Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Anne Bieżanek RIP

I remember Anne Bieżanek well. Hers was the first banned book that I obtained legitimately.

I Googled her just now and found she had died a little over a year ago at the age of 83.

She was a great woman and a formative influence.

She was a Roman Catholic doctor and married woman who opened a birth control clinic in Liverpool in the early 1960s. She was refused communion at her local church and only succeeded in receiving the sacrament when she took herself to the altar rails at Westminster Cathedral and outfaced Archbishop Heenan (as he then was).

She then wrote a book which was in two parts. The first part detailed her efforts to set up her birth control clinic (St. Anthony of Padua) and her brushes with the RC church. The second part set out the history of the RC church's second class treatment of women down the ages.

The book, which was a Pan paperback was banned in Ireland (under the contraceptive schedule). I requested a permit from the Department of Justice to import a copy, and, much to my amazement, actually got one. You can see a copy at the foot of this page.

She was a pioneer and a person of integrity and deserves to be remembered.

The book is now out of print and she doesn't even have a page of her own in Wikipedia, unlike some of the unworthies who are taking up space there. You can read a little about her in the Liverpool Echo report of her death.

Click on image for a larger version

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Click image to see article

Back to basics
The longer I live the more familiar the Roman Catholic Church becomes. And this is bad news, believe you me. The challenges of Vatican II which would have made the church more relevant have been betrayed by the institution itself. The church is becoming more and more like it was under Pius XII, including the Marian delusions and all. The promise of the Holy Spirit (or Ghost as s/he was then) speaking through the people of Christ has been firmly replaced by the Papal megaphone as the one and only option for the poor bird to have (one-way) communication with its flock.

Vatican II betrayed.
Only those who lived before it and through it can appreciate how much the calling of Vatican II meant. It was a cataclysmic event, in the league of the Second Coming. It brought in the vernacular to replace the witchcraft and to let the people directly understand the message and commune with the divine. It replaced the theology of "error has no rights", which was typical of the Inquisition, with one which put the human being, as God's creation, centre stage. It allowed for change. In fact, it was predicated on change. Unfortunately in his enthusiasm and admiration for John XXIII, the Lord called him home prematurely and the whole thing unravelled. Well, more accurately, it was gradually picked apart by Curial vultures and hyenas and now we're back where we started.

The Silencing of Father Tony
Today's news that Fr. Tony Flannery's monthly column in the Redemptorist magazine, Reality, has been pulled out of fear of Vatican retribution, marks a new low point in this slide into evil. Hans Kung and his ilk were silenced long ago and that was supposed to have solved the problem of dissent, or questioning as I would prefer to call it. The Vatican retreated into fortress mode and began issuing edicts to plug the perceived holes in the dyke.

I had originally said here that I was disappointed in the Redemptorists, but I have since read of the silencing of Fr. Moloney (editor of Reality) and have also seen the courageous stand taken by Fr. Flannery's superior, Fr. Egan. So it's hat off to them.

The present turbulence has, however, led to a bit of a milk and water issue of Reality this month. The issue, which dropped Fr. Tony, is reduced to offering a rambling piece on a second best solution to the "problem" of the ordination of women: women deacons, complete with a picture of Pam, which is not captioned, and who is not mentioned in the body of the article. At least the discerning reader is treated to an incisive but respectful critique of the new missal from Fr. Michael Commane.

This is Pam.
She was chosen to illustrate the article in
Reality on women deacons.

The Magisterium & the Infallibility Trap
Paul VI put the matter of contraception beyond dispute with Humanae Vitae (1968). Some have argued that this encyclical carried with it the stamp of infallibility, which meant it had to be true and for all time. Today the same argument is made regarding the edicts on the ordination of women of Paul VI (1976) and John Paul II (1994). These are held to be, not just part of the magisterium for the moment, but eternally infallibly true and binding.

Reverend Mo
This is just plain nuts. There is not a single convincing theological reason why women should not be ordained to the priesthood in modern times. The priest is not Christ, though some of them behave like they thought they were. The priest is the agent of Christ. It is the host and not the priest that turns into the body and blood of Christ (if you believe that sort of thing - more of which anon).

Roma locuta est
Fortress Vatican is engaged in buckpassing and avoidance of moral responsibility on a grand scale. The shameful and abusive letter from the Pope to the People of Ireland, in the wake of the final exposure of rampant clerical sexual abuse of children, is just unbelievable. Why are the Vatican running so scared as to become abusive in defence of their institution to the detriment of clergy and flock. One can only conclude that it is cowardice in the face of moral responsibility or a fear of losing their material wealth in massive compensation settlements. I suspect it's a bit of both. And these are the moral arbiters who are in charge. Wow.

Hallucinations and the pathology of Knock
It reminds me of Knock (Co. Mayo, that is) long before the Marian delusions of Eugenio Pacelli. Irish catholics had their own ways and devotions back then (1879) but they were not conducive to absolute obedience to Rome, so Rome rule had to be imposed. Coupled with the Church's opposition to the legitimate land agitation of the day, this confused the people and tore communities apart. The Knock hallucinations, which were a product of this communal nervous breakdown, could not even be reported straight but had to be filtered through an orthodox Roman theology before they could be allowed see the light of day.

1984 and all that
Now it is time to brush up on your Latin: censor librorum, nihil obstat et imprimatur. Phrases that have penetrated the marrow of Pius XII catholics. Good God, they even banned George Orwell's 1984. I once tackled the University Chaplain on that one and learned it was for its sexual content. Hadn't noticed that myself when I had read it and I pressed him (it was, of course, a him) further. "The depersonalisation of sex" said he quoting a phrase from the book that I don't have in front of me at this moment but which was supposed to be on the lines of "they went behind the bush and had it" or "did it" or whatever. Really and truly. I am sure Mr Berlusconi would die laughing or something.

Pray for us
Anyway, we are now heading straight back to the devotional model of the RC church. I remember it well. We had a Patrician group in our parish. I used to do papers for the "discussion". Now this was not an ecumenical group. Perish the thought. John Charles had decreed that there should be a discussion group for catholics the better to have them understand their faith and secure obedience thereto. I remember Mrs. Whelan, God bless the woman. She had had a hard life and turned up at the discussion group as a form of attendance at devotions. When the discusson got in any way heated, she would interject with "Sure God is good". Knowing the woman's hardship and her faith, there was no follow up to that. End of discussion.

