Poking fun at vicars has a long history in English culture,even before Jane Austen introduced us to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice! And the figure of the turbulent priest is even older, since Henry II called to be rid of this “turbulent priest”, Thomas a Becket, with deadly results. So there is plenty of material for media editors to mine if they want to target a hapless senior cleric.
Clearly there are some people who are very hostile towards Archbishop Rowan Williams and they are not reluctant to take any opportunity to undermine him. The number within the Church of England of those who wish to see him resign is tiny, and the media coverage they receive is totally disproportionate. Outside the church though it seems there is a significant number who want to make him look irrelevant. Is this part of the general hostility there is to religion amongst some leading voices of our society? Is it a fearful ambivalence of attitude about the power of faith to provide a strong moral vision. I don't believe there is a conspiracy but I don't forget the power of “groupthink” to influence attitudes.
Politicians, both local and national,more and more look to faith groups like local churches to help build sustainable and cohesive communities, as the welfare state continues its long withdrawal. But meaningful partnership involves mutual respect for each other's views.
Politicians and other leading voices who care about more than their own families' fortunes, and there are still some who do, need to ensure that the Archbishop is offered at least the respect for his ideas due to him as the leader of the largest and most deeply embedded voluntary organisation in the country.