Geoffrey Kirk on the newsworthiness of ecclesiastical leaks

When he was a mere fledgling journalist on the Church of England Newspaper, I never thought I would write this: but what fun it must be to be Jonathan Wynne-Jones (religious affairs correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph)! Jonathan has grown in stature and now enjoys the respect of his colleagues, as the sole inventor of a brilliant journalistic ploy: the Unsubstantiated Serial Scoop.

This technique brilliantly exploits the intensely secretive nature of anything connected with the Church of England. As everyone knows, all things Anglican are subject to the strictest confidentiality. Whether the Archbishop of Canterbury uses staples or paperclips is classified information. Someone, somewhere gains kudos from knowing which!

The consequence of this pathological secrecy is a rash of unattributable leaks. Someone, somewhere is always sufficiently desperate for it to be known that he is important enough to be in on the secret.

I do not for the moment suggest that Jonathan (for whom I have the highest respect) actually fabricates the leaks which result in his Unsubstantiated Serial Scoops. His genius is to have grasped the fact that whether they are accurate or not does not matter. A leak (to mix metaphors) sets hares running.

Take, for example, the leaks from the Crown Nominations Commission about the appointment to the diocese of Southwark. First it was divorced bishops and the Rector of St Martin’s in the Fields. (A gift, because anyone with an iota of intelligence can see that Church policy on divorce and remarriage is a shambles.) Then it was gay bishops and Jeffrey John – with the added bonus of seeming to embarrass the Archbishop of Canterbury. It did not matter that neither rumour proved to be true. What mattered was that by airing them, the raw nerves of party conflict were exposed.

So rent-a-quote (yes, I admit my guilt!) can be trundled out from every quarter to show how these Christians fail to love one another.

Wherever in the cosmos the USS Wynne-Jones boldly goes, news (in the sense of column inches) is spontaneously generated. In this context it is news that a leak was not a leak; news that people are angry that what was not a leak was leaked; and news, in the end, that truth (hopefully) is stranger than fiction.

In all this it would be absurd to shoot the messenger. The CofE, with its obsessive confidentiality and absurd sense of its own importance, is a sitting target for those who want to make fun of it. It is to Jonathan’s credit that he manages most of the time to keep a fairly straight face. But the temptation must be enormous.