Then there was Veritas, the Catholic Truth Society, and it's still there, waiting. They made me a reader until I mentioned to them that they had enough devotional stuff on the shelves, Maria Goretti, Don Bosco, Fr. Damien, The Little Flower and so on, and that they should really be looking at debating serious issues confronting the church at the time. I never got anything else to read. Don't get me started on that crowd.

Ut omnes unum sint
You can't beat the old subjunctive when you're fudging it. I used to be a promoter of the Unity Octave way back in the days when I thought they were serious about it. But it turned out not to be ecumenism or rapprochment but unconditional surrender. Our terms or nothing. I remember when we couldn't go to a Protestant funeral on pain of mortal sin. The same held for entering a Protestant church, whether or not there was a service in progress. And as for reading the King James bible, the belt of a crozier was nothing compared with a thump of a Douai (annotated) in the solar plexus.

And back to the ordination of women for a moment. Are they really going out of their way to insult the worthy Deans of Kilkenny and Waterford. Well maybe they are but in a non-discriminatory way. They would probably denigrate the heretic Paddy Anglican in the same breath. Or, the apostate, Rector Jim. Amazing.

Hosts of Angels
No, this is not a reference to the temporal power of the Papal States. Rather I am thinking of the fast approaching International Eucharistic Congress. This June will see the hosts assembling to honour the Host. But the awkward little matter of the "Real Presence" will leave our "separated brethern" out in the cold. Now that would be really bad publicity, so lets invite them in, but to a non-real-presence eucharist which we can all share. I hope they fix this up properly with Baby Jesus in advance. We wouldn't want him turning up uninvited at just the wrong moment.

Jesus needs a drink
I wonder will there be any consideration at this Eucharist Fest of the predicament of recovering alcoholic priests, who, if they want to say mass, are obliged to do so under both species and using alcoholic wine. Another choice that should not have to be made, between celebrating the mass and sobriety. The same defective reasoning applies here as to the ordination of women priests. Christ did not ordain women and he used alcoholic wine at the last supper. Clearly the alcohol is a vital ingredient in transubstantiation, infallibly and immutably so. But what of transubstantiation itself. It is surely finally under threat from the latest advances in nuclear physics. See my paper for the Theological Seminar.

Life after Life
And the afterlife? Who'd want to go to heaven to have their holy catholic soul hijacked by those awful Mormons. Would you believe the Vatican believes in this post-mortem threat to the souls of the faithful departed. They have even used it as a basis for denying family members (and professional genealogists) access to original parish records (so you have to fork out dosh to a diocesan heritage centre to push a button at €80 a twist). And you should see, in the originals of course, what they charged the poor hoors for baptising/marrying/burying them in the old days. And the vicious underlining of ILLEGITIMATE and BASTARD in some of the records. No wonder they don't want you poking around the originals. Now, with that rant out of the way, I have to say that in recent times that has applied to only one bishop on my beat, who was happily downfaced recently by that secular institution, the admirable National Library of Ireland. But he was getting away with it since 1992 and neither his fellow bishops nor the Vatican called a halt to his gallop.

The Lord have Mercy on your Soul
And then there are the funerals. Another money making racket and an opportunity to harness grief in the service of a fear-peddling and authoritarian clergy/hierarchy. In my day, the religious ceremonies around funerals would remind you of the sermon in Portrait of the Artist. That piece of literature put the fear of God into me for months. Well funerals used to be like that. A pleading to the lord to forgive the sins of the recently deceased, not to keep them too long in purgatory (coupled with an offer of a few indulgences for cash) and to finally let them into their eternal reward. Scare the bejaysus out of you.

In more recent times these ceremonies have tended to become a celebration of the life of the deceased with family members and friends giving short eulogies. I found this part of the ceremony very moving. Along comes the Vatican and says no more of this secular rubbish in the house of God. Out, out, out. Unless, of course, you are a celebrity of some sort and then the fawning authorities turn a blind eye.

Now, I have heard the word bollix used from the pulpit in my local church at the funeral of a friend of mine, and I did think that went a bit far. But that's RTÉ for you. Ruin it for the rest of us.

I could not finish without a mention of Father Vincent Twomey. When he sees what is happening to those who incur the wrath of the Vatican, I'll bet he's thanking his lucky stars he funked the debate on gay adoption in the Philosoph in UCC. I'd hate to think of the agony it would have caused the Pontiff to have to rebuke his former star pupil.

And while I'm at it. The Vatican will intimidate those who question in good faith but I don't see it making any moves to shut down that rabid redtop ALIVE which is such a disgrace to the Order of Preachers, from whose authority it appears to be completely immune.

What a confusion of Gooses and Ganders.

Now, I had better wrap up or I'll blow a fuse.

I'll finish by anticipating the criticism that, if I have left the church, or it me, as the case may be, I should just shut up about it, that I am no longer entitled to criticise it.

Sorry. I may have changed my belief but I am still left with the baggage loaded onto me by a closed, authoritarian and venal institution, and I am as entitled to criticise it as is the Pope himself, perish the thought.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Calling a Spada a Spade

At another time, I wouldn't have any great problem with closing the Irish embassy to the Holy See (Vatican).

But this is hardly the time, for a variety of reasons:
  • it appears to be another piece of Government gesture politics: an indication of something being done on foot of the revelation of the horrendous abuse of children over the years, for which the Vatican must take some responsibility.

  • it is coming just before the International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin in June. The first since 1932.

  • it has offended a large number of Roman Catholics who see it as part of an aggressive secular agenda within Government, and the Labour Party in particular.

  • it is a divisive distraction within Government when their undivided attention should be devoted to more important matters.

  • the cost cutting rationale offered is clearly a load of cobblers and is only contributing to undermining trust in the Government.

Having said all that, it is a disgrace that the Vatican does not permit the Rome embassy to service both Italy and the Holy See.

