Newspaper `wrong' over Carey article

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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has won a Press Complaints Commission adjudication against the Sunday Times, for a front-page story which claimed he was ready to bless a marriage between Prince Charles and Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles. It is the first time the Archbishop of Canterbury has ever formally complained about his treatment by the press.

The story, which appeared on 31 December 1995, arose from a telephone briefing given to Lesley Thomas, then the Sunday Times' religious affairs correspondent, by Dr Andrew Purkis, Dr Carey's Secretary for Public Affairs.

Dr Purkis was asked what the Archbishop's position would be regarding a possible marriage between the prince and his mistress. He replied that he could not comment on individual cases, but that that he was prepared to set out the general principles on which the Archbishop would approach questions involving the remarriage of divorced people.

Dr Carey's general position, in common with that of most of the Church of England, is that he will give some second marriages a service of blessing, but will not conduct a marriage service for a couple with former spouses still alive. As the conversation proceeded, Dr Purkis expanded on this, under the impression that he was talking generally; and the Sunday Times noted his remarks in the hope that they had a particular application.

The story which was printed claimed the authority of "Lambeth Palace sources" for the assertion that Dr Carey was "prepared to bless a union of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles." It was immediately denied by Lambeth Palace, which demanded that the Sunday Times print a retraction and, when the newspaper refused, took the matter to the Press Complaints Commission.

In its report, the PCC said that a transcript of the conversation "made it clear that the reporter's questions had been put specifically with regard to the Prince of Wales. [Dr Purkis] had been anxious not to comment on any one case in particular, but

"Nevertheless, there was no basis for the newspaper to report that the Archbishop was `ready' to bless a hypothetical remarriage of the Prince."

In the 17th century, the puritan journalist William Prynne had both his ears cut off for writing pamphlets against Dr Carey's predecessor, Archbishop Laud. The Sunday Times will only be expected to print the the PCC's adjudication.