Sunday, September 17, 2017


Click on any image for a larger version

Fr. Gerry is a second cousin and I only discovered him in later life. His grandfather was married to two of my granny's sisters and then to another woman to boot. So he proudly boasts four grandmothers though only two are blood related.

For the last number of years he has been assigned to the combined parishes of Dolphin's Barn and Rialto, in the area where he grew up, initially as Parish Priest and then after heart surgery he swapped back to curate.

His career took in Tanzania, London, USA, Shankill, Corduff, and his present parishes. Now he's off on a sabbatical to London and Rome and their gain will be Dolphin's Barn and Rialto's loss. You can read a piece on him in the current Parish Newsletter from which I gratefully nicked the above photo.

Gerry shared a presbytery for six years with Fr. Gobezayehu, from Ethopia, and it was to him that parishioner Theresa turned when faced with doing a farewell tribute. You can read his touching tribute here.

Frank Silk has made lovely video of Fr. Gerry's farewell mass, in Dolphin's Barn on 10/9/2007, including photos of some of the "new Irish" who Fr. Gobezayehu refers to in his tribute. The combined parishes are now seriously multi-ethnic and it is clear from this video, and the pictures I have gratefully nicked from it, that Gerry has a welcome for all and that they are all very fond of him.

Cathy Scuffil

It is many years now since Gerry introduced me to Cathy Scuffil who was then on her way to the Somme, chasing up some of her relatives who died in WWI. She brought me back a photo of my uncle Paddy's name on the Thiepval monument for which I am eternally grateful. Cathy is currently one of the historians in residence with Dublin City Libraries.

The young Gerry.
Photo by Arthur Fields

For all his praises of Gerry, Fr. Gobezayehu recalls that there was one area in which Gerry didn't deliver. He never got round to fulfilling a promise to teach the good father Irish dancing.

Lest the good father think Gerry was bluffing I can reassure him that the above photo is all the proof he needs of Gerry's competence in that area.

I think Gerry must be unique - the only Parish Priest with four grannys to appear on O'Connell Bridge in a skirt.

Now that I've revealed all your secrets, Gerry, you'll definitely have to leave the country.

Travel well and enjoy.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Tony Flannnery's book(2013)
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I'm using the Real Presence here as a proxy for a lot of other stuff, such as the resurrection, the virgin birth and so on. These are all phenomena which are taught as doctrine by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) but which defy the laws of nature as we know them. They are therefore matters of faith requiring to be believed by Roman Catholics who wish to say members of that church. (You can read my earlier paper on the subject here.)

In an age when the RCC was a temporal power, something that applied in Ireland up to recent times, and when Canon Law was claimed to trump Civil Law, and when Science was seen as very much the handmaiden of religious belief and subject to it, then there was no real problem. Clear as mud.

The problem now is the new revisionism. Roman Catholics, at least some of them, are looking at these eternal truths afresh and to a large extent unencumbered by medieval concepts of the universe. And the result is startling. In the glare of the limelight these doctrines don't hold water, at least not in the manner stated.

George Pell

You only have to watch Cardinal Pell attempting to explain the Real Presence to Richard Dawkins to realise this.

It seems to me that the RCC is now in some difficulty explaining these matters to today's generation in language that retains some meaning. If these matters are now to be understood in a symbolic sense, then that's fine, and the way is open for using a wide degree of metaphor and language. The inspiration and sense of the spiritual need not be any the less but the proponents are saved from promulgating what to a rational person is pure nonsense.

I can remember the excitement and liberation in my youth when I first read John Robinson's book Honest to God.

Well that was kick-off for the Protestants. Now the RCC has reached the same point and needs new ways of expressing old truths. But this is dangerous territory. Putting your head above the parapet is likely to get it blown off, all the more so if you are a priest.

I'm not sure what stage of his spiritual evolution on this scale Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery was at when the Vatican tried to blow his head off, but it is clear that he has developed his understanding further in the intervening years. He tells us that:
Currently I am working with a group of people who are exploring new ways, and new language, for addressing spiritual realities. We are doing this is the light of the enormous advances made in scientific understanding in the past sixty or seventy years, most especially in cosmology and quantum physics. We are exploring ways to talk about creation in the light of what we now know about the universe, and what that tells us about a Creator and our relationship with that Being. It is a fascinating study, about which much stimulating material is now being written. This is not to contradict what has gone before us, but to ‘find new wine skins for the new wine’.
Flannery explains his thinking in a little more detail in a recent blog post.

In my view, this is enough to get him excommunicated, given that the RCC is still sticking solidly to its traditional presentation of the divine mysteries. However there are developmeents within the RCC bubbling just beneath the surface and, if he manages to hold on long enough, he may yet find himself in the vanguard of change from within.

Müller's brief

The recent sacking of the Head of the Inquisition (CDF), Cardinal Müller, an old Ratzinger man, may indicate the delicate shoots of change, if not in doctrine at least in its understanding and presentation.

