ALPHA plus to the Archbishop of Canterbury! And beta minus to our terrestrial TV channels. On Easter Day, the main story on both ITV News and Channel 4 News was that significant element of his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral: His Grace’s castigation of our Government’s new policy to send to Rwanda single male refugees who illegally cross the English Channel.
BBC News, at 10 p.m., made it, after coverage of Ukraine, their second item — more properly, in my view. This vital attention was a tremendous achievement, proving that, for once, if only momentarily, the opinion of our Church is still a matter of national concern. But I award the broadcasters only beta minus, because they all missed the truly remarkable aspect of the event.
There is nothing particularly unusual about Archbishops’ making pronouncements explicitly or implicitly critical of government policy — although Archbishop Welby’s measured emphasis was more noteworthy than most. But the big story, which they all missed or ignored, was the astonishing fact that the 1200-plus congregation greeted his sermon with applause. I know, because I was there, just alongside the TV cameras.
As an indication of public opinion, this is a highly significant response, from a sector that would normally be constrained by their sense of what is appropriate behaviour in church. The shameful implication is its proof of our broadcasters’ — and, where they exist, their religious correspondents’ — failure instinctively to grasp any longer what are normal and what are extremely unusual ways to act in church.
This was an essentially formal and traditional solemn eucharist, not the kind of worship during which congregational enthusiasm is whipped up and must be physically expressed before the preacher feels that he has done his job properly. That on such an occasion most of the gathering were moved to demonstrate their support for the Archbishop, and their disapproval of the Government, should have been picked up, highlighted, commented on.
BBC1 contrasted Canterbury with Rome, showing footage of Pope Francis delightedly welcoming the joyful crowds on Easter Day; but this, too, was partial, ignoring the evidence of its own earlier Urbi et Orbi programme, in which their commentator deliberately emphasised how this first greeting gave way to a far more sombre Pope, addressing the world’s current evils in terms quite as uncompromising as Archbishop Welby’s.
All ignored the poignancy of the Pope’s clear ill health — he had to sit halfway through his address — as he focused on the wounds of Christ, speaking from his heart about a broken world. Channel 4 also featured Jerusalem, contrasting Christians’ celebrating the resurrection with Muslim/Jewish violence at al-Aqsa Mosque: an admirable attention somewhat compromised by the fact that their newscaster doesn’t know how to pronounce the word “sepulchre”.