Wednesday, May 6, 2020


I have the Bishop's word on it.

You see above my poor mother's novena to St. Joseph. She had it because it was reliable. St Joseph delivered. Or to put it more accurately, theologically speaking, St Joseph's intercession with the Good Lord delivered.

And he was not like St Anthony who put a cash price on his intecession. I have gone into that elsewhere and will not repeat it here.

Not that my mother had any problem with holy fundraising. She sold masses, though that was not quite how it was described at the point of sale.

Anyway, back to the novena. And what is so special about this one?

Well, it comes with a holy health warning authorised by no less a person than the Bishop himself.

In my day people had a lot of faith in prayer. Prayer could move mountains. But you didn't always get what you asked for and the holy rationale for this was that the Good Lord had witheld the granting of the request because what you had asked for might not have been in your interest.

Fair enough, but what's sauce for the goose ... !

Here is the Bishop implying that God might grant a request that wasn't really in your interest.

All I can do here is plead for a bit of divine charity for God who, not being a malicious person, may occasionally doze on the job, or is that only on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Click on any image for a larger version

When Joe handed me a copy of his book recently I had no idea what to expect. I had never met Joe and knew nothing about him. But I promised to give him a reaction, and this is it.

It is a most engaging book, part biography, part religious tract, but with a difference. It is not telling you what to believe but rather questioning current Catholic Church teaching over a wide range of issues. This questioning comes from Joe's own life experience and his empathy with other human beings.

The style of writing is open and simple. You can identify with Joe along the way and his take on things would be very close to my own.

He takes us through his youth in Sligo, national & secondary school,his decision to become a priest and minister in Texas, his formation in All Hallows and UCD, and his actual ministry in Corpus Christi in Texas.

Joe was an independent thinker from early on and, while still in the seminary, he wrote to the Irish Press criticising Pope Paul VI's betrayal of Vatican II with his ill-fated encyclical Humanae Vitae. He just about avoided being expelled over that but the betrayal of Vatican II became a recurring theme in his life.

His ministry in the States among poor Hispanics gave him a touch of what is grandiosely referred to as liberation theology but what is in reality simply an acknowledgement of the obligation to care for the temporal as well as the spiritual needs of the poor.

Among the Church doctrines that made less and less sense to him was the insistence of mandatory celibacy for all priests. This led to him reconsidering his vocation to this specific form of priesthood.

He took a sabbatical to consider his position and then applied to leave the ministry. This was refused by the Vatican while they made further enquiries. This looked like obstruction by the Vatican in the light of Joe's views.

Joe & Maureen

It is during this period that Joe met Maureen Leonard who had been on a similar spiritual journey. She had left her religious order and they got engaged. It was Maureen who introduced me to her husband Joe earlier this year.

It would take a whole volume to delve into Joe's issues with the Church, but you'll get a good summary from his letter of 12 November 2018 to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. He wrote in similar terms to his PP and the Papal Nuncio.

An ongoing issue for him from early on has been the abysmal and discriminatory treatment of women by the Church. As he says, there is no justification whatsoever for the ban on married and women priests.

Above is one of Seán O'Brien's gentle but savage cartoons on this subject (from 1997). That these cartoons are still as relevant as ever more than twenty years later will give you an idea of how far the Church has moved in the interim.

Joe makes good use of Seán's cartoons throughout the book. They grow on you.

The title of Joe's book is SPEAK OUT and that's why he wrote it. He is hoping that it will encourage sincere, but hitherto passive, Catholics to take up the baton from Vatican II and run with it.

You will see from his letter that he is asking Catholics to write to their parish priest, bishop and the papal nuncio in similar terms (mutatis mutandis !).

Joe Mulvaney

Out with the quill and ink pot then, and away you go.

You can get the book from ePrint or We Are Church Ireland [& scroll down].

It's an easy read and a great introduction to the sad state of the Catholic Church and where it should be going from here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


A context, a serious question, and a suggestion.

The Context

Once upon a time, to get Mass, you had to be physically present for the segment covering the Offertory to the Priest's Communion.

Then we had Mass on the radio, and subsequently on the television, and this was deemed to fulfill the obligation of those who could not physically attend the ceremony.

We are now in a situation where churches are closed and over 70s are all confined to home.

The Question

The Real Presence is supposed to materialise in both the priest's big host and, for example, the large quantity of those smaller hosts, untouched by the priest, and stored in the ciborium.

My question is this. If the priest can consecrate hosts without actually touching them, could he do this over the airwaves in an emergency situation?

The Suggestion

My suggestion is
  • relax the current needless requirements for the strict composition of the host/bread/biscuit.
  • allow people, attending mass remotely, to take a morsel of ordinary domestic bread
  • enable the priest to consecrate it remotely
  • a safeguard would be to limit the actual effective consecration to bread in the hand of those who, in good faith, wish to, and are entitled to, receive communion.