But underlying all this is the more fundamental question of why the Holy See should have any ambassadors accredited to it at all. The Roman Catholic Church is a private organisation and should not have any entitlement to the trappings of State. I don't see Rowan Williams looking for recognition as a Head of State.

In fact, there is a strong case for abolishing the Vatican and for the Pope to take to the road like the mendicant friars of old, or even the Dalai Lama.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012


On the 18th of January, almost three weeks ago, at 00:34 in the morning, I got a shock email from Blogger telling me that my blog had been deleted.

Hello, Your blog at http://bullsxvi.blogspot.com/ has been reviewed and confirmed as in violation of our Terms of Service for: MALICIOUS_JAVASCRIPT. In accordance to these terms, we've removed the blog and the URL is no longer accessible. For more information, please review the following resources: Blogger Terms of Service: http://blogger.com/terms.g Blogger Content Policy: http://blogger.com/content.g -The Blogger Team

Needless to say, I got the shock of my life. In the first place I was not aware of any malicious javascript on the blog, and, in the second place, I had put a huge amount of work into it since my first post in June 2007.

It is a serious blog despite my poking fun at people and institutions from time to time.

When I sort of got over the shock I tried to figure out what was going on. Clearly a robot scanner had classified my blog as a spammer. The only thing I could figure was the following.

This was the 24 hour period covering the internet strike to stop SOPA in the USA and in favour of freedom of the internet. The StopSopa site had put up a special internet strike page and was providing javascript, to webmasters and bloggers who were participating in the 24 hour strike, to divert incoming readers to the strike page. The javascript was constructed so that this diversion just covered the 24 hours of the strike.

I put the javascript into my blog template/header, but it didn't work. It didn't work on my website either. So I resorted to a basic html redirect instead. And that worked fine.

I was familiar with the html redirect code as I had used it in the past to redirect from an old outdated blog to a new one. So in this case it was no big deal.

And then my blog disappeared. Deleted by Blogger as spam.

The irony of this is that the strike itself was strongly supported by Google who own Blogger.

So I put in a request to Blogger via the Dashboard for the blog to be restored and went off to the Blogger support pages to see what was likely to happen. I saw correspondence from loads of people whose blogs had been deleted and it was not clear from most of them if they had ever come back. I saw only one example where the guy said his blog had been restored, eventually.

There was an appeal mechanism listed. But it was accompanied by dire warnings that any other blogs you might have would be rigorously examined and if there was anything wrong with them they too would be deleted. A serious disincentive as (i) I do have other blogs, and (ii) I didn't think there was anything wrong with this one in the first place.

I then thought I had lost all my posts from this blog as I didn't have a backup, but, as it turned out, I got the blog in the Google cache before that updated itself and scrubbed me.

So, for the last three weeks, the blog has been available only on my website and without any of the comments.

In the meantime I learned that both the javascript and html redirect code was extensively used by spammers to move their operations around the internet and avoid being closed down. Needless to say that didn't help my humour or give me much hope of being restored.

When nothing was happening with Blogger I decided to risk an appeal and put it in last week.

This morning I got an email telling me that BULLS had been restored and thanking me for my patience. What a relief. That was one strike that nearly turned into a lockout.

However, I had meanwhile opened a new blog for my religious ramblings and so I now have two holy blogs. I think I will use the new one, for now at least, to follow the International Eucharistic Congress which is being held in Ireland in June next. The last such congress in Ireland was in 1932 and much has changed since then.

Et cum spiritu tuo!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Third Secret of Fatima

I can now reveal the third secret of Fatima and also why it has not been properly published up to now.

As we know, that secret was not intended for immediate release in 1917, and, over the century since then, people have been desperately trying to fathom it. Even the Holy See was literally at sea in this matter.

Its revelation was so long coming that it was assumed to fortell the end of the world. And, of course, no self respecting religion or cult these days lacks such a prediction.

As it turns out, the secret is even more dramatic than that. But before we get to the substance, we have to wonder why was it not revealed before now. Well, deities are a cunning crowd and their mothers are even worse.

The secret was QR encoded, and this ensured that it would not be revealed until this complex barcode formatting was adopted in this valley of tears. I suspect we may have been a bit slower getting there than the Good Lord intended, but no matter. We're there now.

The secret in the original form in which it was delivered in Fatima is reproduced above.

To decode it, all you need to do is the following:

[Update 2021: Technology has advanced even further since this post was written. Now, if you have a QR app on your camera all you need to do is point the camera at the QR code. Otherwise follow the original instructions below.]
  1. copy the following url onto your clipboard. It is the address of the image above.

  2. click on the image at the top of this post. That will take you to an online QR decoder.

  3. paste the url from the clipboard into the url field in the decoder and press START. The content will then appear in the box after processing.

Laudetur etc.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Immaculate Conceptions

From a divine point of view, this is the season of birth rather than of conception. But as there is no birth without conception, I am allowing myself a small measure of divine poetic licence to reflect on the history of immaculate conceptions.

Roman Catholics are well familiar with the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, although even these catholics, like their separated brethern and probably the rest of the world, often confuse Mary's two claims to fame: her own Immaculate Conception, meaning that she was conceived without original sin, and so presumably never had a tempting thought in her life; and the Virgin Birth, where she delivered a son without ever having had sex.

While meditating on these matters, both of which I find dubious to say the least, it occurred to me that it must surely be inaccurate to refer to The Immaculate Conception. There cannot have been just one such event, unless Christ the man was conceived with original sin and that would surely be a theological turn up for the books.

So we should be meditating on the Immaculate Conceptions, should we not?

How then to explain Christ's temptation by the Devil, which he was supposed to have resisted as an example to us all. A charade? Can he have been really tempted if he was conceived immaculately.

Is it possible that an immaculately conceived mother and the Holy Ghost could have produced a son marked by original sin?

The mind boggles.

Surely a good start to a Christmas meditation.

Happy Christmas to all you original sinners out there.

And, while you are at it, see if you can think up a few more original sins. Repeat offences get boring and, at the end of the day, testify to a lack of a firm purpose of amendment and a consequent lack of forgiveness.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Alive, alive, Oh

While this particular publication drives me nuts, I pick it up from time to time to check out what the opposition is up to.

