‘Matriarchy good, Patriarchy bad’ was the slogan of the particular Animal Farm in which Commander Melhuilish had cut her teeth. But, as she sat in the gaunt Victorian parlour of the See House in Armagh, on a wet June day when the rain had almost obliterated the view of the adjacent Cathedral, she wondered – wondered in particular because, as she sat there uneasily, she was being stared at by an almost life-size portrait of the indomitable Cecily Alexander.
Mrs Alexander, the wife of a former Archbishop (whose hymns were all, or nearly all, that Eve knew of the Church of Ireland) was, in this portrait at least, the very image of Mrs Proudie. How unlike her Lord was Mrs Alexander, the Commander was thinking: not little, not weak and certainly not helpless. She would, Eve was sure, never have flinched in taking the shears to any offending Struwelpeter.
At which moment the Primate of All Ireland erupted into the room and greeted her with the firm handshake of the confident salesman.
Declon O’Driscoll was something of a star (or at least a Matinée idol). Related to two former Bishops (and through his wife to another three) his rise had been meteoric. From chaplain of Trinity College, he had moved to be the domestic chaplain of the Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. After only two years he found himself in the West of Ireland as the bishop of Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe, Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert, Kilmacduach and Emly, where, strange to say, his signature was sometimes longer than his letters. It was a relief then, in 1986, to become Archbishop of a singular See, and one, moreover, which most people could pronounce.
He had been chosen by the assembled bishops of the last Lambeth Conference to be their spin-doctor-in-chief; and no one, in the event, doubted that he had come even closer to the Blarney stone than any of the professionals. He was, as one journalist justly remarked, capable of giving an eloquent and entertaining speech of thirty minutes duration on almost any topic of current concern from Irish politics to the African Aids pandemic without that speech containing either a firm opinion or a single unassailable fact. It was a gift – one which had led the Archbishop’s most enthusiastic ‘friends’ to hope that he might one day be elevated to Canterbury. Sadly it was not to be.
O’Driscoll was not, truth to tell, at all disappointed. He was happy to run his leisurely little province – small enough for everybody to know everybody else, and for most of them to be related – and to punch above his weight on the world-wide Anglican scene.
‘You’ll be wanting to ask about the theft,’ he said, with just enough of an Irish lilt to carry conviction. ‘And to be sure I’ll help you all I can.’
It was not easy, however, to settle the precise whereabouts of the Archbishop on the evening of March 31. His diary, he freely admitted, was of no real help; and his memory did not serve. He was either at a dinner in the House of Lords hosted by the nonagenarian Bishop of Salchester, or on a flight from Stansted to Belfast. The bishop and the ticketing office of EasyJet would certainly know the answer. O’Driscoll was emphatic, however, that he had been nowhere near Lambeth Palace or its Muniment Room.
‘Can I declare, at this stage, a profound lack of interest in dogmatic statements of any kind? We in the Church of Ireland have had to learn to be flexible, We are the real Anglican Via Media, situated at a safe distance from the Pro-life Papists on the one hand and the perambulating Paisleyites on the other. If it is true that we have the occasional Dean who doesn’t believe in God, what reason is that for you to go around accusing a fellow of theft?’
‘I have done my level best for Anglicanism.’ he went on. ‘My role as chairman of the O’Driscoll Commission on Communion and Transsexuals in the Episcopate was widely acclaimed as yet another bold attempt to head off schism. Our conclusion was that, whilst there might difficulties for some provinces, the greatest possible degree of Communion could be maintained if other provinces and bishops took the bishop in question to be the sex which they themselves would prefer it to be. This was hailed as a spectacular piece of theological ingenuity and received the annual award of the mediation and conciliation service, ACAS. Apart from that, I challenge you to prove that I have ever had a single theological thought or opinion. If it’s advanced thinking your looking for, try Richard Holloway. I myself have no intention of engaging in speculative theology, even in retirement.’
Commander Melhuilish, who was by now under some pressure from Adrian Haygarth, the Assistant Commissioner, to solve the Quadrilateral case and get back to what he called ‘real policing’, decided to introduce a new element into the enquiry: conspiracy.
It was obvious from the outset that this had been an inside job. Who else but an Anglican would be interested in anything so arcane? She had dismissed out of hand Whelan’s theory that the document had been abducted by ecumenically-minded Methodists as a bargaining chip in the current reunion talks. Nor, she was coming to think, was any individual primate or province credibly responsible. The solution lay, Melhuilish was convinced, in a programme of concerted sabotage. Her theory was that a group of primates had pooled resources to hire a team of experts – probably ex-SAS officers recruited in sub-Saharan Africa or disaffected Mosad operatives recruited through the good offices of Abu ben Ahdem, the Palestinian activist Bishop in Jerusalem.
Abu was a Prime Suspect. His high profile, linked to the fact that his numerous children had been educated in America at prestigious Ivy-league Colleges and someone else’s expense, made him interesting to say the least.
‘How well do you know the Bishop in Jerusalem ,’ asked Eve directly.
The Archbishop flinched, but rapidly regained his emollient composure.
‘Abu and I are old friends, ‘he replied truthfully ‘We share concerns about the political turmoil of our two countries. Everybody talks about a solution to the Irish and the Palestinian problems. What nobody will be honest about is what the problem is: the problem is that there is no solution. But I have not seen Abu for at least two years, if that is what you mean.’
Next month in Quadrilateral: Commander Melhuilish visits War-torn Jerusalem.
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