Pope Francis has come to where he is along the road less travelled and through the dark night of the soul. He is not a man to be trifled with and Müller was a silly man if he thought he was. Francis moves slowly but surely and he is fully aware of the need to bring the bulk of the organisation with him.

Interesting times.

Friday, February 10, 2017


The allure of Swimming the Tiber
- the joys of receptive ecumenism
(to give the talk its proper title)

Bishop Michael Burrows

Another talk in the excellent series of Patrick Finn Lectures in St. Mary's church, Haddington Road.

I really didn't know what to expect this time round. It was going to be good, that's for sure. Another Protestant Bishop giving a talk in an esteemed Dublin Roman Catholic church. And not just any Protestant Bishop. This man is highly controversial among his own flock.

According to Reform Ireland, his "connivance" at the entry into a same-sex civil partnership of one of his Deans has brought about a huge crisis in the life of the Church of Ireland. The group are calling for Bishop Burrows and Dean Gordon to "depart the Church of Ireland rather than let the Church of Ireland depart from Christ".

And across the pond, the Church of England Newspaper goes so far as to say that the "threat of schism hangs over the Church of Ireland in the wake of these revelations".

Really heavy stuff.

And what was the talk going to be about? I have been aware of attempted ecumenism between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches since my youth and Vatican II. Doctrinally they would seem to have got nowhere since, though people are a little more civilised in their behaviour towards one another these days.

I have met one man who swam the Tiber in one direction, morphing seamlessly from an Oblate Father into the Church of Ireland Rector in my local area. So far I have not met any of the crowd swimming in the opposite direction.

So how did all this stuff pan out on the night?

Well, it was a most interesting, enjoyable and provocative evening.

Speaking from a Roman Catholic sanctuary, the Bishop decided to highlight what he saw as the relative strengths of the Roman Catholic Church, without, I might add, casting any aspersions on his own flock. Given his apprehension about reporting standards on social media, I have to baldly state, for the avoidance of doubt, that he has no intention himself of dipping his toe in the Tiber in the foreseeable future, or ever for that matter.

So what are these strengths as seen from the perspective of a separated brother?

Well he grouped them under six headings, and I am only going to touch on them here, rather than relay verbatim a talk that included the serious, the dubious and the plain downright funny.

He spoke of prayerfulness, of clarity, of social action and theology, of Mary, of fresh scriptural exegesis, and of Rome itself - its majesty and its relics.

Some of this I felt was a bit double edged having experienced it from the other side myself.

For example, I can understand the appeal of Catholic clarity compared with Protestant fudge, but when that clarity becomes obstinate dogmatic certainty, as it has done since Vatican II, I think the Bishop might find some of the shine going off the clarity soon enough. My own litmus test of this is the Real Presence, where Catholic dogma is now so outdated as to completely defy logic. I did a slightly lighthearted paper on this for the Eucharistic Congress in 2012. The Bishoop's take on it made a lot of sense to me: Protestants believe in the Real Presence but they are not hung up on the mechanics of it.

He was very interesting on the place of Mary in the Catholic church, seeing her as reinforcing the feminine side of our human nature, but he did seem to recognise the danger of the cult of her perpetual virginity and the degree of excessive veneration to which she is subjected in some corners of Catholicism. Mediation is one thing, mediatrixity quite another.

He admired the centrality of social action in Catholic theology and practice, but again was aware of the difficulties of letting go when this might be called for by civil society, for example in the education or health areas.

He detected a freshness of scriptural exegesis, which appealed to him, and which I have to say I have detected myself, but my own feeling is that it is still far too limited and starting from a very low base.

On prayerfulness, he seemed to detect a higher degree of this in Roman Catholic rather than Church of Ireland services where the emphasis might be a little more on the aesthetic, such as the hymns. But his overall anxiety, covering both denominations was to make the ceremonies more relevant, participative and attractive. This may well be a long haul for both denominations.

He told how his young son is in the habit of rating his father's sermons and recently gave him a two out of ten. That's one way of having your feet kept on the ground.

The talk was followed by an interesting Q&A during which the Bishop seemed to be in his element. This covered such items as aesthetics and the ordinariat and it was followed by many one-to-ones over a cuppa afterwards.

There was just one thing which really upset me during the evening. The attendance was very poor, and given the high standard of the talks in the series, whether from a religious or a purely secular perspective, there are a lot of people out there who just don't know what they are missing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Click any image for a larger version

So, finally, a Jesus Action Man kit?

Well, yes and no.

It was one of the exhibits at the Twente Biennale contemporary art festival in Enschede, Netherlands, in 2015.

It is by Dutch artist, and former broadcaster, Filemon Wesselink, and he explains the background, more or less, as follows.


Filemon sees the crucifix, the image of the body of Jesus on the cross, as the "trademark" of the Christians. He was brought up a Christian himself and had been acutely aware this image all through his childhood. He used to gaze in awe at the large wooden crucifix behind preacher during the sermon.

