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Press: Pope’s comments on fertility act like catnip

14 January 2022


I WAS enchanted to discover that the Pope is protected at outdoor masses by an Israeli company that claims to take over the controls of hostile drones and redirect them to land somewhere else rather than blow up over the target area. According to the Financial Times, reporting on a conference about drone warfare, the technology “is fielded in the Middle East” as well as at the G7 meetings.

His Holiness could probably use it when next he encounters cat-loving women of child-bearing age. The comments that he made about the selfishness of pet-owning couples who would not have children were, well, catnip to the opinionating classes. It’s not so much the content of his remarks: cats are endlessly fascinating, and when no one else cares about their owners, they will dispose of the corpses tidily, but they still don’t make an entirely satisfying substitute for children.

The reaction made clear that what is offensive is the Pope’s having any opinion at all on women’s fertility. The damage of the contraception wars continues, and The Times devoted a small leader to telling him off: “The comments hark back to an era when the Catholic church had no shortage of male leaders offering misogynistic opinions on female sexuality, menstruation and contraception. For while the responsibility of rearing a child can be shared, the biological burden of carrying and birthing a child is on women. The Pope’s words are unlikely to encourage people to procreate. They merely demonstrate how removed this celibate 85-year-old man is from real life and the real-world problems facing women of childbearing age and their partners.”


THE more acceptable relationship between a bishop and women was demonstrated by the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge. Almost all the papers covered the story of his tweeting a picture of an envelope addressed to “The Lord Bishop and his sexy wife, Worcester”, although The Sun managed to get a few other details wrong: “A VICAR was amazed to receive a letter sent to him without an address — and only a very cheeky message on the front. John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, had no idea how posties managed to deliver the envelope, which gave few clues as to how to find him.”

Although that piece had a human byline, it appears to have been written by AI trained on Benny Hill-era tabloid stories. On the web, at least, it was partly illustrated with his Twitter photo, captioned: “The Bishop has been told he is punching.” The mystery is solved by the other papers’ explaining that a friend had told him, when he got married, that he was “punching above his weight” to land such a delightful wife.

It is still a vivid illustration of just how completely the news machine can mangle even the simplest stories.


AND then there was what you might call the serious stuff. The “Archbishop Cranmer” blog reported that the governing body of Christ Church, Oxford has asked the Charity Commission to approve the funds to sue “Archbishop Cranmer” over comments that he has made about their persecution of the Dean. That the dons responsible had asked for an opinion on hiring defamation lawyers was revealed in Private Eye last month; that one of the targets should be Cranmer’s blog is news that will do nothing for the reputation of the dons responsible.

The Guardian uses the Church of England to make its political points just as much as the right-wing press does, and it gave a very good showing to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a reform of the care system.

I had known that Archbishop Welby had himself cared for the dying alcoholic whom both men believed was his father. Rob Booth’s story added some fresh details: “Welby’s father-in-law lived with him and his wife for the last year of his life, with his wife, who trained as a teacher, spending many years caring for him. Their daughter receives care funded by a carer’s allowance, and lives with them.”

The point, however, was not the work that the Welby family puts in, but the moral that he drew from it, which was that those less fortunate should not be expected to do so.

“‘If it is just a family obligation it is totally unjust because poorer families, families struggling to make ends meet, families with significant debt simply will feel guilty,’ Welby said.

“‘We have got to get rid of the guilt. It is a community obligation. We have done that in health and education, we need to do that with social care. It is a national obligation, expressed by the state. The state at the very least has to underwrite that covenant, as it does with health.’”

I think this is both admirable and true. If anyone took the Church seriously, it would be brutally attacked. But the readers of the Telegraph are constantly being told that the Church is collapsing under the weight of a heartless bureaucracy. How can an Archbishop be heard as a spiritual or moral authority when he appears to be just another failing manager?

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