ABC fires PR director

The Rev. George Pitcher’s contract as the Media Director to Archbishop of Canterbury will end after only one year.

According Riazat Butt of the Guardian, he was dismissed after the flap over the ABC’s guest editorship at the New Stateman in June . In the two page editorial, Archbishop Williams criticized the Prime Minister’s “Big Society” initiatives.

Butt writes:

George Pitcher, an Anglican priest and former journalist, was hired last October as public affairs secretary at Lambeth Palace and engineered Rowan Williams’s stint as guest editor for the New Statesman last month, which saw the archbishop launch a sustained attack on the coalition.

His criticism, seen by Whitehall as the most outspoken by an archbishop in a decade, pitted him against the government and left Lambeth Palace scrambling to minimise the damage as Conservative politicians and peers berated the archbishop either through the media or through channels at the Church of England.

Sunday, Lambeth Palace confirmed that Pitcher was leaving, but refused to say whether the New Statesmen stint had anything to do with his exit. “George was contracted to advise the archbishop on public affairs issues and that contract expires on 30 September when he will have completed projects he was asked to undertake. “When approached by the Guardian about his departure Pitcher said: “I am returning to journalism, a culture to which I am better suited.”

In the two-page editorial entitled “The government needs to know how afraid people are”, Williams said the coalition was facing “bafflement and indignation” over its planned health and education reforms. “With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” he wrote.

Prime Minister David Cameron rejected the critique. The Telegraph quotes a Tory MP, Tony Baldry, that the Archbishop should stop “should stop “shouting” at ministers, suggesting that the “the historic right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords could be at risk as a result of the episode.”

Pitcher himself writes in The Express that if the Church of England is to have any voice at all in the 21st Century, it must “must engage actively and critically with the big social and political issues” that affect ordinary peoples lives. He writes:

The middle classes and MPs are keen to tell bishops to butt out of politics when they’ve something to say about health or education or treatment of our elderly.

But our Church isn’t outside politics, only party politics. That is why politicians mistrust us: because the Gospel can’t be controlled along neat political lines.

The Church has always been most effective when it has been a thorn in the side of the body politic.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury enters political debate, it is not letters from outraged MPs that are most revealing, it is the hundreds from those on disability benefit, single parents, carers, the sick and elderly, who want to say thanks for giving voice to the voiceless.

These are the people for whom the promise “We’re all in this together” rings hollow.

We see our Christian gospel through the prism of the world we live in and vice versa. It is a Christian mission to ensure that the economic mistakes of the rich and powerful aren’t unduly borne by the poor and powerless.

That’s what makes us “relevant”, in the dread word of the trendy vicar, not folk songs and overhead projectors. If we answer that call to duty, we may win the undivided attention of the 30-somethings, as well as those twice their age.

Lesley’s blog looks at the impossible job of managing the media relations for an Archbishop that hates the media.

I think that the job of looking after PR for Rowan Williams is an utter nightmare, for this reason, stated in a Guardian article written by Rosie Harper:

The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, the Right Rev Peter Skov-Jakobsen ,[said that w]hilst we are seen as discriminatory, racist and homophobic, it is almost impossible to convince folk that we have good news for them.

Until the church has answers to these questions then the media will just keep asking and Rowan doesn’t want to answer them. I thought Andrew Brown wrote with great insight about this:

I couldn’t see the point of a formal interview. It’s not just that Williams dislikes dealing with the media, though he clearly does – asked by a prisoner whether he regretted any of the things he had said in public, he replied immediately: “How long have you got?” The problem is that his position on gay clergy is irredeemably compromised. And since that is the only problem that the press believes he actually has the power to do something about, his opinions on other subjects are much less interesting.

Sometimes the Church of England falls into the trap of giving people impossible jobs. I saw one advertised recently that was half-time radical Pioneer and half-time Vicar to two rural parishes that only use BCP. What person can do that job? I don’t suppose George Pitcher was fired – I should think he was pleased to leave and perhaps do a job that was more do-able, like sell ice to the Eskimos.

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