During a trip to the holy places of Israel, he was confronted many times a day by this symbol. At the same time there were many tourist market stalls selling toys and lots of these involved violence of one sort or another. Action men wielding weapons and allowing children to fantasise their own private wars.

But there was a complete absence among them of any representation of the cruelty of the crucifixion. Hence, this DIY crucifixion kit which raises many questions.

Where do you stand when you nail Jesus to the cross? While Christianity would be diminished without the crucifixion, would this kit be going too far for Christians? And what would it say about the state of Christianity if Christians approved of such a kit? Would people actually feel guilty buying it and replaying the crucifixion? If they did, would this not be an indication that they were true believers?

Filemon reminds us that the town where the Twente Biennale took place was also where the TV show The Passion was shot. That was the 'Disneyfication' of Christianity. This kit is the next step in its ultimate desecration.

Source: my paraphrasing of his Dutch commentary

Filemon Wesselink

There is nothing in Filemon's Wiki page (Google translation) about this, so the page is clearly in need of updating. However it does tell us, for example, that, in May 2002, he was the last person to interview (radio) the Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated outside the studio minutes after the interview.

Catholicopoly Board Game - detail

Anyway, back to Jesus.

The kit, though not on sale in any shops as far as I know, reminded me of an outrageous piece of Christian marketing, which I discovered around 2004, but which still seems to have some traction. Based loosely on the board game Monopoly, this board game has a real-life evangelising and educational function.

I'll leave it to this extract from the game's current blurb to fill you in.
Catholic-opoly is a religious family board game based on the Catholic faith.

The goal of the game is not to accumulate wealth, but to build as many churches and cathedrals as possible in order to spread the Word of the Lord. You still win by bankrupting your opponents, but in a nice,fun way.

Players will also learn scriptures and church history.In addition, the game addresses financial management as well as charity and tithing.

Game tokens include an angel, ark, chalice, donkey, dove,and fish. The drawing cards are Faith and Community Service.

Encounter comical situations such as, You forgot to put the kneeling bench down and jammed your knee on the floor. Pay doctor's bill of $50.

Catholic-opoly is perfect for people of all ages and is an enjoyable way to learn about the Catholic faith.


Now that really annoyed me with visions of medieval European cathedrals, or the local versions of Dublin in the 1960s, vast suburban holy hangers.

It was in the middle of me ranting and raving about the inappropriateness of equating evangelisation with building yet more redundant and wasteful bespoke churches, and muttering that someone should do an online spoof version of the board game, that my wife quietly challenged me and said "Well, stop moaning and do it yourself".

Catholicopoly - online version - introductory screen

So I did. And to this day I'm very proud of it. I learned a lot doing it and got a lot off my chest taking swipes as aspects of the religion in which I was brought up.

As it was online, there wasn't really much you could actually do with it, and anyway that would have been way above my skill level to figure out. So I settled for the following format. You hover the cursor over the word instructions in the large panel and the panel obliges. Then you hover over the peripheral rectangle of your choice. The result appears in the centre panel and your chosen peripheral rectangle changes to a sort of a comment. And that's all it does I'm afraid but I hope you enjoy it.

The Passion of Christ according to Mel

Before you hit the PLAY link below, please note that I had the foresight to include a violent element (above) in keeping with our current theme.

Confession Online

And one of my favourite items, beating Planned Giving by a hairsbreadth, is Confession Online, which in 2004 must have been at the cutting edge of Tech-Theology.


Sunday, July 31, 2016


Click on any image for a larger version

As the no-particular anniversary (137th) of the Knock apparitions approaches I checked out the Knock Shrine website and my head immediately began to spin.

It initially spun back to 16 July last and then beyond to 2012, the year of the International Eucharistic Congress's visit to Ireland.

Those who follow these things will know that the Congress's previous visit to Ireland in 1932 was, for a variety of reasons, a mega-emanation of Roman Catholic triumphalism.

Much was supposed to have changed in the meantime, though we hadn't quite reached the same-sex marriage stage in 2012. But there was a fear that a church which had just gone through the major trauma of widespread clerical child sex abuse, and from which members were leeching, would be tempted to put on a big show of Ecclesia Reformata but with all the bells and whistles instead of the required atmosphere of repentance and humility.

In fact Fr. Tony Flannery had suggested that the event should be one of sackcloth and ashes in place of the usual ceremonial dress up occasion.

But nobody paid a blind bit of attention to him and an extensive wardrobe of first class gear was commissioned for the occasion.

Fast forward to July of this year and the 40th anniversary re-dedication of the Knock basilica and more top class gear appeared. Knock, as I understand it, has its own extensive wardrobe to tog out visiting clergy of one sort or another. But that's another story. And, anyway, this stuff was probably bespoke.

Between the new holy mosaic and the energy expended by Cardinal O'Malley you'd think they were expecting the second coming on the spot.

Archbishop Neary had to be there. It is, after all, his diocese. But what about the Nuncio and Archbishop Martin. It almost reminds me of a Bulgarian joke which, unfortunately, I am not now allowed to repeat in these PC times.