I do not see any valid theological or other objections to this suggestion.

Any takers?

Friday, February 14, 2020


Fr Roy Donovan
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You might think that the title of this post was a remark by a member of the Legionaries of Christ thrown at Roy Donovan.

Actually I picked it up from a comment directed at Roy on the Facebook page of We Are Church Ireland. And this is 55 years after Vatican II.

But there's more. Soline Humbert, in introducing Roy told us he'd survived four run ins with his Bishop. And would you believe one of these was on that very subject. The Bishop in question was the eventually sidelined Dermot Clifford with whom I had my own problems.

So how did Roy survive that encounter with his Bishop. Well that's his story to tell. But I'll give you a clue. As well as being a priest in good standing, Roy is a psychotherapist.

We Are Church Ireland in a tweet, described Roy's talk as a "fearless" speech, and fearless it was.

Roy called for a totally renovated church. "When the horse is dead, its time to get off."

What he called for sounded to me like a church founded on what became pejoratively known as "liberation theology", a movement suppressed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and in his former incarnation by Pope Francis.

Roy is well familiar with that approach from stints in the USA where he spent some time in enlightened company.

And then there's the women. Roy severely criticised the church for its treatment of women. He portrayed the church's denial of equal status for women within its ranks as a disgrace.

And that opinion was backed up by his credentials from having done a course in feminist theology run by none others than Louise Gilligan (RIP) and Katherine Zappone.

In fact Roy's views would lead you to wonder why he hasn't been meted out the same treatment by the Inquisition (CDF) as Tony Flannery, whose views are very similar to Roy's.

It would give some credence to Tony's view that the treatment meted out to him was not unrelated to his being a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests at the time.

Tony's treatment is presented today as being a response to his questioning the origins of a male celibate priesthood, but in my view, the Inquisition were reacting to a wider range of Tony's views. And the proof of this particular pudding is their insistence that he sign up to an open ended commitment to whatever they thought church teaching ought to be.

Of course we are led to believe today that Pope Francis has clipped the Curia's wings and that further silencings are unlikely though any widespread reinstatings are equally so.

Anyway Roy deplored the church's treatment of Tony Flannery and Seán Fagan (RIP) and others and called for Tony's reinstating.

Now, Roy didn't mention Vincent Twomey by name but I will.

Vincent recently called for a ceremonial day of repentance by priests for all the abuse perpetrated by some of those from among their ranks. It is not clear to me if Vincent was including the hierarchy in this, but if he was he is due for a disappointment, I think.

Tony Flannery called for something similar from the Bishops in the run up to the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The hierarchy's response was simply to tog out in top-of-the-market new gear. Up yours, so to speak.

Vincent has additionally called for the priests, when celebrating the Eucharist (saying mass) to turn their backs to the people and stop trying to be entertainers. God between us and all harm. We should have made Vincent a bishop and let him lead the way.

John Paul II declared, invoking the full force of papal infallibility, that women could never be ordained priests. This, in my view, so devalued the idea of infallibility that it could never again be taken seriously.

I think I heard Roy making a disparaging passing reference to infallibility but would not swear to this in court if called to give evidence.

Personally I can never hear the word infallible without it conjuring up my favourite ex cathedra vision (for which see the bottom of this post, after you have read the rest).

Following his attendance at the Jesuits' industrial college, Roy has some insight into how the church manages conflict. The point is that it doesn't.

Instead of acknowledging conflict and attempting to resolve it in a constructive manner by entering into dialogue, it just issues edicts from on high and if any of the flock raise objections, it's off with their heads.

Francis has been Pope now for seven years and what has he got to show for it?

He has appeared to leave some questions open and has invited contributions from the faithful. The charitable interpretation of this is that he needs a bit of support on the ground before he can put manners on the Curia and the traditionalists.

Well the German bishops are about to sock it to him with their policy-making synod.

A current litmus test of Francis's possible commitment to change has been his awaited response to the Amazon Synod where he was advised to accept the idea of married priests, at least for the Amazon region. This would be taken by many as a precursor to more equality for women.

Roy had the story of a woman who had a vocation to the priesthood and was just hanging in there. If there was no progress enshrined in the Pope's letter of reply to the synod, she would walk.

Well, the letter has just been issued and there is no progress on this issue. Francis funked married priests, though pass had already been sold by Benedict (Prodestant Ordinariate) as did Paul VI in 1968 though Pius XII had already sold the pass with the rhythm method or as it is better known Vatican Roulette.

Roy is a member of the administrative team of the Association of Catholic Priests.

The Association was set up some years ago by Brendan Hoban, Tony Flannery and Sean McDonagh. It is hard to describe what it does as it spans the doctrinal and pastoral areas.

Regarding the former, it is campaigning for the implementation of Vatican II and on many human rights issues which have arisen since.