In spite of it being a scurrilous rag, over which the Dominican order seems to have no control, it does pose challenging questions for the unbeliever, and it does expose its own mirror image in the secular community.

You might be interested in a few items in the current edition, available in most good RC churches and online. [Note: link was to Oct 2011 issiue in which material referred to below appeared. That issue is no longer online. Strikeout link above is now to the current current online edition. Current hardcopy edition may take some days after publication to appear online. Benny 6/3/2013]

P 10: reports an ad which testifies to the stupidity of many people in the production chain. The ad was on the website of a Liverpool NHS trust, inviting applications for the post of trainee anaesthetist. It contained the phrase "the usual rubbish about equal opportunities". Clearly an instruction to the ad's composer and not a final text.

P 11: reports a meta-study on the adverse effects of abortion on the women concerned. This appears a reasoned study and merits a serious reply from the "pro-choice" people.

P11: reports a South African couple who travelled to New Zealand to watch their team in the Rugby World Cup who discovered that the hotel they had booked online was actually in Eastbourne, England rather than New Zealand.

p 12 : asks why the Irish mainstream media (MSM) did not report the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. This was an RC gathering but in its scale and variety it was certainly newsworthy by any journalistic standards. MSM might like to take this one up.

P 16: reports increased demand in the Netherlands for euthanasia from elderly people who are diagnosed with such conditions as alzheimers. It points out that these people want to avail of this facility while they are still compus mentis.

P 16: also reports an ad that had to be withdrawn when found offensive to Roman Catholics. UK Bodyshop had planned a campaign for a new women's cosmetic named Immaculate Complexion, which featured a picture of the Virgin Mary.

So the message is that even a rag can be a good read for the discerning reader.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Buddy can you spare a dime?

Is the imminent bankruptcy of the Dublin Archdiocese obliging Archbishop Martin to flog posters of the Pope to raise funds for next year's Eucharistic Congress?

The posters will be left-overs from World Youth Day currently in progress in Madrid. This version welcomes the Pope in Spanish. As he is unlikely to have the nerve to show his holy face in Dublin next year, that is just as well, and the Church, in its wisdom, can translate the Spanish in an appropriately infallible (I almost wrote ineffable!) manner for its Irish flock.

Many a mickle makes a muckle

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Body and Blood

That LAST SUPPER is still causing mayhem, or rather the insistence on replicating it exactly is leading us up the garden path of division and decay.

In the first place the Roman Catholic Church's insistence on continuing with a pre-atomic interpretation of the real presence is a divisive factor among christians. The forthcoming Eucharistic Congress, despite its emphasis on ecumenism (or whatever they are now calling it), has to have a special non-real-presence service to allow Protestants to participate.

Next is the insistence on the raw material for transubstantiation being actual bread. In other words it must contain (some) wheat, which poses a problem for many coeliacs.

Next comes the wine, which must (even in mustum) undergo some fermentation, making it unsuitable for recovering alcoholics.

A sole celebrant of the mass must receive under both species, so that rules out many coeliac and all recovering alcoholic priests. Concelebration is offered as an alternative.

Next comes the screening of priests. Excluding potential abusers is one thing but the Vatican has also ruled out coeliacs and alcoholics (even recovering) from the ministry in the future (as of 1995 per Joseph Ratzinger).

Next comes the absence of women at the Last Supper (and among the apostles generally) so we can't have women priests. Is it possible that meal was prepared/served by a female hand? Well we do now have altargirls. Do they imply a waitress at the Last Supper table? But hold on a minute. Altargirls are not allowed for the Latin mass. So was conversation at the Last Supper table in Latin, the language of the oppressor? All very strange.

In fact such is the insistence on replicating exactly the Last Supper, about which we only have hearsay evidence at best, that it is a wonder the Roman Catholic Church doesn't insist on a quorum of twelve attenders at mass among which there is at least one mortal sinner.

This post was provoked by my remembering a recent trip to Galway where I noticed that there was a special coeliac station for communicants in the Cathedral. As the hosts used cannot be gluten free (only minimal content) I assume coeliac communicants with zero gluten tolerance receive under the species of wine, unless, they are recovering alcoholics. Practising alcoholics would, of course, have no problem here.

I must say I find all this conflict between pinhead theology and pastoral care a bit bewildering betimes.

For those who find reading Vatican documents difficult the Bishop of Lansing has issued a practical manual and a licensed canonist has prepared a FAQ entry.

In vino veritas?

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Nuncio Vobis

It is strongly rumoured that the current Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giuseppe Leanza, who has been recalled to Rome for "consulations", is to be shifted by the Vatican to the Czech Republic.

This may not be as dramatic as it seems as
    (i)   the Vatican will need some considerable help in crafting its reply to the recent "request" from the Irish Government for an explanation of why it obstructed Government Commission Enquiries into clerical child sex abuse, and why it was apparently involved in a cover up of these practices over the years

    (ii)   Archbishop Leanza was due to finish his term as Nuncio to Ireland in mid-2011 anyway

    (iii)   Leanza may stay long enough in the job to return to Dublin and present the Vatican's reply in person to the Tánaiste

Nevertheless, Leanza's removal will create a vacancy at Nuncio level, and who better to fill it than Fr. Vincent Twomey. Fr. Vincent has been calling for various Episcopal resignations over the last while, but here is a chance to aim higher, with this unique vacancy arising at a propitious moment.

Why Fr. Twomey?
    (i)      He is a former student of Joseph Ratzinger

    (ii)     He defends his former mentor at every turn

    (iii)    He has written profusely and prolifically on Benedict XVI

    (v)      He has the gravitas

    (vi)     He is both e-literate and e-humble, having downgraded his earlier pontifical style website to one more in keeping with the workmanlike requirements of the next Nuncio. And let's hope, for his sake, that there will be one, even if he has to be subsequently run out of town

Gaudium Magnum

Friday, July 22, 2011

Performing Seal

In an official gut reaction to the Cloyne Report's assertion that the Vatican has been complicit, and more, in the covering up of clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) has made an unprecedented and incandescent statement to the Dáil (National Parliament) in which he excoriates the Vatican in a coldly delivered spray of red mist.