Knock is one of Charlie Brown's favourite stomping grounds - he is convinced that a little more faith from the peasants will sort out all the church's problems and Knock in the past has given him a platform for his simplistic ramblings. Archbishop Martin has come along either to keep an eye on Charlie or possibly enlist the Nuncio's support for the next stage of his career.

Anyway, we're slowly working our way up to this year's anniversary of the apparitions and chances are that the culmination of what is now a week long event will again see first class gear produced for "the coming of the Lord", except of course, in this case it is his holy mother who is the real star of the show.

There was a politico religious joke doing the rounds in the 1980s which might cast some doubt on the Virgin's original appearance. One way or another, were she to turn up this year, it could turn out to be a second coming.

Thanks to Knock Shrine for the photos

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Logo of the Year of Mercy
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We have had the Holy Year (many), the Marian Year, the Year of Evangelisation, and now the Year of Mercy.

So what is it all about?

One element is supposed to be a return to (or a wake for?) Vatican II, but I don't see much sign of that in the list of activities for the year. On the whole, these seem to consist of a load of ceremonials, decentralisation of the power to forgive reserved sins and a liberal dishing out of the divine currency of indulgences.

Pio & Mandic

Among the ceremonials is the ghoulish bringing of the bodies of Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic to Rome for public display and veneration.

Incidentally, those two bodies seem to be in reasonable shape, which reminds me. Was it not the case in the past that one test of a claim to sainthood was that the body did not decompose as it does for most mortals? Perhaps it's time for a holy audit in this department. No doubt this holy habeas corpus would result in at least a few vacancies for aspiring candidates, though some of these would no doubt have to be abandoned on this criterion. What price Matt Talbot and Edel Quinn then?

Tony Flannery has commented that he didn't see any movement in this merciful year in the case of the "silenced" priests, of whom he is one. Now that's an interesting point and possibly a litmus test of the limits of mercy when it comes to doctrine.

I would argue that the concept of mercy is totally inappropriate to these cases. It is too much like being properly convicted of a crime and then getting a pardon during some sort of amnesty. These men (and women?) have not committed a crime. They have been unfairly convicted by a medieval and unaccountable court and the convictions should be overturned.

They were punished for taking Vatican II at face value and refusing to be complicit in the picking at the carcass by the vultures and hyenas in the CDF (Inquisition to you). They should be reinstated as of right and with a (signed!) apology from the CDF (countersigned by Francis).

Some people will point to what they see as movement on this front in the lifting of certain restrictions on Hans Küng and Seán Fagan. These concessions only prove that the CDF/Vatican may have learned a little from the 1916 executions. They don't want these two old men to become martyrs in the cause of progress. When it comes to potential martyrs there are sufficient sycophants around chomping at the bit.

Anyway, to get back to the "silenced". The Vatican does not seem to be prepared to reinstate them to full functionality even in a woefully inadequate "act of mercy".

You wish

Wiki: The Year of Mercy

New Vatican Year of Mercy Website

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Brian Merriman

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In my schooldays most pupils would have recognised the six lines below from the Irish language poetry course. An eloquently expressed pastoral scene in keeping the rural traditions of the Irish language.

The Irish language version is from Brian Merriman's original epic, Cúirt an Mheán Oíche, and the English version is a relatively free translation, The Midnight Court, by David Marcus.

As these six lines were virtually the only part of the poem we encountered, we thought of Merriman as a purely pastoral poet.

How utterly wrong we were.

Little did we realise that the rest of the poem was a diatribe against priestly, and other male, celibacy and an appeal to all recalcitrant males to let their hair down and satisfy the multitude of maidens queueing up to share their most intimate urges with these fine strapping examples of Irish manhood.

Can you imagine the Christian Brothers trying to take a class of sexually curious young lads through the lines below in my schooldays in the 1950s.

Never mind the lads, the brothers would have had to go straight into therapy after the class.

I was reminded of all this today when I read an interview with Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 TV, in the course of which he recounted the story below, with which story I'll leave you.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Snow White from the Fallen Princesses collection
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I have referred to the Catholic newspaper ALIVE on a number of occasions, most recently in relation to Fr. Brian McKevitt's Page One Girls.

Well, the good Father should probably have stuck to his Page One Girls as he has apparently overreached himself in the most recent (June 2015) issue.

He has chosen for his Page One picture an illustration of Snow White (above) from Dina Goldstein's collection of Fallen Princesses. McKevitt's text in the bottom right hand corner of the picture reads: They no longer "live happily ever after" ... Being the child of parents with no faith is tough ... see page 7.

The text on page 7

The text on page 7 recaps on the theme of the collection which illustrates the not so happily ever after living of some of the fairy tale heroines.

McKevitt wonders whether Goldsteins "raging against the "happily ever after motif" is directed against the Christian message of hope in the fairy stories or against the culture of despair which has infiltrated both society and her own life.