Regarding the latter, it is particularly active in supporting a clergy where such support is not forthcoming from the church itself.

If you want to pursue this further you can read their constitution here.

I bring them up, in part because they have recently dipped their toes into the Twitter sphere. I wondered if Roy was their Twitter master, as the tweets have a distinct edge to them. But it's not him, though he did agree about the edge.

I agree with Roy that the church needs root and branch reform. Were this to happen it would be a flatter, non-hierarchial, people oriented organisation. It is difficult to see this happening, with so many of its members in thrall to existing dogmas and traditions. This is why I think I detect an element of despair in Roy's psyche. But he is soldiering on.

From my own experience of the church, which I have left or it me, take your pick, the following are among the areas needing courageous revisiting: Real Presence, Resurrection, Infallibility, Confession, Conscience, Women. Priesthoood, LGBT+, Mass, Prayer, Indulgences, Afterlife, Curia, Censorship/Silencing, Gear, Civics. and so on.

And, of course, a recall mechanism for saints, particularly in view of some recent hasty canonisations.

Following his own advice about the church going among the people, Roy circulated among the attendance during the Q&A.

Roy's parting shot: Man who tell truth need fast horse.

You can see the full video here.

Nieves Fernandez

We had two for the price of one on the night, as Nieves, who is a member of the WACI core group, gave us her reflections on some of the themes touched on by Roy.

She got straight to the point. If Jesus came back today he would not be making straight for High Mass in the Pro-Cathedral. He'd be breaking bread with some of the locals.

She didn't see the need for priestly cast. Folk can be geared up to do it all, all. But I'm sure she must feel that, in the meantime, the rejection of women offends.

She told us that when she was teaching, she took students on a visit to Israel. Out of curiosity she bought a Hebrew bible and then noticed another thick volume. It turned out to be Jewish jokes.

We must be able to laugh at ourselves. Humour is vital.

However, I note that you can't tell these in company any longer!

Nevertheless, here's one of mine.

Thank you, Nieves.

Nieves presented Roy with the traditional gift for the speaker. A picture of the Last Supper where both women and children were in attendance.

Followed by the kiss of peace.

On my way back to the DART I bade good night to Oscar Wilde, reclining opposite his birth place.

Oh yes, infallibility?

I have reserved a space below for my favourite EX CATHEDRA vision, mentioned above.

It is a complicated image, the more so in the light of JPII's invocation, and the present Pope's maintenance, of the glass ceiling for women.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Dr. Eamon Maher
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None of it was new. I'd lived through all of it. But there was something about seeing it all flash before me. Reeling in the years. An unholy panorama of the church decomposing before my eyes.

From the self confident hubris of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, through the years of betrayal, the systematic undermining of Vatican II and the abuse scandals, to where we are today. An ageing church with little or no moral authority and at war with itself.

In referring to the church here, I am thinking principally of clerics, hierarchy and Pope rather than the people of God as a whole.

The talk was by Eamon Maher and his subject was “The Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism, from 1979 to the present day". This was in the excellent series of talks organised by "We Are Church - Ireland".

I think Eamon intended to use a Powerpoint but, for whatever reason, that didn't materialise. No matter. I'm sure when, for example, Eamon referred to those two clerical performers, Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr. Michael Cleary, with the Pope in Galway in 1979, everyone saw the picture immediately.

Soline Humbert

The meeting started as usual with a prayer. Which always reminds me that, as an unbeliever, I am an interloper.

But I do have an interest in the church as an institution and would like to see it leave behind its negative repressive nature which ruined so many lives and move forward into an institution that is positive and strives to bring out the best in people regardless of creed or colour etc.

The world is too small and the end too nigh for people to be sowing dissension and barricading themselves into ideological silos.

The welcome I receive from this community is surely a sign they are moving in the right direction.

Eamon waded straight into the betrayal of Vatican II and Paul VI's fit of funk (my words not his) in opting for the traditional teaching on contraception.

Let me divert here for a minute to check out the supremacy of the informed conscience, a view to which the church nominally subscribes. However this traditional, and apparently liberal, teaching conceals a neat circularity.

Starting from the proposition that the Church can teach no wrong, as enunciated by Vincent Twomey, then, if you come to a conclusion which does not agree with church teaching, you have not sufficiently informed your conscience.


Even at the time, many people thought Humanae Vitae was rubbish. Some left the church and others became à la carte Catholics.

But there is an aspect of Humanae Vitae which is not always fully appreciated. And it is one which helped me break out of the vicious logical circle referred to above. What Humanae Vitae proved was that the church can teach wrong, and spectacularly so.

So out the window goes the Vincent Twomey defence of the conforming informed conscience and we're back, or forward as the case may be, to Seán Fagan's supremacy of the conscience informed in good faith, a position Josef Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI Emeritus) himself subscribed to in his earlier years.

