Cash for Confession?
As the trial-by-tabloid hounding of the Murdochs continues, there will doubtless be many at The Guardian and the BBC who will be rejoicing at (indeed, stoking) the assault on the world’s largest media empire inclined to the Republican/Conservative worldview. But the euphoria will also be felt in the cloisters of the Church of England: His Grace reported some time ago on the objections of the Bishop of Manchester to the BSkyB takeover, on the grounds of media plurality. His Grace agreed with His Lordship that the vitality and plurality of the media is ‘essential’ for a ‘well informed democracy’. And His Grace further agreed that there is a danger of the ‘exercise of subtle editorial influence’ should BSkyB be taken over completely by News Corp. But His Grace was dumbfounded as to why His Lordship, as the Church of England’s ‘lead media spokesman’, has expressed no such concerns about the BBC, especially when News Corp has just six per cent of news viewers while the BBC attracts 58 per cent.
As the Established Church grapples with the ethical issues raised by its ownership of 344,586 shares in News Corp, worth just under about £3.8 million, the Roman Catholic Church is now becoming embroiled in the saga. Questions have already been asked about Rupert Murdoch’s knighthood, which was apparently bestowed after he donated $10m to help build a cathedral in Los Angeles. His Grace has a slight problem with rewarding those who make donations to the Church, not least because, verily, they have had their reward on earth. But it now appears he wasn’t the only Murdoch to be asked if he wanted a K or a C.
James Murdoch wouldn’t be the first to offer cash for confession: Frank Sinatra famously offered an undisclosed sum for Pope John Paul II to hear his last confession, as though the Mafioso's sins were so unforgivably mortal and pervesely carnal that only the Vicar of Christ himself had the authority on earth to grant absolution. And throughout the ages various salvation packages have been available, at a price, to those who wield temporal power and political authority.
But it is sad that James Murdoch’s six-figure donation ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK last year is now as tarnished as his father’s ‘K’ and the Church of England’s shares, which must have appeared a jolly sound investment at the time. Rupert Murdoch is not Roman Catholic, which makes his knighthood rather remarkable. Though the fact that his wife, Anna, and son, James, are, certainly helps to explain the very generous donations. But Mr Murdoch Snr is not, unlike Sinatra, trying to circumvent a well-deserved period in Purgatory. Perhaps it is more ‘Cash for Access’ than ‘Cash for Confession’: there was certainly never a question of it being ‘Cash for Influence’ over Canon Law.
While many Roman Catholics are calling for Sir Rupert to be stripped of his knighthood, there is resistance. Dr William Oddie said: "Just cancelling the knighthood simply gives the impression of futile censoriousness.” And the Church of England is also resisting divestment, just in case their Murdoch shares should increase in value over the coming years (ie, when News Corp finally does take over BSkyB).
But there is some bizarre reasoning:
“We'll have to be careful in the future about that particular source of money," said Bishop Kieran Conry of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. "A conversation needs to take place, discussion needs to take place. It is a public scandal and everyone knows Murdoch's empire is tainted by these revelations."How, pray, can one be careful about the morality and ethical provenance of the unknown unknowns? And who has yet made known what is unknown, or professes to know beyond a shadow of doubt what a court of law has yet to make known?
Francis Davis, a fundraiser for various religious causes, former government adviser and trustee of numerous charities, added: "Given the importance that the English bishops have attached to ethics in business since the banking crisis, it would now be extraordinary if the bishops were not to review the ethical provenance of this donation. And perhaps it raises questions about other donations we don't know about."