I won't even attempt to quote from it. I tried, and found myself quoting all of it. So read it in full before you go any further.

The idiot Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson who seems to keep his foot permanently in his mouth, has responded by calling for "objectivity" in the debate and referring to the recent patronising and buck-passing letter from the Pope to the Irish people; he pleaded for the debate to concentrate on the welfare of children, an issue to which the Vatican is late in coming, if they have itself. This response is surely the equivalent of a slap in the face to an abused child. When will they ever learn?

If you have not yet read the Pope's 2010 letter you could do worse than read it in the context of the response of a fellow blogger at the time.

Fr. Vincent Twomey has also, not unexpectedly, come out of the woodwork again on this occasion. In response to the publication of the Report, he has called for the resignation of every Irish bishop, good or bad, who was consecrated before the arrival of Archbishop Martin in the Dublin diocese. Fr. Twomey is still not a bishop himself despite his fawning defence of the Pope at every turn.

The Irish State is now set to embark on comprehensive legislation requiring mandatory disclosure to the authorities where a person is aware of child abuse. The details of this will need to be considered very carefully to ensure that the results are not simply counter productive. Nevertheless it is a position of principle from which to start the debate. The Government has stated that there will be no exceptions to this requirement and the response of the Church in Ireland has been to highlight the implications for the hitherto sacred sacramental seal of the confessional.

Personally, I welcome this response as it means we may now have a debate on the role of the confessional in civil society.

When I was growing up, the Protestants often viewed RC confession as a blank cheque for serial offenders, whatever the sin. This was held up by the RC Church as an illustration of how little these heretics knew about the true nature of the sacrament. In my view, time has shown both how little the RC Church knew about the sacrament and how deficient was their instruction of their flock in this matter.

The confessional is not about the priest. He is simply mediating the penitent's contact with God, but many of the priests were seduced by the evident power conferred by the administration of the sacrament. Some became God in their own eyes, and some abused their position for self-gratification and the abuse of power.

The confessional was supposedly anonymous, but this was true only if you were a traveller from a distant land passing through, or if you lived in a very big parish. In some areas the confession box is becoming a thing of the past and the sacrament is administered on a one to one basis in the open air.

And then there is penance and the firm purpose of amendment. Unlike in the Protestant conception of the sacrament, forgiveness was not unconditional. It required what was known as a "firm purpose of amendment" which could arguably be summarised as "no repeat offence", though no doubt that statement will bring forth cries about "God's infinite mercy" and "original sin" and might even even extend to "the Prodigal son" on a good day.

I would also imagine that the Lord would expect the "penance" to be carried out as well as part of the deal. Now, in my day, penance usually consisted of saying a few prayers or, at a pinch, making a donation to some worthy cause. It was a universally missed opportunity for restorative justice. And there was no enforcement of the penance, bar the conditionality attached to forgiveness, but needless to say that was not stressed.

And why did so many people go so often to confession? Were these all new sins? Surely, despite their well celebrated genius for imagination, the Irish people were not up to such a lifetime of invention? Indeed. The simple reason was that they had the bejaysus scared out of them by the clergy with threats of eternal damnation and even a spell of indeterminate length in Purgatory, where the flames were no less intense but were expected to come to an end somewhere this side of infinity.

Anyway, to get back to the matter in hand. How should the seal of the confessional be treated, implicitly or explicitly, in the forthcoming civil legislation.

Well for starters, forgiveness could effectively be made conditional, through penance, on the penitent reporting to the civil authorities. Sexual child abuse is invariably a repeat offence so the the theological niceties could be well covered with some imaginative thinking on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. If this approach were incorporated into the sacrament the issue of excepting confession from mandatory reporting might be less of a problem.

Meanwhile, the whole area of recognition in law of professional confidentialy needs to be reviewed in a calm and dispassionate manner, and only those exceptions retained which can be shown unequivocally to be in the longer term interests of society. This includes the area of journalism where rights are constantly asserted and obligations constantly ignored. Mary Kenny, agitator turned apologist, would proclaim this approach fascist.

If it were concluded that confession was not an exception and the Church still wished to hold the traditional line, there is always civil disobedience and even martyrdom in extreme cases. Whatever about their civil status, the martyrs could be honoured in Canon Law and Vatican knighthoods.

Paul Blanshard would would have loved all of this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eucharistic Congress 2012

Banner from Dolphin's Barn Church

Not everyone is aware that the 50th International Eucharistic Congress is taking place in Dublin from 10 to 17 June 2012. The venue will be principally the RDS but Croke Park will also figure.

The last International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was in 1932, and I suppose if you were trying to find a context for that year it might have been the tenth anniversary of Irish Independence or the centenary of Daniel O'Connell's establishment of the non-denominational cemetery in Glasnevin.

The context for next year's Congress is the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. In a masterpiece of understatement, Fr. Kevin Doran, General Secretary of the Congress Committee, says that "so much of the richness of the Council has not been unpacked".

Lets hope that the Congress gets down to the unpacking early in the proceedings. There is a lot of timewasting and backsliding to be remedied in a very short time.

Unlike its predecessor this Congress will have a strong ecumenical undercurrent. The first day is devoted to the Liturgy of the Word and Water with the emphasis on Baptism, which Fr. Doran reminds us "is mutually recognised by all the christian churches".

This is particularly important because ecumenism has not yet got beyond the stage where it is "not possible for us to share in the fulness of eucharistic communion" according to Fr. Doran. No doubt the RC conception of the real presence is one of the obstacles here.

Logo of the 1932 Congress

Those of us who have had reason to study the 1932 Congress know what a mammoth undertaking it was, both for the RC church and for the newly independent state.

The organisers of the 2012 Congress are well aware of this: they are looking for between two and three thousand volunteers and a massive nationwide effort is already underway preparing for the occasion. You can get a quick flavour of it at the Congress website, or, if you have an hour to spare, listen to Fr. Doran explaining it to an American audience (below)

The general impression is of a very professional approach to the occasion even down to the use of the Congress logo.
Images and Logo

High resolution images are available upon request. Please do not use images from the website without permission from the IEC2012.