Back to Eamon who refers to the sacking of John McGahern, a teacher in Belgrove National School at the behest of Dublin's Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. McGahern had written a dirty book. As Eamon puts it, "it describes a young male adolescent's problems with masturbation and deals with violence in the home both physical and sexual, along with a suspicion of clerical sex abuse. This was a heady cocktail for the 1960s in Ireland."

On a personal note, I am a past pupil of Belgrove though I had left some 15 years before McGahern's sacking. Not long after the banning of "The Dark" I obtained from the Minister for Justice a certificate allowing me to import a copy.

Eamon refers to McGahern describing country churches being so crowded that old and young people, fasting for communion used to pass out.

That was very vivid for me as, although I never passed out, I used to feel sick in the church from pre-communion fasting, and then, to cap it all, the host would stick to the roof of my mouth and leave me gagging. Maybe I was unique in this but I doubt it.

And while we're on the subject of masturbation, let me say that this was God's gift to a perverted church. By demonising a common and harmless activity, and forcing it onto the table in confession, the church was shamelessly playing a dangerous power game. They told us many things about masturbation but never that it kept the sperm fresh for making better babies.

But back to Eamon. He mentions the clerical child sex abuse scandals as causing a major rift between ordinary Catholics and their church. Although the offences were committed by a small minority of priests, their victims were many, and the evil was spread even further by superiors shifting perpetrators around the parishes in a shameful fear of confronting the evil in their midst.

Eamon mentioned the notorious Fr. Brendan Smyth. Well, apparently there was even worse.

Fr. Morgan Costello managed to stay below the radar from the 1960s up to around 2010 when he became the subject of an intense Garda investigation which included all the parishes he ministered in. What they found apparently outdid Smyth. Costello was brought before the court in 2012 but the case was subsequently dropped. I have a personal interest in this as I served his masses at the outset of his clerical career.

As Eamon pointed out, power and access (without supervision or accountability) is the toxic mix which facilitated abuse.

Morgan Costello celebrates mass - that's me on the left.

Eamon also refers to the abuse of children in the industrial schools. And it is here that the state has to take responsibility. Widespread use of violence in these schools was well known, but a blind eye was turned and it was tolerated. At this time there was, of course, widespread use of corporal punishment in both school and home.

He referred to the amazing journalism of the late Mary Raftery and how her exposés led to two major official reports on state and clerical abuse of children.

Eamon reminded us of Cardinal Desmond Connell's get out of jail card, the "mental reservation" which was effectively permission to lie till you're blue in the face and still keep a clear conscience. A nice one if you can manage it.

He raises the interesting question of what is to replace the morality inculcated by the church as that institution loses power and influence.

It appears that we don't yet have a developed civic morality in this country. That doesn't surprise me given the all-embracing and dictatorial nature of church morality where you did what you were told and independent thinking in this area was a mortal sin. Add into the mix our colonial past and you have a recipe for chaos.

Nevertheless, Eamon reminds us that he is operating in the education sector and in contact with lots of young people whose innate sense of morality and generosity has impressed him enormously.

He was asked in the Q&A if there was any country in existence that maintained a civic morality in the absence of a religion, and he cited France.

As for the church's future, Eamon quotes the French writer, Jean Sulivan, saying that if it is to survive, the church will have to glory in its humility and become more like what the founder had in mind at the outset.

I recollect Tony Flannery offering the bishops similar advice in advance of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress and, of course, they went and did the opposite.

I don't find Eamon's French references the least surprising. I should remind my two readers that Eamon, like my cousin Michael, is a French Knight: Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (2008)

The points touched on above are just a few of those from Eamon's unholy panorama of the church's woes.

Eamonn points out that the message is out there that the church must reform itself and become relevant for a new generation.

You can watch the full video of his talk here. It's well worth a visit.

Kay Mulhall

Kay, who has now joined the WAC-I core group, gave some reflections of her own. In essence these boiled down to a humble church of and for the poor. She had experience of such a church while serving as a Sister in Mexico. Liberation Theology?

She presented Eamon with the customary gender/age neutral picture of the Last Supper.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


In 1958/9, Bishop Karol Wojtyla gave a series of lectures in the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. These formed the basis for his book Love and Responsibility published in Polish in 1960. An English translation was published in 1981, three years after Wojtyla had become Pope John Paul II.

On page 271 of the English edition, the following text appears in the course of a discussion on the sex act.
It is in the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative, while the woman is a comparatively passive partner, whose function it is to accept and to experience. For the purposes of the sexual act i t is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it may even take place without her volition while she is in a state in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening - for instance while she is asleep, or unconscious.

Note: for ease of reading, I will put this quote in bold italics where it recurs below.

