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Press: Vennells appears in the court of the columnists

31 May 2024

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ALTHOUGH the Revd Paula Vennells did not wear her clerical collar to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry (News, 24 May), it was hung about her neck by every commentator. “It’s absolutely wild that Vennells was reportedly the current Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal pick for Bishop of London, the third most important position in the entire Church of England. Justin Welby has certainly mastered the passive voice himself declaring recently ‘more questions should have been asked’ about Vennells. Yes! By you!”’ Thus Marina Hyde, in The Guardian.

“I can’t quite get my head round the idea that Vennells is a woman of the cloth,” Camilla Long wrote in The Sunday Times: “A priest who’s paid £700,000 a year? Who’s then perfectly happy to sit by while thousands of her own employees are persecuted, arrested, slung in jail, or, in at least four horrific cases, kill themselves? And then, even after it began to emerge they might not be guilty, still demonise them, dismissing them, in one email that drew gasps, as ‘inadequate’ people who ‘bored’ her? As a friend said: ‘What sort of Christian is she?’”

The answer to that question is “one too much like the rest of us”, but that does not explain why she was considered qualified to be Bishop of London. “She ticked all the boxes,” people say; but that is only more evidence that the committees are looking in all the wrong boxes.

 

THERE was an entirely unexpected and almost original attack on Archbishop Welby from The Mail on Sunday: “The Archbishop of Airmiles: Justin Welby is accused of hypocrisy after racking up 48,000 miles on foreign trips to Africa, Gaza and Pakistan since September despite lecturing people about climate change and advocating for Net Zero.”

As usual, the sourcing for this story relied on anonymity: “A senior church official”, “parishioners and officials”, and (of course) the Revd Marcus Walker, billed as “Chairman of the Save Our [sic] Parish movement”. There was also Professor Roy Faulkner, elected to the General Synod last year on a Save the Parish ticket.

The Faulkner quote — “I would agree he’s the Archbishop of Air Miles” — was particularly delightful, because it showed that the “Archbishop of Air Miles” tag had been invented by the paper and then shopped around until the reporter had found someone who would agree to say it. It is so much easier to get the good quotes that way than to hope that your interviewees will come up with something catchy and memorable on their own.

All in all, this was a piece that could be taught in journalism school as an example of how to throw bricks made with very little straw. Even the picture captions are given a sinister spin: “The Archbishop travelled nearly 2000 miles in February to speak at the opening of the 100th Diocesan Synod in Lisbon, Portugal.” Mail readers, of course, travel far less when they fly to Portugal on urgent business.

But the real target of the piece is not the Church, hardly deemed worth a kicking by the Mail these days, but the ambition to reach net zero. This is something that is going to demand sacrifice from everyone — but it’s a sacrifice only when it’s willingly given: otherwise, it’s an imposition and a scam. That was the dynamic of Partygate — even if the Mail then was on the side of privilege.

 

WHAT would it be like to be a really thoroughgoing utilitarian, someone who attempted to calculate the likely outcomes of everything they did — and who was also concerned to maximise the well-being of every human being who will ever live?

The Guardian carried a piece, by turns chilling and hilarious, about an American couple with a great deal of inherited money who are doing to do their bit to repopulate the earth. Already they have three children, and a fourth is imminent. She will be called Industry Americus Collins, to join her siblings Octavian George, Torsten Savage, and Titan Invictus.

These names, the parents explain, have been carefully chosen: “‘Nominative determinism is a heavily studied field,’ Malcolm [Collins, their father] tells me, when I ask about his children’s names. ‘Girls that have gender neutral names are more likely to have higher paying careers and get Stem degrees.’ Names like Titan and Industry are much more than gender neutral, I say. ‘We wanted to give our kids strong names. We want our kids to have a strong internal locus of control,’ he continues, as Octavian waves a plastic rubbish truck in front of my face.”

What is extraordinary is the degree to which this US couple have reproduced the traditional lifestyle of the English upper classes: it is not just the ludicrous names that they give their children in the hope that this will mark them as superior and help them in their careers: the house is unheated, and childcare is provided by a family whom they allow to live rent-free next door. Next thing you know, the children will be sent to Gordonstoun.

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