If you are looking for the use of our logo for publication the necessary permission must also be sought and the IEC guidelines must be followed. You can request permission for the use of the Logo and obtain the guidelines for its correct use by contacting our Marketing and Communications section by email marketing1@iec2012.ie or by phone +353 (0) 1 207 1840.
As I have not asked permission to use the logo I am simply linking below to the copy on the Congress website.

A Slow Slide

Dublin's Lord Mayor, Alfie Byrne (right), welcomes the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lauri, to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Also in the picture are Eamon de Valera, President of the Executive Concil (Prime Minister), seated left, and Alderman P J Medlar, on Dev's left.

While the Pope normally sends a legate to the Eucharistic Congress there was some talk of him coming to Ireland in 2012, if not for the Congress itself then at least sometime during the year.

That now looks a very dubious prospect indeed. The wave of outrage and frustration which consumed the Irish people on the release of the latest clerical child-abuse report has led to some of their representatives going so far as to call for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio and the closure of Ireland's embassy at the Vatican. The report revealed Vatican collusion in covering up criminal activity and the continuing refusal of the current Papal Nuncio to cooperate with the investigating Commission.

This has led to reports of the Pope cancelling any possible trip to Ireland next year.

The situation today is wholly different from that in 1932 and even in 1979 when Pope John Paul II visited the country and was welcomed everywhere by enthusiastic crowds.

In 1932 the RC Church reigned supreme and was in a position even to challenge the civil power. It had a special position for itself written in to the Irish Constitution in 1937. In more recent times, and even from the time of Vatican II, there has been a steady erosion in the power of the Church. It is telling that two of the people most prominent in publicly welcoming John Paul II have completely fallen from grace.

Father Michael Cleary, the singing priest charged by the Archbishop of Dublin with bringing the Church to the youth, proved to have been sleeping with his housekeeper and even had a son with her, a son whom he never acknowledged this side of the grave.

Bishop Eamon Casey, a popular extrovert who, as a curate, had done admirable work in housing Irish immigrants in England, had an affair and a son with an American lady, neither of which he acknowledged until well after the story was broken by a national newspaper.

So the seeds were there in 1979 and revelations of clerical child-abuse in the last 20 years have stripped the Church of any semblance of moral authority. The collusion and non-cooperation of the Vatican has really put the cap on it.

It will be interesting, therefore, to observe how next year's Congress compares with that of 1932 or, for that matter, with the Pope's visit in 1979.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ite, missa est

The Roman Catholic Church is about to publish a new English language text of the Missal.

The general idea seems to be that the initial post Vatican II venture into the vernacular actually turned out to be a bit of a sloppy job and the text is now being refined to more accurately reflect the latin original and a host of theological subtleties that had been missed in the rush to print.

For example, "and with you" will now be "and with your spirit".

Sounds to me like a return to the pre Vatican II translation. But there are many more subtle examples and you can judge for yourself.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Good Book

The John Hume Institute for Global Studies in UCD sponsors lectures for the public from time to time. I have attended a number of these. They are well worth the trouble and admission is free.

Their latest offering was A.C. Grayling who had recently published "The Good Book", subtitled "A Secular Bible".

I wasn't sure what to expect. Was this something in the Dawkins/Hitchins vein, or might it be something else.

Well, it was something else.

Anthony Grayling explained that the book had really been gestating over the last thirty years and drew on all of his knowledge and experience accumulated over that time. It was not anti-God, or anti-Bible, or anti-any-thing-else.

It was an attempt to draw on the thinking of philosophers over the ages to produce a book of secular ethics which did not rely on the supernatural. It was designed to make you think, as opposed to simply accepting handed down precepts.

It was not exclusivist: the reader was welcome to draw on other sources, including the conventional Bible. And it did not reference its quotations in order to avoid distracting the reader and to let the thoughts expressed stand on their own two feet, so to speak.

Its format is the same as that of the conventional Bible: chapter and verse. Grayling explained that his only reason for mimicking the Biblical format was that this format worked. That is why the Bible chose it and why he was doing the same.

I haven't dipped into the book yet. I have it on order from my local library. I am looking forward to sampling it and, all being well, I might actually buy a copy.

Mind you, the reviews on Amazon are, on balance, negative, so we'll see.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Annuncio vobis gaudium magnum

It has been drawn to my attention that the following verse has appeared in a North Dublin parish newsletter:

Light-hearted Theological Verse

The doctrine of the Trinity
discloses partiality
in leaving out of Deity
all trace of femininity.

One of these should be a she

To manifest divinity
required a real nativity
and that required maternity -
a woman's creativity.

Which of the three should be a she?

Since the cosmos needs a hostess
we recommend
Father, Son and Holy Ghostess!

I think such an eventuality would have profound theological and graphical implications.

At the very least it would require adjustment of some of the illustrations of the annunciation where the Holy Spirit is shown as the putative impregnator of Mary.

The only legitimate candidate left, perhaps appropriately enough, would then be the Father.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sign here

The RC church seems to be finally getting around to dealing with the sale of pre-signed mass cards by third parties. This sinful practice has long been a source of scandal in the church. In fact, one could argue that similar sales of cards within church precincts is equally sinful, but that may be an argument for another day.

The third party ban seems to have percolated into the market already. I was perusing the RIP.ie site the other day when I saw there was a facility for sending sympathy cards over the internet.

When I checked this out I found that the section on pre-signed cards (illustrated above) produced the result: "No products are currently available in this category."

A little strange, nevertheless, as the Mellifont Cistercian Fathers seem to have been complicit in this particular operation.

Recent Irish legislation has already reined in this practice to those operations specifically approved by the church itself.

The next logical step would be to stop the sale of signed cards entirely. The theology would require the purchaser to pay for an unsigned card and then make an unspecified (no minimum) offering for the mass (signature) element. Let's wait and see.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Infallible Blogging

Vatican City

The Pope has told priests to use modern communications in their ministry. He specifically mentions blogs. The report says that the Pope himself is not known to love computers or the internet, and suggests that he will be leaving all this stuff to the younger fry.