In 2009, in a volume entitled Responding to the Ryan Report, edited by Tony Flannery, Seán Fagan wrote the following.
Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility published in Polish in 1960 and in English in 1981 when he was pope, tried to present romantic love in contrast to Augustine's theology, but modern Catholic women are not impressed by much of his thinking. For example, speaking of intercourse he explains that 'it is in the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative, whilst the woman is a comparatively passive partner, whose function it is to accept and experience. For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition, while she is a state in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening, for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.' Can this be Catholic Church teaching? It sounds like rape.

In 2019, Angela Hanley quoted the above paragraph in her book on Seán Fagan.

And, at an event in Trinity College on 2 November 2019, former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, quoted the original Wojtyla text, attributing it to Pope John Paul II as his view of sex and marriage and pointing out that he had been made a saint in spite of it. This is what she said, following a reference by Joan Chittester to the invisibility of women in the Catholic church.
Absolutely. Even more the invisible, deliberately made invisible, deliberately meant to stay invisible structurally. Structurally the architecture of the church is designed to create the invisibility and maintain the invisibility and the powerlessness of women. To corral us. If you just bear with me could I just read a little section from the writings of Pope John Paul ll? This is a recent pope. So we are not talking about the Dark Ages. We’re talking about a recent pope from his book “Love and Responsibility”. This is his description of marriage, of sex and marriage. This is a short thing.
'It’s the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative while the woman is a comparatively passive partner whose function it is to accept and experience. For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can take place without her volition, while she is in a state in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening, for instance when she is asleep or unconscious.'
That is how we are treated in the church, expected to be asleep, unconscious, while men get on with doing what they have to do. And here’s the sequel to that: When Fr Seán Fagan called Pope John Paul out on that and said the obvious, he asked a question: He said: Can this really be Catholic Church teaching he said. It sounds like rape.
What happened? Pope John Paul becomes a saint. Seán Fagan becomes silenced. That’s our church.”
Well, the reactions came thick and fast, pointing out that while Wojtyla wrote the words in question, they were introducing an argument the conclusion of which was the opposite of what was being attributed to him.

In response, Mary McAleese dug in, responding on 8/11/2019 to an earlier critical letter in the Irish Times.
Sir, – Dr Thomas Finegan accuses me of shoddy scholarly treatment of Pope John Paul (Letters, November 7th).
I am afraid the accusation is more easily and accurately made of his own treatment of my use of a passage from the pope’s book Love and Responsibility. It is very clear Dr Finegan did not check the context in which I used the passage. It was explicitly stated by me that I was not talking about the sex act at all but by analogy using the passage to describe the position and role of women in the church generally, with men seen as dominant initiators and women as passive receivers. A simple and factually correct statement.
Fr Fagan correctly described the passage in its original sex act context as a description of rape. And it is clear Fr Finegan agrees that is a correct description. There is an obvious, inexorable and transferable logic that Dr Finegan has missed entirely and which was the sole point of the reference. – Yours, etc,
Co Roscommon.

Unconscious Wife

Mary McAleese wrote another response to a further letter from Dr. Finegan on 11/11/2019.
Sir, – It is the case that under common law (based on canon law) the crime of rape in many jurisdictions including Ireland was defined as non-consensual sex with a person who was not one’s spouse. The notion of marital rape did not enter our criminal law until 1990.

Surely Fr Finegan (Letters, November 9th) must accept the fact that at the time of writing Love and Responsibility in 1960 and republishing it in 1981, church teaching was that within marriage consent to sex was presumed and so the concept of marital rape was non-existent.

Fr Sean Fagan was a champion of the change that led to the redefinition of rape to include marital rape. His view did not sit well with religious authorities for even those who saw non-consensual sex in marriage as problematic to the point of sinful were opposed to extending the definition of rape to such sex within marriage.

I know of no document at that time where the Holy See suggests that non-consensual sex in marriage should be regarded as and criminalised as marital rape. That includes Love and Responsibility.

Perhaps Fr Finegan can point us to such references. Or perhaps he can agree he has this argument badly wrong. – Yours, etc,

Co Roscommon.

Karol Wojtyla

Following which Breda O'Brien wrote an op-ed in the Irish Times, recapping on the whole affair and suggesting that Mary McAleese should simply apologise for misquoting the Pope and move on.
Breda O'Brien: A simple, dignified apology from McAleese would suffice

Former president should say she never intended to imply Pope John Paul II endorsed marital rape

Sat, Nov 16, 2019

In the 1950s, a young Polish priest was lecturing in ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), a university which not long previously had been closed by the Nazis. At the time, KUL was under severe restrictions by the Soviet regime, which loathed the university’s courage and academic independence.

The young priest developed a lively student discussion and social action group. From this and his work with young engaged and married couples a book grew, called Love and Responsibility. Written before both the Second Vatican Council and the 1960s sexual revolution, it was far ahead of its time in its frank discussion of sexuality, insisting that love definitively rules out ever using another person and that women were entitled to satisfying sex lives.