In his view God has created us to "live happily ever after"; the fairy stories are an illustration of this; and Catholic parents do their children a grave injustice by not handing on the faith and Christian hope to them.

Dina Goldstein's take on the matter
as reported in The Irish Examiner

However he forgot to check all this out with Ms. Goldstein herself and when the issue was brought to her attention she was very upset.

She hired an Attorney to file a formal complaint with the good Father objecting to his use of her illustration and to the conclusions he was drawing from it, asking ALIVE to pulp what they had in their possession, and to pay punitive damages.

This all threw the good Father into a tailspin. He immediately removed the link to the online version of the issue from the website and substituted the cover of the previous issue on the home page.

The offending issue was removed from the website

Then, when it finally struck him that the online PDF version of the paper itself was still available on the website, he removed that too.

So it's all to play for. Will Ms. Goldstein pursue the good Father to the bitter end? Will the redtop end up dead or ALIVE? Will the Dominican Mother House in Tallaght be dragged into the controversy?

Stay tuned.

Update 12/4/2016

There I was, listening to Joe, when who popped up but Fr. Brian McKevitt defending his crusade for a return to pre-Vatican II Catholicism and challenging all comers to find a single word out of place in ALIVE, which it still is, by the way.

It reminded me of the incident above and I wondered if anything further had happened. So I took to Twitter, found Dina Goldstein's original tweet of last June and wondered if anything had happened since the above post. You can see the result below.

Click on image for a larger version

I must say I was a bit surprised to get a reply from the lady herself. More power to her. It is clear she has more to do in this life than pursue this deluded priest any further having scared the bejasus out of him last year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Public Square

Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh
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Another in the excellent Patrick Finn Lecture Series in St. Mary's in Haddington Road. This time the title was "The Church in the Irish Public Square". It was a pretty provocative title and the talk certainly lived up to it.

The speaker was Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh and he didn't waste any time putting it up to his audience. He kicked off by deploring the way the media, in response to commercial pressures, were effectively dumbing down content to mere soundbytes and thus depriving us of the possibility of any sort of subtle conversations in that forum. And when it came to social media the content became more aggressive and nasty.

So far so good. But if you thought this was going to develop into a rant about how the media are not paying due attention to the teaching and views of the church you were in for a shock.

The church, he said, had no God given right to be heard in the Irish public square. It had to earn that right by putting its views in a way that appealed to both reason and emotion and it had to do this with more than a pinch of passion.

The days of preaching at civil society from the pulpit were gone. The case had to be argued in terms of the common good and, perish the thought, the church had to listen respectfully to the views of others and, in the heel of the hunt, be prepared to change its own views where the argument could not be sustained.

That is not to say that the ramblings of every idiot out there had to be given the same weight as reasoned and considered views. There had to be some element of discrimination as well and this was unfortunately lacking in much of current media coverage.

Pointing out that the Christian traditions agreed on more that they disputed, he felt there was a lot to be said in them coordinating their views in advance when it came to presenting them in the public square. He mentioned a recent presentation he did, along with RC Archbishop Eamon Martin, on the Flesh and Blood campaign. This was about organ and blood donation and it didn't get a lot of media coverage. He figured that if the two Archbishops had instead ended up with fisticuffs the coverage would have been extensive, as the media thrive on confrontation but find the good news lacking in appeal.

The above is only a small part of what the Archbishop had to say and it is in my own paraphrasing. His presentation was compelling and well crafted and the content was inspiring. Definitely one of the highlights of this already excellent lecture series.

Hopefully, the text will appear soon in an issue of Doctrine and Life and you will be able to judge for yourself.

Souvenir poster

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Bishop Doran (right) with Papal Nuncio, Charlie Brown
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This morning I heard a landmark piece of radio.

Newly appointed bishop Kevin Doran was out batting for the Roman Catholic Church on the upcoming referendum on gay marriage.

As far as I am concerned, he put up as good a defence of the church's position as could be expected in all the circumstances. There were two problems though.

In the first place he was operating out of a defective brief, i.e. the church's official position on homosexuality and on the necessity for a marriage to be open to procreation, or according to some exponents, for that to be the aim of marriage. The church is on a sticky wicket in both these areas and it is hard to entirely blame the counsel for the defence if his brief is not up to scratch.

In the second place, Bishop Doran, seems to have approached this interview with a certain amount of hubris, no doubt carried over from his successful organisation of the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress. He started out confidently expounding the church's position but then got drawn into asserting that this position was not a purely religious one but was arrived at on the basis of consideration for human rights and the common good. This was in response to it being put to him that the referendum pertained purely to civil marriage and would still leave the church to manage its own sacramental marriage as it pleased.

He went on to say that he had nothing against homosexuals per se but that sexual activity should only be embarked on in the married state, which state he did not think should be permitted to them. Permanent enforced celibacy then (orthodox church line).

He also went on about same sex couples who had children not being parents. In this he seemed to be ignoring that at least one of the couple could be a child's biological parent and in the same breath he insulted all adoptive parents in the land.

