The Press Saturday, May 16th 1998
The relationship between George Carey and the press has never been terribly good; not all the reasons for this are discreditable to either side. The bits of his job at which he is worst are those which demand the skills we prize most highly: self assurance, and the ability think with your mouth open. Equally, he is never going to see the point of the ineradicable gratuitous frivolity of good journalism. It's very difficult for someone with an evangelical heart to understand how happy we are with the idea that no one needs to know anything at all; that's an idea which it is easier for press officer to grasp.
So the appearance of a double-page favourable profile in the Guardian is something of a milestone. After eight years in office, someone has finally put the case for the defence intelligently. Madeleine Bunting had obviously talked to Ruth Etchells and other old friends of the Careys at some length. His pre-Lambeth career was recounted in sympathetic detail, as was the way in which the church provided him with a route out of a background in which there was no point to learning at all. The opening vignette, where he visits a church in just such a place, and presses illustrated bibles on "two confused boys who have just been baptised" is very touching, and offers a decent justification for what he thinks he is doing: "He wants to convert people because he is an evangelical Christian. But there is a more personal dimension: a sense of belonging to a place like Rushenden, and of debts to repay. He found God as a way out of the Dagenham council estates and he wants others to follow."
Of course, they used the most critical remark of the whole piece as a pull quote "He's an unmitigated disaster. I've had senior cabinet ministers say it to me. George is a helluva nice guy out of his depth." But there was far more thoughtful understanding and even respect than in anything written about him since he started giving interviews as Archbishop.
Talking of management experts, there was another nostril shot of a clergyman in the Times on Friday, this time in the business supplement on getting MBA degrees: Canon Raymond Rodger, the Bishop's Mandelson, was pictured in front of the cathedral doors in full fig, clutching a huge book called "People management", though he is gazing down at the camera rather than off into an inspiring future. I suppose it really is the official all-clear at Lincoln if such a clever man feels it safe to have his picture taken like that, for as soon as there is any more trouble at thte cathedral that shot will come whizzing out of the archives. He is advertising the country's first MBA course in church management. Whatever else it does, it will clearly not affect the tradition of finding far-fetched and incomprehensible allegories in anything. Dr Mark Chater, the leader of the Lincoln course in the subject has a wonderful line. "Every organisation experiences conflict between creativity and accountability and the opening chapters of Genesis tell a good story on the subject." So presumably his students will emerge from the course equipped to tell God exactly how He should have done the job. He should have invented management before filling out the details. Copy to all departments: The Cherubim sing and the Seraphim adore Him, and the executive vice presidents send up memoranda, ceaselessly.
The Sheffield paedophile story was not going to be good news however it was sliced. Whether a known paedophile was banned form services with children present, or allowed to continue attending them after the diocese had been warned by the child protection authorities that there was a "real and significant risk" if he attended, there was scope for a lot of furious leader writing denouncing them; and the Times obliged with a leader laying ointo the diocese for Pharisaism after Michael Cope was banned from services.
The Bishop wrote back defending himself temperately and pointing out that it was not the diocese who had released the man's name to the public. ""Our concern was not to take some supposed moral high ground in the matter of human sexuality but to safeguard the children for whom we are legally responsible. Requiring this person not to attend the cathedral was a consequence neither of his conviction nor of his sexuality per se. It was a consequence solely of the professionally assessed risk he was regarded as posing to children."
None has yet written back to point out that the Church is supposed to take a moral high ground in the matter of human sexuality. That is what it's there for, as far as the public is concerned. But it does make a refreshing change to see a bishop writing to defend his own actions.
The oddest thing about the Times this week is its continuingly nasty coverage on the opinion pages of the Westminster Abbey story. The news coverage has been scrupulous and as well-informed as anyones. The Times actually broke the story of Dr Neary's sacking after a Sunday night tip-off; and last week it also had first the story of a row over payments made to the abbey for Diana's funeral. That was on Page four: when the Daily Telegraph and the Evenieng Standard followed it the next day, they put it on page 1.
But the diary in today's paper is led by something which might as well have been written by The Devil, Private Eye's Ecclesiastical correspondent until he hit a bad libel case. This suggests that the wife of the Cathedral treasurer wishes their house had a garden; Dr Neary's grace and favour house does indeed have a garden; the treasurer voted that he be sacked. NO connection is made between these three claims. They are simply juxtaposed in a miasma of cliché: gargoyles whispering "this will beat Lincoln into a cocked hat" and so on. In the mean time there is the mysterious case of a letter Lord Runcie sent to the Times defending the character and qualifications of the Dean, which the letters editor claims never to have seen. What is certain that it was never published. It was probably eaten byu a fax machine somewhere: after all, if technology could transpose the names "Neary" and "Carr" in an earlier column of mine, it can scramble any communication about the Abbey.