Put not your trust in leaky cables
The Guardian carries news today of the latest WikiLeaks disclosure of US embassy cables -- this time, relating to the Vatican. The cables, which are more than a year old, mention the Murphy Commission into Dublin clerical sex abuse, the Vatican's help in releasing British hostages in Iran, the "technophobia" of curial officials, and Rome's lobbying in favour of the EU constitution including God. Nothing new, in other words, but not without interest: there are things known within certain circles but not outside them; and there are some insights, at least, into how US diplomats view Rome. The New York Times summarizes here, John Allen analyzes here.
But there is one item which seems quite extraordinary, which in the UK is leading the reporting of this story: the alleged claim by Francis Campbell, UK ambassador to the Holy See, that Pope Benedict's creation in September last year of a church structure for the reception of groups of Anglicans risked the worst crisis in Anglican-Catholic relations in 150 years. Even more bizarrely, he is reported to have told the US deputy chief of mission to the Holy See, Julieta Valls Noyes, that the move could lead to "violence" against Catholics.
As I told BBC News this morning -- watch here -- I knew, reading this, it wasn't true: not just because I know Francis Campbell, and his reaction to Pope Benedict's initiative; but because no UK diplomat with any sense -- and Francis has more than many diplomats put together -- would have said something so lurid and exaggerated.
He would have spoken about the tensions with the Anglican Church which Anglicanorum coetibus occasioned, the difficult position it put the Archbishop of Canterbury in, and the offence caused to Lambeth Palace by the way in which the move was announced -- all of which are also reported.
But the remarks about crisis and violence are obviously half-heard, decontextualised, and distorted. I can imagine Campbell briefing a US diplomat about the history of Catholics in the UK, how in previous centuries they were subject to persecution and violence; and these words being cobbled together with other remarks in a second-hand report of a one-sided conversation more than a year ago, in which quotes are assembled after the fact by junior diplomats eager to big up the importance of their cables to Washington. Campbell, of course, cannot say what he did or did not say, because the UK Foreign Office is not commenting on the WikiLeaks.
What the cables miss out are the other parts of the picture: the fact that the Anglican-Catholic dialogue talks (ARCIC) are resuming; that the ordinariate was a response to applications received from former Anglicans in Australia and America; and that the coming ordination of women as bishops by the Church of England was likely to provoke many Anglo-Catholics to cross the Tiber anyway, without or without the ordinariate.
As it happens, whatever his understandable feelings at the time about the unilateral way Rome announced the move, the Archbishop of Canterbury has since spoken warmly of the ordinariate, of the sharing of gifts it will potentially enable and how, therefore, it is a means of advancing the cause of eventual Catholic-Anglican unity.
That's the part that doesn't get leaked. Not the bit before, nor the bit after. And important parts of what does get leaked are so obviously untrue it's hard to know how WikiLeaks has increased our understanding or what public interest it has served.