Meanwhile his spokesman has cautioned against people taking all this social networking stuff too far and letting Christ be crowded out, so to speak.

So we're getting the good cop, bad cop treatment, however subtly.

As far back as 1965 Cardinal Suenens was making the same point in the cutting edge publication of his day "The Word", sadly recently deceased - the publication, that is. The Cardinal has been gone this long while.

Karen has recalled his advice in a recent posting.

I wonder if I should reveal to the Pope that he already has a blog himself and that you are now reading it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Copyrighting the Pope

Apparently the Pope and all his Pomps and all his Works and all the attendant Trivia are now to be copyrighted.

Sue me!

I wonder who holds the copyright for the living Word of God? Might we see the Vatican making a play for this too? They certainly did their best to make sure Roman Catholics read only the "authorised" version of the bible in my day.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Theologian says resign!

ALL BISHOPS named in the Dublin diocesan report “should resign immediately from their current pastoral positions”, leading theologian Dr Vincent Twomey has said.

This would, of course, create a raft of vacancies in the relevant Bishoprics.


In the event of their not resigning, perhaps Fr. Twomey could persuade his former mentor, Joseph Ratzinger, to do the needful.

Incidentally, Fr. Twomey seems to have abandoned his earlier Vatican-style website for a more modest text-based version, in keeping with the times that are in it.

Previous posts referring to Fr. Twomey:
Follow your conscience, sort of!
The Last Word

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The last Word

Despite my own and Fr. Seán's criticism of his theology, Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD, Editor in Chief, has captured the essence of the WORD magazine in his valedictory summing up of this very worthy publication. According to Fr Twomey, the Word was the largest selling magazine of any kind in the early 70s:
“It was a time when Ireland was a different place. The magazine wasn’t just religious, it was of general interest. At that time there were no glossy magazines or papers. People didn’t travel. The Word provided glimpses of mysterious cities like Prague, Vilnius and Riga and this was a breath of fresh air."
The sad announcement of its demise appeared on the magazine's website in early December last.

When I was growing up this was the best magazine in the world. It's production standards were outstanding in its day and have held up very well since. The content was first class with contributions from many of the world's top writers and photographs from the world's top photographers.

This was no mere religious magazine. It was a first class magazine in its own right despite coming out of a religious stable.

The final edition, or the last WORD, so to speak, is currently on sale (at €1.50!) and will hopefully become a collector's item in time (and, no, I haven't bought them all up, yet!). It is packed with a selection of some of the best items from years past and gives a very good idea of the broad range and quality of the content of the magazine.

On the literary front there is an interview with Brian Friel (1970), articles by Mícheál MacLiammóir (1970), Graham Greene (1974), and Paddy Kavanagh (1962). Bro. Hurley has a piece (1991) on "Famous Last Words", where he observes that "dying words tend to live on. But their standard seems to be declining, maybe because more people now die in hospitals - and outside visiting hours". There are pieces on: social and cultural affairs, at home and abroad; archeology; moral issues (euthanasia); lifestyle (Cardinal Suenens on the need to relax!); medical matters (NAPRO or Billings 2); biography (Thomas à Beckett & Agatha Christie); and, the next life (Fr Twomey on Purgatory - he attempts to extricate himself from the literal fire but does little to solve the temporal aspects and the role of prayer and indulgences).

Fr Twomey has a long editorial in the final issue. He is now going to write for the magazine Inside the Vatican. That magazine claims, inter alia, to introduce you to "movers and shakers of ecclesiastical policy". A flavour of the writing in the magazine can be got from the owner/editor in chief's review (PDF) of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.

Best, perhaps, to finish with parting thoughts from Bro. Paul Hurley, SVD, who founded the modern version of the magazine in 1952 and edited it for 40 years.

"Yes, there’s a time for everything. Now it’s time to thank all our readers and, especially, our most generous and loyal promoters, our contributors and all those who helped us in various ways. And, sadly, it’s also time to say goodbye."


[Note: 20/6/2014 - on revisiting this post I see that links to The Word site no longer work.]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

All things new

In my post of 15 July 2007, I underlined the "no surrender" theme underlying the Roman Catholic view of ecumenism. I have seen no reason to change my mind since. This ecumenism has concentrated on unification within the Christian churches.

We thought we had dealt with the Jews. The coming and crucifixion of Christ had rendered them theologically superfluous. Judaism prepared the way. Christ came and took over the helm. Christians are now the chosen people. At least that is how I understood what I was taught in school.

Imagine my surprise to hear on the radio the other day that attempts are now being made to reconcile the theologies of Judaism and Christianity which involve Christians accepting that the Jews have an ongoing and valid covenant with God.

This was the subject of a lecture by John McDade, SJ, in town on last Thursday night. Fr. McDade is a Glaswegian, with Irish roots, and he is currently principal of Heythrop College which is the Specialist Philosophy and Theology College of the University of London.

The gist of his thesis is that Judaism and Christianity are interdependent and have their own distinct missions in this world. Christianity did not supercede God's covenant with Israel but rather fulfilled it. Both faiths are siblings in the family of Israel. Judaism is a non proselytising religion. Christianity is a proselytising one and can therefore widen the scope of the family of Israel.

In this light, Paul’s remarkable statement in Romans gains in significance: ‘Christ became a servant of the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy’ (Rom 15.8).

This thinking was further developed by Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II.

I must confess that these are new and challenging ideas and their subtlety is totally beyond me.

One of Fr. McDade's remarks did resonnate with me. In asking why we are embarking on this reconciliation at this time he ventured to wonder if Christianity was now being marginalised by the world in the same way as Christianity itself had marginalised the Jews over two millennia. Circling the wagons is a concept I understand more readily.

I also wonder, if this theology of complementarity has been brewing since the time of St. Paul, how I was served up such a lethal, exclusive and triumphalist cocktail in school? Perhaps I should not even think the question and, rather, adopt a stance of constructive amnesia.

If you wish to pursue these thoughts further, you might like to read Fr. McDade's article on which he based his lecture.

