The editor of a major newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph in the UK, has admitted that his paper misrepresented the opinions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, by falsely claiming that the tsunami disaster had made the Archbishop doubt whether God exists.
Dominic Lawson was on holiday when his paper ran a news story on 2 January 2005 reporting a Sunday Telegraph feature article written by the Archbishop. The news headline read "Archbishop of Canterbury admits: This makes me doubt the existence of God."
The article itself, which Lawson describes as ìthoughtful and movingî in a personal letter to Dr Williams, said no such thing. It acknowledged the doubts about God that many people felt in the face of tragedy and said that they were understandable.
The Archbishop then explained how God was a faithful presence for many victims of natural disaster. But he distanced himself from easy theological rationalisations in the aftermath of the tsunami.
The Sunday Telegraph received many complaints about the headline. Ekklesia associate Simon Barrow wrote to the editor, saying "Your headline makes me question not Dr Williams' faith, but the capacities of your headline writer and sub-editor."
He continued: "Did they choose simply not to read the Archbishop's article, which nowhere states what they attribute to him? Or do they and you now regard news reporting as the creative art of sidestepping facts in order to produce a more sensational story?"
The Sunday Telegraph chose not to apologise editorially last week, though it published letters critical of the headline, and also critical of Dr Williams' article. Its weekday sister paper, The Daily Telegraph, also published a leader excusing the mistake and accusing the Archbishop of being unclear.
This is evidently not a viewpoint shared by Dominic Lawson. Replying to Simon Barrow, he wrote: "I share your sentimentsÖ It grieves me that we should let down our readers who have the right to expect the highest standards."
In his personal letter to the Archbishop, Mr Lawson straightforwardly recognises that the headline, "apart from misrepresenting the nature of your argument, was also theologically obtuse."
"It is good that an apology has been forthcoming", Simon Barrow said. "However the internet edition of the Sunday Telegraph still contains no correction to the headline and the paper has relied on correspondents to point out its error. I do not doubt Mr Lawsonís sincerity, but personal correspondence remains a rather coy way of admitting such a major misrepresentation."
The Sunday Telegraph headline has continued to do damage to the Archbishop, causing ìsurpriseî and ìalarmî to Anglican Ugandan bishops, according to media reports. It has also been reproduced on a number of websites across the world.
In the US, Christianity Today magazine accused Dr Williams of soft-peddling traditional Christian apologetics in his article. But others have welcomed his honesty and sensitivity.
Dr Williams suffered significant media misrepresentations earlier in his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, when it was falsely reported that he had joined a pagan order of druids.
In fact he had been inducted into the premier cultural association of Welsh-speaking Wales, an organisation whose leadership has been consistently and explicitly Christian over most of its 200 years of history.
The Archbishop has also been lambasted by conservative evangelicals for his conviction that affirming same-sex partnerships is consistent with a faithful understanding of the Gospel message.
Dr Williams has admitted that he is averse to a sound bite culture, but is acknowledged by many as a deep thinker and as an exponent of open, creative Christian orthodoxy.