Friday, 9 December 2011

Big story, curious silence

Now here’s an odd thing.
Since December 1st I’ve been fielding queries from two ‘specialist’ areas of the press who know me of old. Both, from differing perspectives, are researching stories on an important development in their ‘specialisms’ in which a leading Manx resident will play a major part. Mainly, it must be said, because they’ve never heard of him. Yet the island media appear to know nothing about it.
Many current Manx journalists wouldn’t know a story if it crept up and hit them with a baseball bat, so nothing new or odd there.
What is odder is that powerful friends of the leading Manx resident haven’t spoonfed the story to a grateful hack either. Usually every vapid word he utters while going about his pointless and privileged job is not only relayed to the media, but followed by angry phonecalls and threats about the withdrawal of advertising if not immediately, and prominently, used.
So why not now?
Perhaps you can judge for yourselves.
The queries began when, on 1st December, the Church of England Media Centre issued a press release (see in which it was announced that:
“The House of Bishops has announced the membership of a Group established to advise it on reviewing its Pastoral Statement issued prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The Group will be chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Rev Robert Paterson. The other two members of the Group are the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, and the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher. The Group will start work in December and report to the House in time for the House to reach conclusions during 2012.”
The statement goes on to explain that:
“The preparation of the pastoral statement was the last occasion when the House of Bishops devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. The House undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review and announced in July, this year, , that the time had come for a review to take place.
The House of Bishops also announced in July further work on the Church of England's approach to human sexuality more generally. The expectation is that the membership of that Group, whose work will be considered by the House during 2013, will be announced in the next few weeks.”
The C of E is looking to make their most important policy statement since Civil Partnerships became a reality, and Sentamu’s Apprentice is in charge of the process?
How big a Manx story is that?
What’s fast emerging is that even their fellow Anglicans hardly know these guys either, never mind the world at large. Which may be deliberate, or just because there are too many church factions with an interest (and form for sulking and taking their ball home) for any of the ‘regulars’ to get picked.
It’s known that Colin Fletcher is a former tutor at Wycliffe Hall and former chaplain to Archbishop George Carey. So he would have been picked by Anglican Mainstream. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re the ultra-orthodox freaks who keep threatening to break away and take some of the oldest, most valuable, church property with them. In reality, a tiny but powerful bunch of cranks, the C of E’s equivalent to a mad relative in the attic.
Less is known about Foster, other than that he studied economics at Durham, then lectured in it before being ordained, since when he’s worked his way up through the ranks in various roles, apparently with a particular interest in church mission, which I thought was just every vicar’s basic job.
But if Sentamu’s Apprentice was chosen because he was a dark horse and therefore gay and liberal Anglicans couldn’t object, it isn’t going to work.
True, the AM nutters don’t know or claim him, but they’ve approved him anyway because they see him as a fellow evangelical; if a bit of a wimp because any apparent antipathy for humanity doesn’t extend to lady vicars or women and everyone else in general except sad old white blokes in frocks.
But on websites such as the influential liberal Thinking Anglican (see ) comments like this are starting to appear:
“Robert Patterson (sic) was vicar of a parish adjoining mine and is wholly unsympathetic. He sacked a celibate gay curate, and most recently [...] he was one of only two C of E bishops in General Synod to vote AGAINST extending the pension rights of civilly partnered clerics.
I contacted some gay couples I know who live in Robert's former parishes - Robert would not be their choice for this post! I wonder if there is a single civilly partnered person in the whole of England who would support his appointment.”
Well, we’ve seen his grumpy, charmless comments after the Civil Partnership Bill passed, toeing an old Christian Institute line which portrays gays trying to put their relationships on an official basis and ensure pension and other basic rights as little more than economic opportunism, rather than ‘proper’ marriages like Christians pretend to have.
And I’ve noted here his successful attempt to make sure criminal civil servants won’t do time for leaking highly personal and confidential information about transgendered people to vicars, who also won’t do time for receiving it, or have to explain how they got it or why they won’t conduct a marriage ceremony.
So, we already know he has a bit of a problem with gays. In fact, his reported comments are alarmingly close to those swivel-eyed Manx political lunatics whose rabid views on the (then only proposed) partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1991 caused all decent people in Britain to write us off as a third world backwater. A view of us which meant most trade union and business groups took their conference business elsewhere for the next 20 years for fear of being branded homophobic knuckledraggers.
When Patterson and his chums eventually reveal their ‘new, improved’ Anglican policy towards gays we can have little doubt that, however sincerely meant, many will laugh and some will even feel sick. No point putting lipstick on a pitbull.
The problem is, if that view seems influenced by someone who is also an unelected politician in the Manx upper house, and could be portrayed as some sort of moral leader on the island, then we are right back to 1991 in the eyes of the rest of the world. And with a world recession on those are basics none of us want to go back to.

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