For instance, the author points out that women have more erogenous zones than men. He says that love for spouses means learning about each other’s bodies so that both can fully enjoy sexual climax. He insists that men be unselfish in sex.

However inadvertently, by citing Wojtyla in this way to make this point, McAleese attributes to the author the very opposite position to the one that he holds

The young priest was Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II. At a recent conference, Mary McAleese chose a passage from Love and Responsibility where Wojtyla states that, from a physiological point of view, a man could have sexual intercourse even if a women were asleep or unconscious. It is worth watching the former president’s delivery of this passage.

Here is the transcript: “If you’ll just bear with me, can I just read a little section from the writings of Pope John Paul II? This is a recent pope so we’re not talking about the Dark Ages, we are talking about a recent pope from his book Love and Responsibility. This is his description of marriage, of sex in marriage. It’s a short thing. “It is in the very nature of the act that the man plays the active role and takes the initiative, while the woman is a comparatively passive partner, whose function it is to accept and to experience. For the purpose of the sexual act it is enough for her to be passive and unresisting, so much so that it can even take place without her volition [gasps from the audience] while she is in a state in which she has no awareness at all of what is happening – for instance, when she is asleep or unconscious.” [More gasps] “This is how we are treated in the church, expected to be asleep or unconscious while men get on with doing what they have to do. And here is the sequel to that: when Fr Seán Fagan called Pope John Paul out on that and said the obvious, he asked a question; he said, can this really be the Catholic church teaching? He said it sounds like rape. What happened? Pope John Paul becomes a saint, Seán Fagan becomes silenced. That’s our church.”

Opposite position

However inadvertently, by citing Wojtyla in this way to make this point, McAleese attributes to the author the very opposite position to the one that he holds.

The book is widely available and speaks for itself. Mere paragraphs after the passage quoted by Dr McAleese, Wojtyla insists that intercourse should never lead to climax for the man alone, “but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved”. It is followed by: “Love demands that the reactions of the other person, the sexual partner, be fully taken into account.” He believes the physiological aspect of sex must always be put at the service of authentic, selfless love.

When subsequenlty challenged (in the letters page of this paper) for choosing a passage taken out of context as a description of Wojtyla’s teaching on sex and marriage, McAleese declared that she has been misunderstood. She “explicitly stated” that she “was not talking about the sex act at all but by analogy using the passage to describe the position and role of women in the church generally, with men seen as dominant initiators and women as passive receivers”.


When taken to task again by Dr Tom Finegan, she suggested in a further letter that it is was due to the influence of the church’s canon law that marital rape was only criminalised in Ireland in 1990.

Why choose an extract and present it in a way that allows an inaccurate and highly damaging impression of the author’s views to be formed?

That canon law was a key causal factor seems unlikely, given that Britain, which has not been Catholic since 1536, only recognised marital rape as a crime in 1991. Be that as it may, the central question remains: when seeking an analogy for how she believes women in the church are treated, why choose an extract and present it in a way that allows an inaccurate and highly damaging impression of the author’s views to be formed?

Given her status as a highly regarded former president, theologian and university chancellor, the dignified thing for Mary McAleese to do would be to issue a simple statement along the lines of: “I never intended to imply that Karol Wojtyla endorsed marital rape and if any impression was given that he did, I am sorry.
And there the matter rests for now, I think.

I am a fan of Mary McAleese, both while she was President of Ireland and in her subsequent role as critic of the Roman Catholic Church's teaching and treatment of women and LGBT people. And I was very upset at how she got this so wrong and then dug in.

So I thought I'd check it out. I got a copy of Love and Responsibility and I have to say I agree completely with Breda O'Brien, except for her suggested wording of the apology and her assertion that the book is widely available. I had to get my copy from the far side of the country.

In his approach to sex in marriage (where else?) Wojtyla adopts a layered approach. He first sets out the purely physical situation regarding the sex act - what is physically possible. This is a neutral description of the facts and carries no emotional, moral or ethical overtones. He then applies the emotional and ethical layers leading to the conclusion that sex must be by mutual consent and never for the pleasure of one partner to the exclusion of the other. He goes on to develop this mutuality as active and far from passive.

So his view is exactly the opposite of the one attributed to him by Mary McAleese. As to the church's view at the time that is another matter. I am well familiar with the advice given in the confessional to women whose health or life itself could be at risk from another pregnancy. "Go home and do your duty."

I do not accept that Mary did not attribute the words quoted to Wojtyla's own view. Go back up and read her top and tail to the quote.

But how did she get into this position in the first place? My own feeling is that she had not read the book, or she'd have known better, but that she accepted the interpretation directly from Seán Fagan's writing, not realising he was plain wrong in this case.

