The Catholic Church has welcomed the appointment of Alan Bookbinder as new Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC. An award-winning television producer, Bookbinder, 45, is the first non-Christian to take the role since the BBC began broadcasting. The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, he describes himself as an "open-heart agnostic". Bookbinder said he feels he is on a spiritual journey upon which he has not yet found God, but does not rule it out. In his new role he will commission, and be responsible for, religious material across all types of BBC media from television and radio to online. Joining as a trainee assistant producer in 1980, he has a wide experience of news, current affairs and documentary work. Many of the programmes have covered religious themes, including Missionaries, The People's Pope, and the international documentary series Under the Sun. Currently Bookbinder is an executive producer in the BBC's Science department, where his credits include the multi award-winning series The Human Body and Brain Story. Mark Thompson, director of television, said: "Religious, spiritual and ethical issues have a central place at the very heart of our culture. I am sure that he will bring intelligence, integrity and creativity to this important task." Bookbinder said he felt privileged to have been given "one of the most exciting jobs in the BBC and in public service broadcasting". He said: "Although my own journey through life has not so far brought me to embrace a personal faith, I have a deep appreciation of the way in which faith offers a sense of purpose, identity and meaning to so many people. "I share religion's profound concern with the big questions: how to combat human frailty, how to deal with suffering, how to face death, how to bind as a community, and how to find self-knowledge." Bishop Crispian Hollis, Chairman of the Bishops' Conference Committee for Communications said: "We consider it most encouraging that the BBC has appointed a person with such a high reputation as a programme maker. We welcome this appointment as a sign that the BBC is taking seriously its commitment to provide high quality religious programmes. We look forward to seeing how this commitment will be put into practice and, in this respect, are glad to recognise Mr Bookbinder's expressed desire to find new and imaginative ways to explore religious and moral issues. We hope for a close and fruitful working relationship and wish him every success in his role. The appointment has received a less positive reaction from some churches. Joel Edwards, of the Evangelical Alliance said: "Would the BBC appoint a head of sport who knows nothing about football? Or would it take on a business correspondent with no experience of how the City works? I think not. This appointment will not reassure us that religion remains at the heart of the BBC's future mainstream programming output." But the Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, who speaks for the Church of England on communications matters, said he wished Mr Bookbinder well. He said: "We note that Mr Bookbinder is not a member of any church and the test of this interesting appointment will be whether the BBC is able to deliver its commitment to stronger religious programmes, better scheduled and with improved resourcing." Mr Bookbinder begins his new role on 30 July, taking over from the Rev Ernest Rea who retired in January after 22 years at the BBC.
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