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Dear Theresa,

As your Primate and Father-in-God,  I have decided to give you some good advice.

And since you have not come to me to request it directly, it will appear in the Mail on Sunday (I know, I know!)

As you will be aware, my reputaion is big on consensus and reconciliation – they have worked wonders in the Church of England! – so that is what I am suggesting to you.

It’s a capital notion: we just get together a group of the great and the good, who will then steer this Brexit business into the ground – I mean, to a successful conclusion. It won’t be difficult.

After all, everybody who is anybody is (like you and me) opposed to Brexit at heart. So we just abandon the whole business. We could call it a ‘soft Brexit’. The hoi polloi is so exhausted with politics that they will never notice the difference!

If you, like me, want to get your own way in this matter, and still come out of it with a reputation for compromise and reconciliation, this is the way forward. Though I shall, of course, be saying something rather different in the Mail.

With supreme confidence in my own political judgement,

Your archbishops and friend,


PS As you will see, I am writing this on the back of a proof of my next year’s Christmas card.



Dear Frank,

It will not surprise you that I am having problems with George again.

It appears that, not only does he behave inappropriately in retirement, but that he was pretty incompetent in office. I don’t mean that silly Archbishops’ Council – one puts up with that – but when dealing with child abuse (which will get us all in the end if we are not careful!).

George’s downfall, it appears, was a pair of brothers called Ball, who stole pixie-hoods from the dressing-up box and called themselves monks. One even became the Bishop of Gloucester. How no one noticed that they were downright loony, I cannot imagine. (‘Odd-ball’ is a saying in our language, you may remember).

Anyway, Peter Ball got into trouble in the usual way, and was cautioned by the police. When George received letters from some of the alleged victims, he failed to forward them to the police. You will not be surprised that it has all come out in the wash. And I have had to suspend from office one of my own predecessors!

Poor George! He was so easily taken in. And the Ball brothers had glamorous connections with the Royal Family which would have dazzled someone of his humble origins. Still, the child protection juggernaut trundles on, and one can only gasp at the thought of who might be its next victim.

Your friend,


PS. How are you getting along with George Pell and the Australians? You were very wise, in my opinion, to keep the boys in the playground.




The Four Cardinals, who presented the ‘Dubia’ concerning Amoris Laetitia have written seeking an audience with the Holy Father. The letter is couched in the most diplomatic language and goes out of its way to deny any accusations of sede vacantism levelled at the authors.

One doubts very much that they will be granted an audience, or even get a reply to the letter. Why? Because more is at stake than the mere interpretation of AL, important as that is in itself.

What is at stake is the universality of the Roman Magisterium. What is at stake is the understanding of the very nature of the Church as expounded by Ratzinger and Mueller: that the universal church takes precedence both historically and ontologically over the local church, and that area conferences of bishops are merely administrative conveniences with no intrinsic authority or jurisdiction.

What seems to be the case, is that Pope Francis, to get his own way in the matter of the admission of civilly married divorcees to Holy Communion, is prepared to defer to local autonomy in the matter. A quintessentially authoritarian Pope is prepared to sacrifice the universality of the magisterium  for political advantage.

It may, of course, be that everyone will eventually fall in line with the Maltese, the Sicilians and the Germans. (Though the Poles seem very unlikely to do so.) But even if world-wide agreement were eventually reached, we would not have returned to the status quo ante.  The djinn would be out of the bottle. There would have been a de facto change in ecclesiology of significant proportions.

One is left to assume that that, paradoxically, is what Francis is after.



Details are only now emerging of Pope Francis’s career as a bouncer at a Buenos Aires nightclub. The downtown establishment, known as Le Cochon Aveugle, was run by a Frenchman known locally as Gaston, who was rumoured to have emigrated to Argentina to avoid the unwelcome attentions of the Surete.

It was here, negotiating with minor gangsters and ladies of the night, that the future Pope honed his diplomatic skills, and adopted some of his more fragrant vocabulary.

In the course of time the club became the nocturnal rendezvous of a group of off-duty Jesuits, who seduced Bergoglio into the order. The rest is history.

Local Option


“According to the assessment of the confessor and taking into account the good of the penitent, it is possible to absolve and admit [the divorced and civilly remarried] to the Eucharist, even though the confessor knows that it is, for the Church, an objective disorder.”

So reads the new pastoral document issued by the Sicilian bishops’ conference. The argumentation is taken partly from Amoris Laetitia, and partly from general principles adduced from Evangelii Gaudium.

There can be no doubt that if it was the Holy Father’s intention to change the doctrine of the Church on matrimony and divorce by stealth – that is by encouraging local autonomy – he is having a considerable degree of success.

We in the Ordinariate – with a long and painful experience of the workings of Provincial Autonomy in the Anglican Communion – view these developments with something approaching alarm.

It is not simply that the toothpaste can never be returned to the tube; it is that it is almost impossible, once the principle has been granted, to restrict the operation of local or regional autonomy to one topic. Everything is soon up for grabs in a free-for-all in which the centre cannot hold.

Ask the Archbishop



In our new series, agony uncle Justin Welby answers your questions.

Questions should be addressed to:
The Most Reverend, the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Lambeth Palace,
London SE1 7JU



Dear Archbishop,

I have recently suffered an unexpected set back in my career, and, as a grammar school girl, I find myself vulnerable to bullying public schoolboys in my place of work. I believe I still have useful work to do, but wonder if I can go on under such stress. What do you advise?

Theresa, Maidenhead.

Dear Theresa,

I am the last person to give advice about dealing with Old Etonians. But my own experience is that success at work is not everything. Indeed I have very little of it myself! Fulfilment comes in many ways: home and family; nature and the countryside; sports and hobbies; foreign travel.

My advice is to get out more. When I feel bogged down by the intransigence of things (and believe me I do!) I just jet off to some far flung place and put it all behind me.  Believe me things look different from an African or Far Eastern perspective.

Of course, as the Archbishop of a world-wide Communion of over 85 million people, there is always somewhere to get away to. You may find it more difficult. But there must be somewhere – Dalmatia, Casablanca, Bognor – where you can be yourself.

‘Quality time for me’ – that’s what you need.



The nebulous nature of Anglican doctrine (‘what the Church of England is teaching for the time being’) has long been the butt of humour. Now its emptiness is official.

The Diocese of Truro (proprietor one Tim Thornton, soon to be elevated as bag-carrier to the Archbishop of Canterbury) has advertised in The Guardian (where else?) for a ‘Strategic Programme Manager’ for its ‘Transforming Mission’ initiative.

S/he, the advertisement tells us, ‘need not be a practising Christian’.

How this faithless missioner will increase faith is not explained. But one can be sure that the mealy-mouthed managerial-speak in which the job is described will have alienated any red-blooded Christian at the mere reading of it.

The unbelieving applicant would, nevertheless, need to be ‘sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the Church of England’. Whatever they may be.

The same tolerant and inclusive language will no doubt be useful in the forthcoming appointment of a new bishop.