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Back to the prize ring for another bout…

Well it’s back to prize ring for another Catholic-themed mental boxing match. It’s the Spectator-hosted debate to be held at the Royal Geographical Society at Kensington Gore. A new set of sparring partners come together for a friendly debate on a frivolous but promisingly entertaining topic this coming Tuesday: “England should be a Catholic country”. Discuss.

There are some heavyweight champions throwing punches in this match. On the “For” side we’ve got Cardinal Cormac “The Red Belt” Murphy O’Connor, Dom Antony “The Sometimes Furious” Sutch OSB, and Piers Paul “The Shack-Attack” Read while the “Against” side consists of Matthew “Rage against Relics” Parris, Lord “Vorpal Bunny” Harries and Stephen “The Tattooed Bruiser” Pound.

As a subtitle for the debate, the Spectator brief offers
this: “The Anglican Communion is deeply, and perhaps irrevocably, split, and the Catholic Church is offering a berth to any Anglican who wants to convert. In this year of the Pope’s visit, is it time for England to become a Catholic country again?”

England has as much hope of becoming Catholic as Ed Balls has of becoming a bishop that much is clear from just opening the Times or listening to the Today programme. So rather than treating this debate as a serious exercise, sit back and watch these guys throw some stinging jabs, deliver some uppercuts, hooks and show some fancy footwork.

Let’s meet the contestants.

For the Motion:

First up, we have Piers Paul Reid. An author of much repute, endowed with a great deal of gravitas, Mr Reid earned the nickname “Shack-Attack” for no better reason than for being an Ampleforth Old Boy. He’s certainly a weighty champion “For” the motion, given that he has published a large number of novels including A Married Man, The Free Frenchman and most recently The Death of A Pope. He has quite a bit of non-fiction under his belt too: Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors; The Templars, a history of the crusading order; and Alec Guinness. The Authorised Biography. After spending time with the guys-in-black-habits, Mr Read studied history at Cambridge. His new novel The Misogynist, will be published by Bloomsbury in July this year.

We’ve had the chance to talk to Mr Read ahead of the bout. He says he’s been preparing a nine-minute speech, which is very short to summarise the history of a 2,000 year old Church.

Next up we have Dom Antony Sutch OSB. A former feared-and-revered headmaster of Downside, Dom Antony has been nicknamed “ The Sometimes Furious” after describing himself as “fat, fifty and sometimes furious” ahead of speaking engagements. Today, Fr Antony is a parish priest in Beccles and a popular after-dinner speaker. Himself schooled at Downside, Dom Antony was educated at Exeter University. He was headmaster at Downside between 1995 and 2003 and can be heard on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

With his booming voice and knack for a quick jab in the form of a witty repartee, bets are on Dom Antony to entertain with his technique.

Dom Antony told us that he hadn’t done much by way of preparation yet, He said: “I’m relying totally on the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it the Gospel that tells us not to worry about tomorrow but allow the Holy Spirit to take care of you?

A—aaaand the last of our contestants sparring “for” the motion, we have Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. Known as “The Red Belt” because it sounds vaguely martial arts-y and because he wears one, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is the former Archbishop of Westminster and the only cardinal in England and Wales. After his retirement, he was rumoured to have been offered a seat in the House of Lords which he turned down. He studied for the priesthood in the English College in Rome. He served first as a parish priest in Southampton and secretary to Bishop Worlock.

Later he was rector of his old Alma Mater, the English College before becoming Bishop of Arundel and Brighton where he served for 23 years. In 2000, he was appointed to follow Cardinal Basil Hume as Archbishop of Westminster and was himself made Cardinal by Pope John Paul II and serves in various Curial departments. Word is that he can deliver a good uppercut or two and he’s good at fighting when on the ropes.

We were not able to speak to the Cardinal but a spokeswoman has said that he is looking forward to the debate. Well, so are we.

Against the motion:

First up, Stephen Pound MP (Labour, North Ealing). Nicknamed “Ealing North’s tattooed bruiser,” by Private Eye for being a boxer in the Merchant Navy, Mr Pound is a lay reader at his local Catholic Church and was the housing manager of Paddington Churches Housing Association before becoming an MP in 1997. He was educated at the LSE and was at one stage, a bus conductor. Mr Pound has appeared on the Today programme, University Challenge, and the news quiz show Have I got News for You?. He should be a formidable contender.

Next we have Matthew Parris. A Spectator writer and prize-winning columnist for the Times, Mr Parris is a former Conservative MP who won the nickname
“Rage against the Relics” after writing that the relics of St Therese of Lisieux re-awakened the militant atheist in him.  He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, and Yale and served as MP for West Derbyshire from 1979 to 1986.

Believed to be one of the best writers around, Mr Parris is sure to have some nimble footwork and throw some elegant but bruising punches.

Last up, but certainly not least, stands the Right Rev Richard Harries,former Bishop of Oxford. Lord Harries earned his nickname “Vorpal Bunny” for his stint on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, where he came out in favour for experimentation with hybrid embryos made from both human and animal cells. He is currently Gresham Professor of Divinity and an Honorary Professor of Theology at King’s College, London. His most recent book is Faith in Politics? Rediscovering the Christian Roots of our Political Values, published by DLT and out next week.

As the wonderfully over-the-top Las Vegas ring announcer says: “Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmble!”

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