turn a nice sentence: “Anglican theology, once the trigger for civil war, is now impossible to decipher, and while the hierarchy’s causes have often been just, the Church ‘progresses’ without moving forward.”

Alas, even here, he missed a trick. I have just been studying the latest PowerPoint from the Archbishops’ Council. It is something between a mandala to contemplate until enlightenment strikes and a pre-Copernican model of the universe arranged in orderly circles. There is only one thing that I am confident of deciphering. The central circle is unambiguously labelled “Jesus-shaped church”.


THE test of whether something was “Jesus-shaped” might with advantage have been applied to a building excavated in Nazareth to the delight of the Daily Mail, which asked “Is this the childhood home of Jesus Christ?” This was a really impressive example of the headline question to which the answer is no, and the copy beneath hardly even tried to stand it up. “Professor Ken Dark, an archaeologist from the University of Reading, has spent 14 years studying the remains of a 1st Century dwelling under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel.

“The stone and mortar dwelling, which was first uncovered in the 1880s, was partially cut into a limestone hillside in the city by a skilled craftsman — likely Joseph, father of Jesus, he says.”

The Mail helpfully reminds us that Joseph is “well-known to have been a carpenter”. But, a few paragraphs further on, Professor Dark explains that this is a mistranslation of a word that could just as well mean “skilled builder”.

Honestly, it is difficult to think of archaeological evidence that could settle this question one way or another — unless the Professor were to find the place where Jesus’s little friends played marbles with him.

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