Tuesday, April 28, 2020


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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.

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