Thursday, August 23, 2018


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When I was much younger I became a reader for Veritas. What that meant was that you would get a manuscript/draft from them and comment on whether you thought it worth publishing or not, or whether there was any scope to adapt it for publication.

This was around the time of Vatican II when the traditional and immutable character of the Roman Catholic Church was being seriously challenged from within. They were exciting times. Big things were happening.

But Veritas was publishing little religious tracts and holy biographical pamphlets. I have alluded to one such publication in an earlier post. Another little pamphlet told of a young boy who entertained impure thoughts at a dance and got run over and killed by a passing car as he left the dance hall. No time to repent or get a grip on a firm purpose of amendment. The pamphlet left you in no doubt where he ended up.

Mini biographies included one of Maria Goretti who we all learned died defending her virginity.

My observations at the time, which I expressed very strongly to Veritas, was that they should have been encouraging intelligent debate on the vital issues of the day rather than purveying all this overly pious stuff.

I don't remember whether I chucked it in or they just didn't send me any more stuff.

Anyway, the Maria Goretti pamphlet turned out to be authored by the most prolific serial child sex abuser in the country, with a record that would have put Brendan Smyth to shame.

And Veritas had the cheek to refuse to even stock Tony Flannery's book, which dealt, in a constructive, evidence-based way with one of those significant issues that they were ducking back then.

Veritas means truth, but clearly not necessarily the whole truth.

Funny old world.

Sunday, May 6, 2018


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I have blogged on some of the talks in this excellent series and the one advertised above is the last in the current season.

It was by Philip McDonagh, who I knew was a diplomat but did not know he was also a poet and playwrite. And I certainly wouldn't have predicted that he would be giving a learned talk on Pope Francis's world view as revealed in the Pope's encyclicals and others of his documents.

We had some few years ago a talk from Paul Vallely on the then newly elected Pope Francis which concentrated very much on his life experiences and his assumed dark night of the soul which transformed him from an anti liberation theology ideologue into a caring and thoughtful pastor.

The emphasis in this talk was quite different. Philip was examining the Pope's analysis of the world situation as he saw it, its causes, its characteristics and possible ways forward.

Needless to say the Pope's analysis was couched in religious terms but taking out God and religion still left you with a robust secular analysis. That's mine and not Philip's remark.

This was quite an extraordinary talk for its breadth and depth. Philip has trawled through and reflected on the Pope's various documents and has attempted to bring us a summary synthesis of what Francis is about. Clearly this does not convey the whole, in the sense that one would be better to read the documents and reflect on them oneself. In other words, follow Philip's own journey.

Nevertheless Philip has given us a worthy map or guide for so doing and if we don't get around to it then we have in his talk an adequate representation and sufficient material for reflection and discernment in relation to Francis's approach. Hopefully the full talk will be published soon.

Meanwhile I am committing what I hope is not a mortaller in distilling further, and commenting on, Philip's talk. It is well to state at the outset that Philip is not entering into discussion on specific theological or pastoral issues, even where he may refer to them in passing. His aim is to convey the broad sweep of Francis's thinking and in this I think he has succeeded admirably. Whether anyone is listening to the message and is prepared to act on it is another matter entirely.

My approach here is to refer to some of the elements in Philip's talk accompanied by comments of my own. I hope I am not doing Philip an injustice in my selection from his selection from Pope Francis.

Text starting from the left margin is mine. That with a single indent and in italics is Philip's. And that with a double indent but without italics is the Pope's direct.

I was aware of Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' but was under the impression that it dealt solely with the environment, particularly knowing that Seán McDonagh was said to have contributed to it. Philip, however, has shown us the breadth of the issues it deals with and I hope he'll forgive me for an extensive quote from his talk:
Laudato Si’, published in May 2015, offers a dramatic and original perspective on global affairs through this ecological lens. For Pope Francis, humanity is now at odds with nature in an unsustainable way. The encyclical deals in a scientific spirit with a whole range of issues including waste disposal, the warming of the climatic system, the destruction of ecosystems, the pressures that lead to mass migration, water quality and the control of water by multinational businesses, the loss of biodiversity, the over-exploitation of forests and oceans, new forms of social breakdown and social aggression, the role of the digital media, the disintegration of cities, weapons development, debt and the financial crisis; all this accompanied by a relative absence of leadership, laws, and political planning. Running through the whole picture are disturbing images of pollution and economic inequality.

Taking just one aspect of the modern world, I have been struck by how the choice of how to approach the economy is usually presented in binary form. Either regulate everything (USSR model) or regulate nothing (USA model). I note how both these approaches result in their own form of oligarchs.

