Saturday, March 17, 2018


Rev Dr Ruth Patterson
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St Mary's Roman Catholic church in Haddington Rd, Dublin, is a fine church with some unique features. It is an appropriate backdrop to the Patrick Finn Lecture Series, the most recent of which I attended on Thursday (15/3/2018). The mere fact of that talk was in itself significant.

Ruth Patterson
is a Presbyterian Minister in good standing and an Ecumenical Canon of the Church of Ireland, as well as being the Director of Restoration Ministries, an inter-church organisation which helps people find God, and just as importantly each other. The importance of this latter aim cannot be overstated, in particular in the divided communities of Northern Ireland.

It is heartening, when it happens, to see ministers from one denomination preach or lecture in another denomination's church. A complete turnabout from when I was growing up.

Even is recent times the process had its hiccups. A cousin of mine who was a parish priest in a Dublin suburban parish was invited by the local Church of Ireland Rector to address the latter's congregation. The deed was done and the cousin got an enthusiastic reception from the CofI congregation.

The return visit did not work out as smoothly, however. The Catholic congregation proved less than enthusiastic and the cousin was not only mortally embarrassed, he got complained to his bishop. So it's not always plain sailing even in a relatively affluent suburb in the South.

Anyway, to the point. As readers will probably know by now I'm not gone on the God bit. But I can treat it as an idiom and still get to the heart of the matter. Ruth's mission seemed to me to be to humanise people, though she might use the term sanctify. What I would describe as humanising the "other" she would probably call bringing people to an awareness that they are all God's children.

As I see it, we would be talking about the same thing, but with slightly different perspectives and in different dialects.

The basic idea is to reach out to people, get to know them, share with them, and they can then no longer be the "other" and no longer be exploited by those creating and maintaining divisions between people. And this reaching out is an act of personal responsibility.

As Ruth was speaking Seán Fagan's book, What happened to sin?, was flashing in and out of my mind. I'm sure, were he still alive, he and Ruth would get on very well together.

Another thought that occurred to me was how durable that initial reaching out across community barriers, under the EU Peace Programme, proved, even surviving the break down of the cease fire in 1996. The initial "other" had become no longer other.

I see from the Ministries newsletter that Ruth attended the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012. I wonder might she make the trip down south again in August and give the World Meeting of Families a blast of her inclusivity.

The text of Ruth's reflection with which she rounded off her talk can be viewed here.

St. Patrick also attended the talk
looking down from his perch on the wall

And finally, in it's closing hours, I trust ye all had a good Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


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This man is 90 years of age. He is a tough talking revolutionary who has long nailed his colours to the mast.

I attended his talk, to We Are Church Ireland, last evening in the Mercy International Centre at Baggot St Bridge. It was a privilege and a marvellous experience. The man is clearly a saint, though in the course of his talk he was implicitly scathing of instant canonisations.

It is very hard to know where to start, his talk was so provocative and challenging, and I must admit in all modesty in line with much of my own thinking, though mine is from the perspective of an unbelieving outsider.

I described myself to the assembled multitude as a gatecrasher, as I did not share their faith but had come purely to meet and hear this remarkable man. All I can say is that it was a party worth gatecrashing, rivaled maybe by only the Last Supper itself.

It is a mystery to me why Gabriel Daly has neither been silenced nor excommunicated when another man in the same mold, Seán Fagan (RIP), was most disgracefully silenced for over a decade and to add insult to injury he was hit with a gagging order forbidding him reporting his silencing. His religious order, the Marists, behaved disgracefully towards him at the time.

Perhaps Gabriel Daly was a more formidable foe? Or, maybe, the Augustinians stood up for him? Or, maybe it was how he couched his language, though that's unlikely. I just don't know.

Anyway, it was a night to remember. I am not going to go through Fr. Daly's talk seriatim. You can read the whole thing here. I will just hit some of the points which resonated with me or on which I would like to comment.

Fr. Daly was introduced by Gina Menzies, who among other things, is herself a theologian and is well known from her appearances on Irish media.

She referred to Fr. Daly's most recent book The Church always in need of Reform on which he previously gave a talk to We Are Church. The title of this post is the equivalent Latin tag.

A central theme of Fr. Daly's talk was the abuse of power by the Papacy and the Curia over a long period.