So, how did Seán Fagan fall into this trap. Surely he could not take that view after reading the book. Did he then take it second hand from someone else without properly checking out the source? Unfortunately we may never know as Seán is no longer with us. As readers of this blog will know I am a big fan of Seán's. The whole thing is so sad.

It occurred to me to wonder, had Seán Fagan been confronted with his mistake, would he have dug in like Mary McAleese, or would he have apologised and moved on? I would hope the latter, but, again, we'll never know.

The Lessons

First, when you're using a quote to criticise someone, particularly such an explosive quote, make sure you go to the original source and check out the context.

Second, when you make a mistake, fess up immediately and move on. Digging in makes it harder to stop digging and you only do yourself more damage in the long run.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


Fr Bernárd Lynch
Click on any image for a larger version

It's difficult to know where to start. This was supposed to be a talk but it quickly turned into an intense experience - stimulating and provocative.


Bernárd started off with two blunt statements, which I'm sure were intended to rattle the neurons and prepare us for a very open, intimate and challenging presentation.

All religions deny God


All life is about sex except sex itself. Sex is Power

and these two themes were woven into the rest of his presentation.

Then he asks: What is faith?

and replies: Faith is hope rather than belief.

He asks: What is God?

and replies using the terms nothingness and love in the same breath.

This is challenging stuff and worthy of meditation. So stop here for a moment, an open your mind moment, a lift up your hearts moment. I could almost nearly buy into this myself.

And when you consider Bernárd's manner, measured, clear, sincere and with no side, you may get some idea of the impression he made on his audience.

It all reminded me of when I first came across John Robinson's book Honest to God in my youth. That turned a lot of stuff right upside down and made you think. It opened up the mind, took you miles away from all the prescriptive rubbish you'd been brought up on and made you wonder if there might be something worthwhile out there after all.

I'm not going to expand any further on Bernárd's divine musings. I might get lost. But you can follow his talk in this video.

I'll just recap on other more earthly aspects of his talk below, drawing also on a few outside sources.


Bernard was a closet gay priest in New York in the 1980s when the AIDS/HIV epidemic broke out, principally among gay men. It was terrifying. Nobody knew what it was, where it came from, or how you contracted it.

Those who were known to have it were shunned, some to the point of dying of starvation. You could be diagnosed with it today and be gone by the weekend. Bernárd said it was like Camus' Plague come to life.

For him it was a transformative experience. He set up a mission to those infected with the virus, as his friends and colleagues were dropping around him like flies.

He even flew back to Ireland in the summer of 1982 to tell his parents that he would be dead by the end of the year.


Lets get the Vatican out of the way at an early stage.

In 1986 Bernárd spent a year in Rome. When he arrived, there was no mission for AIDS/HIV sufferers, so he set one up. There wasn't even a mass for them to attend.

His general care and attention to sufferers did not go down well with the powers that be. And you can understand why. AIDS started out among homosexual men and Bernárd told us how, by then a "hardened" New Yorker, he was absolutely bowled over and scandalised by the sexual behaviour of the Vaticanites - escorts, prostitutes and and the rest of it, brazen and all over the place.

He said he was, therefore, not in the least surprised at anything in Martel's recent book In the Closet of the Vatican.

They clearly wanted rid of this turbulent priest, but it took them over 20 years to get there. Though he has been suspended by his Order, he still sees himself as a priest and behaves accordingly, sort of.


And, this, incredibly:
[In the late 1980s he was] doing some pastoral work at a Catholic school and after pressure from the family, the diocese and even the FBI, who were called in by Cardinal John O'Connor, Lynch faced trial in 1989 on charges of molesting one of his pupils. However, John Schaefer, the boy in question, recanted on the courtroom steps and revealed how much pressure had been put on him to come up with the allegation. Lynch was acquitted. It made international headlines.

Source (April 2012)
I can't help remarking the irony here. The Hierarchy was quick to use a civil mechanism when it suited its nefarious purpose but the Vatican won't cooperate with civil abuse inquiries when these do not suit its purpose. And, instead of reporting offenders to the authorities, the Bishops were moving them around and into fresh fields.

Bernard's take on clerical child sex abuse is an interesting one:
"a lot of the abuse of children by priests in the Church is a result and consequence of sexually arrested development in priests. It is not paedophilia, and that is not to take from the crime and the terrible harm done to children in this way. When you go into seminary at 14 or 16, you are arrested in your sexual development. From that time on, everything sexual is sin. Sex is really not integrated in the way normal boys and girls do as they grow up. And so priests stop growing sexually. And when they start growing again at the ripe old age of 50, they start off where they left off, as a 14-year-old looking for 14-year-olds."
Source (April 2012)

This background would account for one set of abusers, but of course there were others who became active almost within a wet day of their ordination, such as Morgan Costello.


Mind you, for all his concern about people and talk of love, Bernárd can be brutally frank.

