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Don’t call me ‘Sir’ THE NEW YEAR brings a knighthood for Diarmaid MacCulloch and a new documentary series for BBC2 following his acclaimed A History of Christianity for BBC 4 in 2009.

The Oxford don and Anglican deacon has just put the finishing touches to How God Made the English, a three-part examination of his thesis that religion has shaped national identity.

“Englishness was created by religion and the Catholic Church originally. Now that Britain is questioning its future, Englishness is back and we need to know what it is about,” said MacCulloch, who is professor of the history of the Church in the theology faculty of Oxford University.

His next project is preparing for the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, which he will deliver from 23 April to 3 May on the theme of silence in the history of the Church. He told us he was surprised and delighted by his knighthood: “It is a huge pat on the back for religious history and it is great to see the Government and the powers that be recognise that the history of Christianity is very important.”

Asked if he intends to style himself “Sir”, he tells us that as an Anglican clergyman he is not allowed to. The appropriate way to address him is, he explained, “Diarmaid MacCulloch, Knight”.

That elusive red hat IF VATICANISTAS are to be believed, the next consistory will take place on 19 February. By this time there will be 107 cardinal electors, leaving Pope Benedict XVI with 13 slots to fill to bring the consistory up to the 120 limit allowed to vote in a conclave.

It seems, however, that the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols is unlikely to be on the list currently being finalised in the Apostolic Palace. This is because the voting cardinal of England and Wales, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, will not turn 80 – the age when cardinals lose their right to vote in a conclave – until 24 August. It is widely accepted that those bishops of cardinalitial sees do not receive the red hat while their predecessor is still able to vote. The 19 February date is posited by Italian journalist Sandro Magister of the weekly news magazine l’Espresso, but the consistory may take place in the autumn, giving Archbishop Nichols a chance of becoming a cardinal this year.

Another sign that a consistory is coming up soon is a report that the ecclesiastical goldsmiths, the Savi Brothers, have received orders for the new cardinals’ rings. According to Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, there is a new design replacing the cross on a rectangle of worked gold with a simple cross.

Pole positions WHEN ARCHBISHOP Patrick Kelly celebrates the golden jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood next month, his priests want to give him a gift worthy of the occasion.

His auxiliary, Bishop Tom Williams, suggested a crozier that would match the decor at Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral. In fact, Bishop Williams felt it important to tell the archbishop in advance about the plan so that he could contribute to the design. Now nearing completion, the crozier is made from stainless steel with a piece of glass at the top representing the Eucharist. It is being made to match the stained-glass windows and other works of art in the cathedral.

Priests and parishioners have been invited to contribute to a collection to pay for the crozier, but it seems a few are not too happy about the idea. Judith Foy, who lives in north-west Merseyside, told us some parishioners were putting Monopoly money or buttons into the collection envelopes. She said a local Catholic charity, Nugent Care, which is desperately short of funds, would be a more worthy cause.

Another parishioner said she and others were “disgusted” about the gift. But Bishop Williams pointed out that the crozier was for the cathedral and was not a personal gift so the archbishop would leave it behind when he retired.

“A gift is a gift,” he said, adding he did not know how much had been raised nor how much the crozier would cost.

War over peace mural IT TOOK a year to complete but only a few short days to reduce the colourful tiled mural that once adorned the facade of San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral to rubble.

The destruction of the mural has caused outrage among its admirers and reportedly condemnation from the Salvadorean Government. A Facebook page, “Indignados por El Mural”, has attracted dozens of furious posts. The Church ordered the removal of the mural and said that parishioners had been consulted and were in agreement with a plan to replace it with a depiction of the Divine Saviour of the World, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

The earlier mural was the work of local artist Fernando Llort. Completed in 1997, it was made in homage to the 1992 peace accords that ended El Salvador’s civil war. In a statement Llort said the commission had been the highlight of his career and its destruction by the Church was incomprehensible and upsetting.

One report suggests the Church may be prosecuted under a law passed last year making it illegal to deface art deemed part of the country’s patrimony.

The cathedral contains the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero who stood up for the poor in the country’s civil war and was assassinated in 1980. During his funeral, 44 people were killed in a stampede as the congregation fled the cathedral when gunmen – allegedly members of the security forces – fired on mourners.

Morality tale IT IS expected to cause a stir when it is screened to Christian audiences later this year, but the members of the British Catholic family behind the film Doonby say their ultimate aim is to take its pro-life message to the wider, secular market on both sides of the Atlantic.

At first it is hard to identify Doonby as a pro-life film, beginning as it does with the arrival in a small Texas town of a mysterious drifter, Sam Doonby, who takes a job in a blues bar and becomes something of a local hero.

It later emerges that Sam was the result of an unwanted pregnancy and that his mother agonised over whether to have an abortion. Those who have seen the film mention an astonishing twist at the end.

The team behind the production are brothers and former Stonyhurst College pupils Mike and Daniel MacKenzie – who produced and filmed it respectively – and their father, writer and director Peter. Mike, 32, chose to return to his alma mater in Lancashire late last year to give the film its first public British screening and was encouraged by the response it received from pupils.

“I was a sixth-former at Stonyhurst when I first read Dad’s script for the film and I was blown away by it,” said Mike. “It’s not covered in crucifixes and other overtly religious symbols, and is not designed to offend pro-choice audiences, but I think it carries a clear message.”

14 | THE TABLET | 7 January 2012