My own view is for the social market economy where strong regulation is in place at a very high level, reflecting the social preferences of the community. Then the market is allowed to perform its distributive, resource allocation and incentive functions within this framework. This, I think, is compatible with Philip's take on the Pope:
Auditing the mechanisms of the economy from a well-rounded human perspective is essential for what Pope Francis has called ‘redemptive change.’
Achieving the well rounded human perspective, or agreeing the rules, is not so easy. This is big stuff going way beyond the market and the economy. And here Francis is insistent on the role of dialogue, the widest possible dialogue:
Pope Francis is deeply interested in dialogue. Laudato Si’ has passages on dialogue on the environment in the international community; dialogue for new national and local policies; dialogue and transparency in decision-making; politics and economy in dialogue; and religions in dialogue with science. Elsewhere the Pope calls for inter-generational dialogue; inter-cultural dialogue; and inter-religious dialogue. In his address on the occasion of the conferral of the Charlemagne Prize in May 2016, Pope Francis states that ‘peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue.’
This quote from Laudato Si' gives an idea of what is behind the Popels thinking on the dialogue bit:
If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them (211)

This is like the idea of sensus fidei when it comes to the promulgation of religious dogma or edicts. You have to bring the bulk of the faithful along with you for the edict to not only be obeyed but for it to have any validity. We come across the same distinction when differentiating between simple majority rule and the more complex concept of democracy. It's a distinction that people often find difficult to grasp and that suits their rulers just nicely.

As this advice is emanating from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church it is necessary to mention specifically inclusion of the oft neglected fifty per cent:
At the levels of both principles and ethics, room will have to be found for a dialogue on women’s equality and any lingering assumption that leadership in the different sectors is for a vir bonus, a ‘good man,’ as opposed to a ‘good person.’
And then, even when we get agreed rules they cannot bind everyone absolutely. There clearly has to be room left for individual moral choice, or in RC terms, following your informed conscience.
Discernment is essential, first, because the inner and true nature of any political situation is often not adequately captured by any rule.
Or, as Francis puts it in another way in Amoris Laetitia:
[natural law cannot be] presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions (305)
At the same time we cannot afford to let ourselves be carried away with a sense of our own righteousness at the end of this process:
We might listen to the ancient Greeks: hubris is the archetypal human folly, against which a spontaneous reaction of shame is one of the last lines of defence.
And to put it another way in the vein of "Eternal vigilance is the price of peace":
There are signs that complacency about the state of our societal values can undermine democracy itself.

Philip quotes the Pope's four rules, which I haven't the space to elaborate here:
Time is greater than space
Unity prevails over conflict
Realities are more important than ideas
The whole is greater than the part
And Philip indulges in a little speculation here:
It would be a good exercise to try to imagine a non-violent strategy based on the Pope’s four principles for Israel and its neighbours; for the two Koreas and East Asia; or in any other current crisis.
There is clearly scope for reform, in both attitudes and actions in a lot of aspects of the modern world and Philip has listed a series of ten questions we might ask ourselves. I have just chosen three below by way of illustrationn:
The scope for aggiornamento is evident from the following questions:

2. Do we agree with Pope Francis that where economic decisions impact on others, governments have responsibilities – regarding, for example, our decisions on interest rates?

8. Do we accept that markets need a political context and a culture of trust that they themselves are incapable of producing and what are the implications of this for a values-led approach to security?

10. What are the political responsibilities of those who create platforms on the Internet?

Philip has set forth his own ideas for the future. These pick up very much on Francis's idea of dialogue and Philip's own experience as a diplomat who has been involved in significant and sensitive negotiations on the international front. These envisage a regional approach to widely based stakeholder dialogue.

As far as Ireland is concerned:
In Ireland’s case, to support a new multilateral, multi-stakeholder forum for ‘region-building’ through a deepening of principles and values would be to build on policy foundations that are already there.
And given what's going on here at the moment I should include the following:
In Laudato Si’ (120), Pope Francis states that ‘concern for the protection of nature is incompatible with the justification of abortion.’

There followed a lively Q&A where Philip gave substantial answers to questions put and to remarks made.

My attitude at a lot of talks is that I'll wait and see the take up on the Q&A and if it looks like dipping, or not even starting, I'll make an intervention. That was my intention on the night here and it seemed to be flagging after one contribution. That didn't surprise me in a way as the talk, although challenging, had been quite comprehensive.

Anyway I decided to put in my tuppence worth and asked Philip for his reaction to the following. Given that there is a need for change in the church, is it not anomalous that those priests at the vanguard of change have been silenced while dissident cardinals doing everything in their power to oppose change are still at large.

Philip's answer, as I understood it, was that this wasn't really on topic as far as his talk was concerned and anyway it would not be acceptable for priests in their official teaching role to be undermining current church teaching.

I think I must have started something as the next comment was particularly critical of the church's treatment of the late Fr. Seán Fagan.

You might like to supplement this post by reading Philip's article in the Irish Times which sets the wider stage and reflects on his own experience.

Posts on previous talks:
Michael Jackson, John Coolahan, John McDade SJ, Jim Corkery SJ, John Bruton, Margaret McCurtain, Paul Vallely, Ruth Patterson, Michael Burrows, Richard Clarke, Pat Storey

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


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 with 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.