Insights in the form of comments would be most welcome.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

To Every Cow Her Calf ...

It has taken me six months to cool down sufficiently to do this post. And I almost lost it again when I saw the remarks of Bishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly in last Monday's Irish Times (18/8/08).

The gist of the story is that certain Roman Catholic Bishops in Ireland have been systematically denying people direct access to parish records of baptisms and marriages despite these records being included in the microfilm collection in the National Library of Ireland.

To be fair, most Bishops have given direct access to their original records, both through the National Library and in parish offices. This allows direct consultation of the records even where they have not been filmed. Most parish offices are very cooperative in this regard.

There are, however, three bishops listed as limiting access to the filmed originals in the National Library and Clifford was the most obdurate of these. To get access it was necessary to get clearance from the relevant palace. Clifford's palace informed callers that the bishop never gave permission for direct access and that it was always necessary to approach them through the diocesan heritage office.

This office operates on computerised versions of the originals and charges a whack for what is in effect pushing a button.

I do not object to people providing a service and charging for it. It is a very useful facility for those who are not in a position to consult the originals or who are happy to have the records pre-sorted for them. My objection is to the bishop denying parallel access to the original records. As every researcher knows, there are always transcription errors in populating databases. So there is no substitute for consulting the original. Also new lines of search can suggest themselves from details spotted on the originals (eg sponsors, locations, name variations etc.).

Clifford has [had]put forward a grandiose justification of his stance on the diocesan/heritage site.[now revamped and taken down]

We are told that these records are not public records and that the information in them has been entrusted to the church by the subjects concerned.

Am I hallucinating when I seem to recall clergy reading people off the altar for inadequate contributions to various collections.

No question of confidentiality there when it came to screwing money out of the faithful.

And these same people would already have been charged a whack by the church for access to the sacraments, the records of which are now yielding a further flow of income in perpetuity. I'm not sure whether this would best be described as a cash cow or a golden goose. A golden calf more likely.

I am also old enough to remember the original introduction of "planned giving" in the Dublin diocese when the church attempted to have its cake and eat it by "pawning" church furniture, from the high altar to the cruets, to top up its coffers.

It is interesting that the bishop has quoted the judgement of Diarmaid against St. Colmcille in the case of the copying of the bible. Some of St. Colmcille's arguments are extremely relevant today and in reading up the case I was struck by the extent of the uisce faoi thalamh involved. Nothing, it appears, is as it seems.

The National Library has now opened access to these filmed originals in the face of objections from the bishops concerned. It has taken a stand which is in the interest of the people of Ireland and against the mean money grubbing stance of a small minority of the RC hierarchy.

These registers are clearly quasi-public records. This emerges quite clearly if they are set in the context of their day and of the dominant position of the church over its flock.

Indeed, the roles of church and state were so entwined that the church insisted that its marriage ceremony served also as a civil one and the parish simply notified the state that the marriage had taken place. No only that, but the reading or posting of the banns in church was accepted by the state authorities in place of the usual notices in the national press required in the case of purely "registry office" marriages.

And as far as letters of freedom were concerned, these simply proved you had not already been married in a church and that a church wedding could take place. However, I'll bet many of these ceremonies were notified as civil marriages without regard to whether any civil ceremony had already taken place.

Until fairly recently, church marriage certificates were accepted as evidence of civil married status by the authorities (eg for state or occupational pension schemes).

Some priests carried this symbiosis to the point of "near-perjury". I know of a case (in 1950) where a couple got married in a Protestant church. The vicar duly notified the civil authorities and the marriage was registered by the state. Six months later, and probably due to ecclesiastical and/or family pressure, the couple married again, this time in a Catholic church. The priest duly notified the state which recorded the new marriage. In the second case, the bride and groom are described as spinster and bachelor respectively, which, respectfully, they were not, at least in the eyes of the state.

So this church (sorry, a few members of its hierarchy, in this particular case) is claiming to be a private institution, and this in relation to periods when they were anything but. (We can save the discussion on education and property and salaries for another day, or go check out Bock below.)

While I'm at it, the originals of some of the parish registers around the country are so badly kept that, had they been acknowledged as public records, those who kept them should have stood trial for malicious damage to public property. Some of the ledger pages look like the parish priest had regularly eaten his lunch off them.

I don't know the content of the legal advice that has given the National Library the confidence to do what they have done. All I can say is I hope they hold their nerve and, if the church wants to go to court, may they get the judgement of Colmcille over that of the pagan MacDe.

I was going to title this post "God Bless the National Library", and would have meant it, but I couldn't resist the temptation of the insult I eventually settled on.

If you still have steam coming out your ears you might enjoy some further ruminations at Brother Bock's Asylum for Refugees from the Pulpit.


I really can't decide whether to laugh, or cry, or just keep banging my head off the nearest stone wall.

It has been drawn to my attention that the Bishops' latest excuse for whatever restrictions they are putting on access to parish records is to avoid the posthumous conversion of the dead to Mormonism.

The Vatican has apparently put the Bishops on notice that their deceased flock are not to be hijacked in this manner and the only way to avoid this is to make sure that parish records (from whatever era) do no fall into the hands of these evil evangelising Mormons.

What a load of theological crap and self serving rubbish.

My initial reaction to this Bishop's defence (as my chess friends might describe it) was that any bishop that believed this heretical rubbish should be immediately sacked by the Vatican. Imagine my horror to find that it was actually the Vatican itself that was circulating this nonsense.

If the Roman Catholic Church believes, which it appears to, that the Mormons can posthumously hijack its flock in this way, it should just fold up its tent and go home. This is ceding theological supremacy to the Mormons, in whose church there should not, strictly speaking, be even salvation.

How low will the RC church stoop to protect its income stream?

That we could bring back Jesus Christ himself and eject these traders from the Temple.

This article in the Irish Times of 28/8/08 sets out the background. I agree wholeheartedly with every word written by its author, as you will have gathered by this stage.

[Note: This piece was written in 2008 and it is now 2013, at least. Some of the links no longer work due to the unprofessional revamping of the websites at which they were directed, or in the case of newspapers, going behind a paywall as well. Apologies - not my fault.]