Holy Smoke

Have the churches been betrayed by their bishops?

23 min listen

Last week I was sent a copy of a devastating 7,000-word letter accusing the Catholic bishops of England and Wales of grossly mishandling the coronavirus crisis by lobbying the government for a complete shutdown of their own churches, even for private prayer. The author called herself (or, more than likely, himself) ‘Fiona McDonald’ – and used a heavily encrypted email service in order to avoid being tracked down. 

McDonald claimed that the bureaucrats of the Bishops’ Conference were sending out misleading and even untruthful messages about the church lockdown, claiming that it was forced on them by the government. It quoted a letter from Richard Moth, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, which contradicted this. Writing to his priests, Bishop Moth reported that ministers only agreed to the blanket closure of churches after Jim McManus, the Catholic bishops’ healthcare adviser, begged them to do so.

As you’ll hear in this week’s Holy Smoke podcast, McDonald really stuck the knife into the Church’s officials, producing document after document calling into question their integrity. They brushed it off with an assurance that they were monitoring the situation.

But today’s Holy Smoke isn’t just about a dispute between Catholics (which, I’m told, is about to get spectacularly nastier).
The Church of England, too, stands accused of bungling its response to the Covid19 pandemic – and in much the same way, subjecting ordinary clergy and worshippers to the diktats of bureaucratic control freaks. 

I’m joined again by Dr Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen, who hopes that this fiasco will force both Anglican and Catholic churches to reform themselves after the pandemic is over. 

But, in the meantime, he says that he, too, feels betrayed by episcopal committees who have revealed themselves to be ‘false shepherds’.


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