An example is the Modernists who he came across at an early stage and decided they merited some study. He ended up doing his thesis on them. His conclusion was that they were acting in good faith in pushing much needed reforms of the church and that the then Pope came down on them like a ton of bricks in a disgraceful abuse of power.

He seems also to hold a somewhat similar view of the Reformation seeing Luther as attempting to remedy the outrageous church abuses of his day.

In both these cases the power structure of the church reacted violently, much needed reforms were ignored, and the church continued down a path of maintaining maximum distance from the reformers. This produced a very distorted theology and practice which Vatican II made some effort to reform. But it too was buried by the same power structure in the persons of three Popes (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI).

I was very interested in this analysis as it chimed with my own ideas in a post I had done some time ago.

In that post I also touched on the Real Presence which is a focal point for the clash between the old and the new regimes, between a misunderstood (literal) version of transubstantiation on the one hand and its symbolic reality on the other. He has expounded his approach to this at greater length in a paper to the Glenstal Ecumenical Conference in 2013.

It is clear that Fr. Daly's view of the Eucharist is one of "communio" or participation and spiritual development (the banner under which the 2012 Eucharistic Congress was held) and he is clearly offended by its being used as an instrument of punishment (presumably in refusing the sacrament to those divorcees in second marriages). Another abuse of power, but not unexpected in the religious environment in which I grew up.

I have a story from a relative whose family way back owned a field. They let the Parish Priest graze his horse there and all was well until they came to a point where they could no longer facilitate the PP. He was not at all pleased and some time later refused to come and administer the last rites to the dying granny. An order priest had to be pressed into service. So as well as abuses of power on a grand scale we also had to suffer the petty abuses.

And that brings us to Pope Francis who is trying to reform the system from the top while seeking help from the bottom up. Fr. Daly was quite clear about, and critical of, those in the Curia who were in open revolt against the Pope. He felt they had to be stood up against and his hope was that this would not split the church. Nevertheless truth was truth and had to be vindicated.

He felt that the action taken by the Curia in silencing a number of Irish priests was a disgraceful abuse of power. The church needed diversity and unity should not be confused with uniformity. Change was part of the church's development, or it ought to be, and for this change to be informed there had to be debate. In this context he expressed his outrage at the Popes, from John Paul II on, banning even discussion of the possibility of ordaining women priests.

While I'm on the subject of diversity I would simply say that the church I grew up in (and ultimately out of) had no room for diversity. Education was by fiat and not from questioning or through debate. It would have done Hasbara proud as this little exhortation from one of its manuals for emigrants illustrates.

Fr. Daly felt the Irish bishops were a disgrace, not least in accepting the recent appalling translation of the Missal and then the Curia's verdict that nothing could be done about it because the decision endorsing it could not be changed retrospectively.

What a load of cobblers. The Curia were apparently relying on some convenient interpretation of Canon Law in the matter. Fr. Daly made it clear that he was not a fan of Canon law as presently embodied. He conceded that you had to have some rules but the present restrictive structure was strangling change.

I was present at a book launch once where Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to Ecclesia Reformata, a slip of the tongue no doubt, and he repeated the English version correctly. Nevertheless you would wonder if the Irish bishops as a whole think the job is oxo.

And don't get me started on the lately departed Nuncio.

I could go on here all night but you'd eventually get bored with me, so I will just make three brief final points.

I see Gabriel Daly in the tradition of John Robinson, whose book Honest to God was a big influence on me. I hope Fr. Daly does not object to this comparison.

Wouldn't it be fun if the Irish bishops held their next conference in Mick Wallace's plaza in Dublin's Italian quarter to the backdrop of a native lay version of the Last Supper.

I met some interesting women at this function. I didn't check at the time but from recollection I think there was a broad gender balance in the audience. I didn't see many young people there, however. Perhaps they have bypassed reform and left the RC church or are happy enough with their current lot. Only time will tell.

This was my first contact with We Are Church Ireland and I must say I was made very welcome and even invited back. When they say the meetings are open that's exactly what they mean.

If you want to get a better handle on the evening itself do read Fr. Daly's paper in full.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


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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


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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


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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
Click on any image for a larger version

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
Click any image for a larger version

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.