In his chapter on nature versus nurture, he made the cardinal (pun intended) error of introducing Down Syndrome babies, insulting another segment of the population and their families. In fact he seemed a little vague, if not contradictory, on the extent to which his God intervened in human affairs. He certainly succeeded in giving the impression that God did not intend gays to be gay. The Good Lord must have been nodding then, and not for the first time either.

His coup de grace was to remind his audience that if the referendum was passed the church would have to reconsider its present dual role where it both celebrated the sacrament and also performed the function of civil registrar. I'm not sure if this threat was supposed to scare the shit out of the electorate or the government. In any event, he adduced a subtle justification for this: the church could not sign up to civil gay marriage; passing the referendum would change the nature of civil marriage for all; so the church could no longer collaborate in this travesty.

It struck me that this should not be relevant as the dual role only arose in the case of a church marriage and there was no way the church was going to facilitate a gay marriage in church. So those seeking a civil gay marriage would have to go direct to the civil authorities anyway. Perhaps he was looking further ahead and envisaging a case where the church, in refusing a religious gay marriage, could be brought before the courts in its civil registrar persona and accused of discrimination. I haven't quite worked that one through but it is an interesting thought.

There is, of course, something that the church may not have considered and it is this. If the church were to refuse to civilly register heterosexual marriages, not only would it cause huge inconvenience to those marrying in church who would have to arrange an additional civil procedure, but it would sever the bond between the church and civil marriage for all.

Now it is up to the church itself how it evaluates this, but it seems to me that if people have to have two procedures they might just drop the church one. Not my call.

Anyway, my feeling is that this was a bad outing (pun intended) for the bishop. He was clearly flustered and at the pin of his (roman) collar trying to sound sensible.

I don't think he approached this interview in the right frame of mind. He wasn't in his pulpit here and he was clearly not prepared for an interviewer of the calibre of Chris Donoghue.

Chris Donoghue

I came across Chris way back when he was standing in for "the idiot", Marc Coleman. Chris was miles better and it was no surprise when he subsequently turned up on the flagship breakfast programme. He studies his brief, asks the hard questions and will not be put off by fluffy answers from saints or sinners. He certainly played a blinder in the interview with the bishop. Pure radio at its best.

You really should listen to the full interview, at the bottom of the page here. It would also be worth listening to Colm O'Gorman's take on the interview, further up the same page.

Brendan Hoban had already dealt with this issue in a very well written post on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests. Iggy O'Donovan has explained to Newstalk that he will be voting YES as a citizen of the Republic. Tony Flannery has tweeted that he will be voting YES and he has taken Bishop Doran and others to task on his blog.
[Update 5/6/2015

Just a wee word of caution. I have praised Chris O'Donoghue above. I just hope he doesn't lose the run of himself like our friend from Dalkey.

I was a bit put out listening to his interviews during the referendum campaign with Nuala O'Loan and David Quinn. His tone was bullying and it really wasn't good enough to just keep insisting that what was at stake was simply a seven word addition to the Constitution without allowing all its implications to be teased out.

I'd hate it if he turned into one of those shock jocks. Waste of a good talent.]

Update 13/4/2015

Just to repeat what I said above. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is threatening to stop the solemnising of civil marriages if the referendum on same sex marriage is carried. At present, a couple getting married in a church sign the register in the church vestry after the ceremony. This is actually the civil register and the priest is a registered civil solemniser so no further action is required to register the marriage with the civil authorities. This has been the case for yonks.

The RCC is now arguing that if the referendum is carried this will change the nature of marriage into something to which the church cannot subscribe. It is therefore threatening to withdraw the current facility from all marriages (ie heterosexual marriages because that is all they do anyway). There are other angles which I mentioned above but so far they have not been advanced by the RCC. Just this one.

On the face of it, you can sort of see where they are coming from. Or so I thought until today, until I heard Judge Kevin Cross (of the High Court and Chair of the Referendum Commission) incidentally blowing that objection out of the water.

He simply pointed out that, since the introduction of divorce, the civil and church versions of marriage have not been the same anyway. [For the avoidance of doubt I should clarify that this is all the judge did - pointed out the existing difference. The teasing out of the implications of this below is all my own.]

So why, I ask myself, is the RCC only now discovering this when it's same sex marriage that's involved. A marriage which is entered into while allowing the possibility of divorce is not the same as the sacramental marriage entered into in the church sanctuary.

And that got me thinking further that there has always been a difference, albeit in the other direction, so to speak.

Before the introduction of divorce the Irish civil marriage was indissoluble. Not so the church marriage. That could be annulled under certain circumstances (unsound mind, deficient consent etc.). In the absence of holy divorce the concept of annullment has been extended ad absurdam and it had also become an avenue of pseudo divorce for the rich and famous. Still, all the while, the church solemnised civil marriages which were at variance, in one way or another, with church teaching.