His view that gays living as straights is nothing short of blasphemy, a denial of God's creation, pure and simple, is a novel angle, to me at least, and a potentially powerful advocacy slogan for LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Would that the Church, from it's Princes to its priests, got this message.

To me, an unbeliever, athiest, agnostic, or whatever you're having yourself, this is just common sense. We all saw the outpourings of love and acceptance during the equal marriage referendum, and it was this, the stories, the relationships and the courage that carried the day.


There is currently a controversy going on in these parts on the question of whether words written by Karol Wojtyla in the early 1960s meant that he condoned what would today be considered marital rape (sex with an unconscious spouse). He certainly did not consider it the ideal. He felt there should always be mutual consent. Whether or not he considered it a serious sin will have to await my reading of his book.

What cannot be denied, however, was the church's advocacy of "enforced" consent and it was this which nearly led to Bernárd quitting the priesthood shortly after his ordination.

Married women, who had borne many children and for whom any further pregnancy was ruled out on medical grounds, were coming to Bernárd in confession pleading to be allowed use contraception or refuse their husbands' demands, the latter being often impossible.

When Bernárd brought his misgivings to an older priest he was asked "What did you say to them?".

"I told them to follow their conscience and do what they thought was right".

"The church needs more priests like you" was the reply, and Bernárd stayed the course.

I am well aware of the "go home and do your duty" response of the day.

Marriage should surely never be seen by any decent man as a licence to fuck his wife to death? The man also has a duty to his wife.

Thankfully, the times they are achanging. But there's probably the odd one or two still out there.


Bernárd pulled a lot of his audience up short when he referred to priests who didn't believe in God. How could this be? Simple, they started out believing but "lost the faith" somewhere along the way. What were they to do? The priesthood is not just a vocation. It is also a career, and a job for life.

I didn't quite catch Bernárd's attitude here. I suspect he empathised at a personal level but I doubt he approved.


Bernárd joined the Society of African Missions in 1965 and he was ordained in 1971. After a spells in Northern Ireland and in Zambia, he was sent to New York in 1975 to do further studies in counselling and psychotherapy.

There he ministered with the Dignity mission to LBGTQ+ people. When AIDS came he set up the first Aids Ministry with Dignity in 1982. That was the year he came out to his parents. He also worked with the civil authorities and Mayor Koch's non-discrimination Order 50.

He lived in Rome in 1986. It was in 1989 that Cardinal O'Connor called in the FBI with the trumped up charges of child abuse.

In 1992 he came to England where he continued his LGBTQ+ missionary work. It was then that he met Billy. Their religious marriage, in 1998, was blessed by Cistercian monk (who left monastery for first time in 50 yrs to do it). They had a civil partnership in 2006 and an Irish civil marriage in 2017 following the same-sex marriage referendum.

In 2010 he was out on the streets of London, complete with clerical collar, joining in the protests during Pope Benedict XVI's visit. The following year he was suspended from the priesthood by his Order.

As Peter Stanford wrote in 2012, referring to the London protest:
For his religious order, though, it seems likely that it will also be the final straw. "I know they are having a problem. They have told me so. I am under investigation. The Vatican has already told them to get rid of me." ...

Lynch says he won't stop what he has been doing and saying, even if he loses his platform as a cleric. "A priest is a priest for people. And if people want me..." But if the Church says he is no longer a priest? "I believe that the priesthood, like my baptism, is an indelible mark on my soul, so I will always be a priest." ...

"I do feel there is need to witness to the fact that gay is good and gay belongs to God. There are millions of lesbian and gay Catholics who need a witness to the fact that their love is not evil." ...

And, in his very happy and now very public marriage to Billy Desmond, he gives the lie to the suggestion, made recently by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, that same-sex marriage is "grotesque".

"It's my Church," he says, "and I'll be the last out after the Pope."
On November 21st he will receive the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from fellow Clareman, Michael D. Higgins in the Áras.

I'm signing off with this photo which says so much about where we are today. A suspended homosexual married priest embracing a lady who has, for years, had her vocation to the priesthood denied to her by a corrupt, short sighted and uncaring Vatican.

Lots done, lots more to do.

Update 22/11/2019

Remarks of President Michael D Higgins at the
Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish abroad
Áras an Uachtaráin, Wednesday, 21 November 2019
May I also extend my most sincere gratitude to Bernárd Lynch for the great sense of shared humanity that has seen him reach out to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS in communities across two continents. During years spent in New York and London, Bernárd’s tireless effort, courage, his challenging of old preconceptions and his unrelenting commitment represents an uplifting example of how empathy harnessed to a real will to effect change can so powerfully transform the landscape for those battling discrimination and oppressive social attitudes. Bernárd’s emancipatory and life-enhancing work has helped to change perceptions of the LGBT community, creating more welcoming societies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Miriam Gormally interviews Bernárd (10 mins) 21/11/2019