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Jane Garvey: one BBC presenter who doesn’t push an agenda on the Church

Woman’s Hour this week lets two ‘good cops’ talk about women in the Church

By on Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A screenshot from the documentary Catholics. The last episode, Women, will be broadcast tomorrow evening on BBC4

A screenshot from the documentary Catholics. The last episode, Women, will be broadcast tomorrow evening on BBC4

Catholic women are in the news again. Yesterday’s Woman’s Hour with Jane Garvey included an interview with two Catholics: Rosamund Urwin, a columnist on the London Evening Standard, and Madeleine Teahan, associate editor of the Herald. Garvey’s challenge was “Why would a woman be a Catholic in Britain today?”

Rosamund Urwin admitted wryly that she was the “bad cop” in this debate; although her faith is very important to her and has been a source of comfort she describes herself as a “proud feminist” and struggles with certain issues. These turn out to be familiar chestnuts: she would love to see women ordained priests and contraceptives made freely available in the developing world, presumably with the Church’s blessing. Oddly enough, Urwin did not sound a militant feminist in the manner of Baroness Helena Kennedy, who also appeared on Woman’s Hour arguing against Madeleine Teahan on November 1 last year, and whose voice quivered with indignation every time the words “Pope”, “men” and “Vatican” were mentioned. By comparison, Urwin sounded slightly apologetic for her stance, as if she really wanted to play “good cop” instead. Clearly, one’s tone of voice matters when it comes to intractable questions.

Madeleine Teahan comes across as a very good spokesman (I won’t use the word “spokesperson”) for the Church: she is not middle-aged and angry but young, calm and humorous. She pointed out that there are many young people in the Church who find the teaching on sexual morality “liberating”; indeed, she implied, being on the pill could turn into a new form of sexual slavery as it gave “greater sexual licence to men”. I have never heard this point made by feminists although it must have occurred to them.

Garvey raised another old chestnut, an anecdote about a woman who was forced to have eight children against her will because a priest had told her it was her duty to do so. This only showed that hard cases not only make bad law; they cast an emotional pall over the real issues. Teahan gamely countered with praise for the late pope, John Paul II, whose encyclicals had raised the dignity of women, Catholic or otherwise.

At this point Urwin felt the need to refer to the Church as a “patriarchal organisation” but she didn’t say it with much conviction and then went on to add that the Catholic faith was kinder to women than some other faiths, where women had to be segregated from men during worship etc. “You have to be in something to change it,” she added stoutly.

Both women referred to the BBC4 documentary this Thursday evening, the third and final programme in a series called Catholics, which will be on the subject of women in the Church. They agreed the perspective was too narrow: what about lay men – and nuns? I’ll blog about the documentary too. Meanwhile, Jane Garvey came over as a sympathetic interviewer, not overly pushing her own (feminist?) point of view – as one suspects her tough co-presenter, Jenni Murray, would have done.

  • Honeybadger

    The BBC should not be pushing any point, one way or another.

    Otherwise, it cannot call itself impartial.

  • theroadmaster

    It is good to hear about  broadcaster or interviewer on one of the major TV channels, who exhibits a degree of respect to interviewees who express a religious orthodox viewpoint in moral debates.  This kind of impartiality is a rare commodity in the press, radio or on television, as far too often, people of Faith are ambushed by interrogators with a barely-disguised animus against their beliefs.  The distorted presentation that we receive, is of the “reasonable” stance of the interviewer in tandem with his/her deference to members of the panel who are in agreement with his/her bias, revealing the “retrograde” or “extreme” viewpoints of the religious advocates.  The BBC is a public servant of the people and in that role must make greater strides in terms of internal reform with regard to it’s internal ethos and structures, to overcome existing prejudices within that organization to Faith in general and Christianity(particular Catholicism) in particular.

  • GFFM

    This kind of interview would never ever appear on any American network. At least there is someone at the BBC who has a brain in her head about how to conduct an interview about religion and Catholicism in specific. Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Elizabeth Vargas would have no idea how to do what Jane Garvey did. They are religiously illiterate to put it bluntly. Nor would any American network deem such an interview even mildly interesting. In fact, all the networks are hostile. Good for the BBC in this instance.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe not but in the US there is both Catholic TV and radio which present an alternative to the PC rubbish usually spewed out by the BBC.

  • GFFM

    That is true. There is EWTN, but not everyone has access to it. And every one of our networks  has drunk the PC Koolaid.

  • Anonymous

    I find it quite embarrassing that you refer to Rosamund Urwin as both a Catholic and a ‘good cop’. I read the Evening Standard regularly and have to put up with her somewhat frequent hypocritical references to being a Catholic. Whilst it is clear she has been formed through Catholic culture and has retained Catholic tastes in many areas, her heart is clearly first and foremost with feminist ideology, which she manages to interject in some form, into half the articles she writes. I don’t see why someone that, where there is contradiction, rejects Church teaching in favour of her number one concern, the feminist gospel, should get away with being categorised Catholic, and a ‘good cop’ one to boot. To non Catholics it is both confusing and negative PR and to the practising Catholics amongst us, those that put Christ and his Church first, before ALL other temporary fads and vanities and ideologies, it is quite insulting……

  • Anonymous

    It ceased to be impartial years ago.

  • Anonymous

    The BBC is always biased

  • Anonymous

    [deleted by author because redundant]

  • Mazzalfa

    The BBC, long ago nailed its colours to the pro-abortion aggressively secular post and until the redress the balance Catholics should not support them in any way. For Catholics these programmes very meagre crumbs of comfort indeed when seen in the context of their vast array of their anti-Catholic output.
    CUT – Catholics Unplug your Televisions and give the licence fee to EWTN where it can do some good.

  • Miel

    Whilst I liked the episode on “Priests”, I found the episode “Women”
    highly embarassing…especially when
    the sacristan at Westminster cathedral began talking about giving holy
    water to
    the plants, and wine turning into blood like some magic ritual. I
    actually cringed when she expostulated “IT’S BLOOD!!”.  I’m sure
    she is well meaning but the documentary made her out to be
    rather eccentric (NB. I mean no
    slur on her as an individual – rather I feel the documentary editor
    emphasised this portrayal). Similarly they asked one of the readers of
    the liturgy whether she had a boyfriend
    (implying…what, exactly?). It seemed rather an underhand, leading
    I felt that they deliberately avoided portraying Catholic women as
    intellectual, questioning, thinking beings, presumably because the
    editors’ agenda was to make us look like silly
    “Mrs-Doyle-from-Father-Ted” type characters who fuss about the sacistry
    having nothing better to do. I found it difficult viewing
    especially since I was watching with an atheist friend who was genuinely
    prepared to be sympathetic towards Catholicism…the result was that I
    was left unjustly to feel like a foolish, superstitious little woman.