So, if the RCC is only waking up to all this when same sex marriage comes along would it not be fair to say that people have a good case against it on discrimination grounds if the RCC now suddenly decides to withdraw a service it has been providing since time immemorial (well, the memory of many generations)?

The prosecution rests.

There is a good Q&A here, or if you get bounced by the paywall, here.

Update 15/4/2015

I understand from a colleague that, despite the introduction of same sex marriage in England and Wales early last year, RC priests there have continued to act as civil solemnisers of heterosexual marriages. The RC tradition in those countries has been as a minority one and they are probably more used to compromising with the state there.

As far as I'm concerned, this simply exposes the arrogance and emptiness of the Irish hierarchy's threat here. When will they ever learn. [Expletives deleted]

Update 2/6/2015

Just heard Archbishop Eamon Martin being interviewed by Seán Ó Rourke. I don't think they are going to carry out their threat. Eamon seemed to think they hadn't made one at all, though, of course, the matter falls to be considered by the bishops.

I hadn't heard him before - very plausable, but I don't think he's in the doctrinal change department.

Update 11/6/2015

I now see that the bishops have no intention of withdrawing solemnisers and it is clear that this was an empty threat that didn't work. Archbishop Eamon is still going on with his line of "Threat? What threat? Show me the word threat." What a crowd.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hell & High Water

John Horgan
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John Horgan treated us to another talk in the Patrick Flynn Lecture Series on last Thursday evening (19/2/2015). His theme was the church and the media with particular reference to the Furrow magazine under the editorship of its founder Canon J G McGarry. His chosen title was "Between Hell and High Water" which well reflects that turbulent period and the delicate path navigated by a progressive priest operating in the hinterland of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

The sub-title for the talk was "the Furrow and its context 1950-1977". This period began with Canon McGarry's founding of The Furrow and ended with his death in a motor accident. Horgan's description of the Canon:
McGarry himself could have passed, at first glance, for a run-of-the-mill rural parish priest. But behind a craggy exterior, which could well have fitted into a vacant slot on Mount Rushmore, there lurked a keen intelligence, a highly developed sense of strategy, a gift for language, and an utterly authentic humility which operated, at times, to surprise and even disarm his critics.
I am only too aware of the oppressiveness of this period, and particularly the earlier part of it. In his book "The Irish and Catholic Power", Paul Blanshard documents the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church dictated to the State, and, of course, within the church itself that dictatorship was absolute. In that regard, I was interested to hear Horgan mention the three bêtes noirs bishops of my day. John Charles McQuaid, the conservative control freak who used his excellent organisational skills to capture for the church the civil organisation of his diocese, and to some extent that of the whole country. Then there was Connie Lucey, the gatekeeper, who ensured the highest level of theological orthodoxy imaginable. And finally Michael Browne, former Professor of Moral Theology in Maynooth and subsequently Bishop of Galway, from where he succeeded in annoying the nation. He wasn't known as Cross Michael for nothing.

I was also interested to hear Horgan mention, among others, the progressive theologian Gregory Baum, who had to skirt the Dublin diocese on his visit to this country in the sixties. I mentioned most of these people myself when I was guest speaker at UCD's L&H at a time when there was still some hope that the Vatican Council was opening up the Roman Catholic Church and allowing it to catch up on some four hundred years of missed opportunities.

In those days material published under church auspices or by clerics had to be vetted by church censors. The Nihil Obstat was the first step and the process culminated with an Imprimatur. The Furrow carried such stamps of ecclesiastical vetting and permissions up to 1976 when, having consulted the editors of other similar publications, McGarry just dropped the practice, thus declaring, albeit sotto voce, The Furrow's independence. Mind you, I was never impressed with those labels after I saw them on a ridiculous novena to St. Joseph.

McGarry effectively got away with murder in the context of his time. When Horgan asked him how he managed to do this, his answer was: "the thing is you can say almost anything you want as long as you say it with style".

Canon J G McGarry presents the President's Birthday gift
of £100 to Mrs. Bridget Maughan, Lisbane,
on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
(Photo: by courtesy of the McGuire family
Source: Annagh Magazine, Christmas 1978)

McGarry left Maynooth in 1969 to become parish priest of Ballyhaunis (my own father's birthplace) where he was held in high regard for his pastoral care of, and his respect for his parishioners. An appreciation, written by Aine McEvoy in 1978, on the first anniversary of his death, is replete with tributes from sorrowing and grateful parishioners, particularly the old and the infirm. And the thing that comes across most in them is McGarry's caring and his genuine humility.

These tributes reminded me of those that poured in for Fr. Tony Flannery when the Vatican's Inquisition (CDF to you) silenced him. I wondered if the two men might have a lot in common.

Felix Larkin

John Horgan was introduced by Felix Larkin. Felix is co-editor of a recently published book "Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth Century Ireland - Writing Against the Grain" to which Horgan has contributed a well crafted essay on "The Furrow: navigating the rapids, 1950-77". The essay details a number of McGarry's run ins with the hierarchy, but interestingly enough, a lot of the efforts at censoring The Furrow's clerical contributors came from those contributors' own superiors. Horgan touched on a number of these in his talk.

Both the essay and the talk are a massive tribute to McGarry, a giant of his times, but a man who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

Souvenir poster

An appreciation by Louis McRedmond August 1977 2nd item on page.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tony's Tribulations

Tony Flannery
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It's a while now since I mentioned Tony Flannery and no doubt people are wondering how he is bearing up under CDF abuse.

For those who have not been following the story, Fr. Tony was taken to task for his views on a variety of, relatively minor, issues by the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Holy Office and before that The Inquisition). These concerned, inter alia, homosexuality, the origins of the priesthood and possible ordination of women. Not exactly earth shattering, but I suspect there were some other trickier issues such as the Real Presence, hovering in the background.

Anyway Fr. Tony came up with a statement with seemed agreeable to the CDF and all was set for a kiss and make-up when the head of the CDF, Cardinal Levada, retired and was replaced by the hard line German, Cardinal Mueller. Fr. Tony was now expected to sign a blank cheque, as it were, swearing allegiance to the teaching of the Church as presently construed and in all its minutiae. He baulked at that, was not supported by his Order, the Redemptorists (REDS), and has been out of ministry and supposedly silenced ever since. There was some hope of a compromise when Pope Francis acceded to the throne of Peter but he is a festina lente man, quite cautious in practice, and currently in the throes of a civil war within the Vatican administration.

Latest vibes from the CDF and the REDS are that Fr. Tony now faces a choice between unconditional surrender or spending the rest of his life out of ministry and probably having to find another way to earn his living at the age of 68. And that's where we're at today.

While he has had to put up with a lot of sniping, including an imposter trying to undermine him on Twitter, Fr. Tony has said that, despite all the difficulties, his recent period of "exile" has been a fruitful one. He has got a lot of support from those, including colleagues, who know in their heart and soul that the Church will have to change if it is to have any meaningful future. He was one of the founders of the Association of Catholic Priests. He has published a book detailing his position and his appalling treatment by the Vatican (CDF). He has just come back from a speaking tour in America which has deepened his understanding of the reform movement.

And he has tweeted his two most recent radio interviews. The first of these was on an American faith station, where a very capable interviewer put him through his paces. This was immediately followed by an interview with a young traditional whippersnapper of a Dominican, who was also put through his paces, but who, in my view, came immeasurably worse out of it. [Tony is 2mins 40secs in and Thomas Petri is 19mins 11secs into the broadcast]. The second of these interviews was with Áine Lawlor on RTÉ radio this morning[9mins 18secs into broadcast]. It was a sympathetic interview which would make your blood boil and your heart cry at the same time.

When the American radio station tweeted a link to their programme the whippersnapper shot back:

On reading Fr. Tony's reply, the whippersnapper immediately deleted his own tweet. Unfortunately for him I had taken a screen shot (above). Otherwise it would not have been clear what Fr. Tony was replying to. He then replied to Fr. Tony (below):

I took him to task for deleting his original tweet (above) and he accepted that he had been thinking of the wrong priest, this one, rather than Fr. Tony. Really sloppy stuff from a Dominican academic.

Anyway, the big question now for Fr. Tony is: does he follow his conscience or buckle. Unfortunately, in an ideal world, or one in the spirit of Jesus, he would not have to face this dilemma. Pre-Vatican II questioners were silenced etc. but were brought back into the Council as periti. People had then thought that the Church would henceforth be able to accommodate questioning or even dissent as it trod the path less traveled into the future. However the old ways reasserted themselves and the big stick has been persistently waved ever since.

The traditional Church attitude to conscience was that you were obliged to follow your informed conscience, and that following this informed conscience took precedence over everything else, including the teaching of the Church. Pope Benedict, in his younger days, taught this.

Even if we accept this view there remain two issues: (i) what exactly is an informed conscience, and (ii) if you have one which is in conflict with the perceived teaching of the Church, are you obliged to follow it out of the Church.

The American whippersnapper, and Fr. Vincent Twomey of this parish, take the view that the proof of an informed conscience is that it leads to an endorsement of existing Church teaching. The Church can never be wrong, therefore any conscience which is in conflict with it is not sufficiently informed. So that part of the problem is defined away. Then if your conscience is in conflict with the Church, you either change your conscience or get out. QED.

+John (Charles), +Connie (Lucey) & +Michael (Browne) are surely locked in a St. Valentine's Day embrace in Heaven (or wherever they are) at that one. You will have noticed that this line of reasoning precludes any change in, or evolution of, Church doctrine initiated from within the Church itself.

Fr. Petri's Twitter banner

Although I had never heard of him before today, I was trying to figure the whippersnapper out. I sense a bit of insecurity there. He is pompous in his presentation, soaks up adulation and has a bevvy of uniformed nuns, listening to him expostulating on the annunciation, in his Twitter banner. Nuff said.