Tuesday, June 24, 2008

O'Toole's Plan C

Journalists like priests regularly become fascinated with their own words, which usually ends in boredom for listeners and readers.

It is a phenomenon that applies to most columnists and preachers. It is difficult for columnists to keep up a high standard of writing week-in week-out. But then every now and again they hit the jackpot. It is something that Fintan O'Toole does today in his column in The Irish Times. It is a brilliant column.

It gives the perfect definition of the 'trickster' and it paints an accurate picture of Ireland and the Irish. Writing it, O'Toole had no idea how it is the perfect description of the document produced by the provincial council of the Irish Dominicans on manpower issues.

Plan C, the fudge. Great article, highly recommended. And an essential read for all members of the provincial council of the Irish Dominicans.

Passing Berlusconi

The Berlusconi saga as reported in today's Irish Times is a good example at how silly things can get.

If the Italian prime minister were paying some of his staff an unjust wage would something similar happen. Or indeed, if he is proved to be involved in corrupt practice would this happen?

And remember he was received by Pope Benedict just some weeks ago and it is generally accepted that he received the support of the church in the recent general election where he defeated Romano Prodi.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


On Thursday evening in Basel the Germans beat the Portuguese and made it to the semi-finals of the European cup. And they won their game with the help of three Polish players! Podolski was born in the now Polish city of Gleiwitz!

On Wednesday they play Turkey in the semi-final, again in Basel.

It was a wonderful spectacle to see two European countries vie for superiority on the playing pitch. It was all done in good fun.

Sixty five years earlier they were killing one another. The Germans had been routed from Stalingrad and the tank battle at Kursk sent them on their final run back home.

Many historians will argue that it was the downfall of the Weimar Republic that allowed Hitler come to power. The Nazis used all the tricks to fool people: fear, national identity, job loss and of course they created their scapegoats. The Nazis did all their work in the dark and in secret - the result was slaughter and ultimate defeat, fortunately, at Stalingrad.

All paid for with the blood of ordinary people.

The European Union has offered us a way out of the cycle of war and slaughter.

Much better to cheer and roar on the park in Basel than scream and die on the Volga.

Europe has experienced an extended period of peace since the end of that dreadful war.

Hopefully the politicians can continue to bring the citizens of Europe closer and make the continent a safer and better place.

Actor Gabriel Byrne

Actor Gabriel Byrne was guest on the Dunphy Show on RTE Radio 1 this morning. He is an engaging person. Born in Dublin. Left school early and later went back and won a university scholarship. Today he is one of the world's finest actors.

At 11 he joined a junior seminary in England where he experienced a mild form of abuse. I doubt if abuse can ever be mild, but it's what he said.

Years later he went back to talk to the perpetrator not knowing exactly what to say to him.
The man said he did not know him and the only Gabriel Byrne he knew was the world famous actor!

Gabriel made the point that this man, who gave him a great love for Latin, was still the same man in tone and manner. He created some sort of fear and there was still a condescension about him.

The terror and abuse had all been done in secrecy and fear.

One of the reasons for the creation of this blog was an attempt to kick to death an atmosphere and tone of secrecy and anonymity that very often raises its ugly head, especially in church organisations.

And along with this tone goes an atmosphere of fear, where people are 'afraid' to speak their minds. In that context can flow 'pious platitudes' that have no meaning whatsoever.

Strangely, there are few leaders who are willing to grab the nettle and speak any sort of prophetic words. Instead we continue to get the same old 'stuff', now doctored by the lawyers and spin people.

Gabriel Byrne's interview can be heard on RTE podcast.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marriage solemnisers

Do the new rules in Ireland re marriage solemnisers mean that ministers of religion can also solemnise civil marriages?

Can a Catholic priest solemnise the marriage of a couple who do not wish for a sacramental marriage but do wish to undergo a civil marriage?

If not, why not? The new regulations seem to allow for such an anomaly.

Using the electronic medium

Again, the Jesuits must be complimented on their excellent websites.

Among their electronic information is, AMDG Express Jesuit Newsletter, which is a weekly newsletter produced in Dublin.

It is available on request. It arrives on time with up-to-the-minute interesting articles and reports.

Why can they produce such attractive, informative and challenging electronic material while the Dominicans offer poor, pedestrian, unattractive hit and miss cliched pious waffle?

Any chance that at the upcoming provincial chapter of the Irish Dominicans there will be some serious study/discussion about improving the province's electronic profile?

At present it is poor quality.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

June happenings

Yesterday, June 16 was Bloomsday. On June 17, 1953 there was a workers' uprising in East Berlin. Hence the naming of Straße der 17en Juni in West Berlin. On June 18, 1541 the Irish parliament selected Henry VIII as king of Ireland. On June 19, 1965 Muhammad Ali was convicted for refusing induction to the US Army. This coming Friday, June 20 is the first anniversary of this blog. Saturday, June 21 is the longest day of the year.

In terms of readership this blog is growing from strength to strength. It is read on all five continents. It is read right across the United States of America, in over 20 countries in Europe, in Australia, in Canada. And the Holy See dips in and out. It is read in 19 cities and towns in Ireland.

Change and basic assumptions

The article below appears in today's Irish Times.

It is an excellent article and well worth a read, especially for anyone involved in trying to say something about the Gospel.

Living with change when basic assumptions are breaking down

RITE & REASON: Our political and religious leaders are not to be envied, writes Don Cupitt .

AMIDST A blizzard of change, we require our leaders to be reassuringly cheerful and stable. They are not going to be blown off course, and they are not going to abandon any of their basic principles. They will simply apply the old principles in new ways to changing circumstances.
It seems that human beings have a deep fear and dislike of change. Preliterate, traditional societies deny historical change altogether - even in cases where we happen to know for sure that in fact they, like us, have lived in continuous adaptation to change.

In modern society, we praise some of our leaders for not changing at all. Pope John Paul II was praised for being so conservative, even though neither he nor any other modern pope is ever again going to be anything like Pope Pius XII. What counts as being conservative changes as quickly as anything else.

As for practical politicians, if they have great skill in making change painless and almost invisible, as Tony Blair did, they please us in the short run but then find themselves being attacked for "spin" and "deception".

"Spin" just means the normal skills of a democratic politician; but when a politician has those skills, people soon come to mistrust and reject him, and when like Gordon Brown he lacks those skills, they dislike and reject him too.

"Every political career ends in failure", as Enoch Powell said, meaning that all politicians eventually succumb to the pressure of our contradictory demands upon them. They cannot govern without using their verbal skills to build consensus.

They have to be flexible and accommodating - but we despise them for it, because we affect to believe in objective, timeless truth, objective, timeless standards of right and wrong.

We must know that these beliefs are mythical: but we pay the politicians to sustain our myths, and we don't want to see the machinery. (Just as we want both to have all the benefits of modern medicine, and to denounce the scientific research that alone has given us those benefits.)
The position of religious leaders is even more difficult. In normal times they, like the politicians, may be able to get away with pretending that they are doing no more than adapting and adjusting in response to surface change.

But we now live in times of very deep change, when assumptions that people have lived by for millennia are breaking down. It's traumatic. It's terrifying. "Nihilism stands at the door", as Nietzsche says. For religious leaders it is impossibly difficult, because the deep assumptions now breaking down are built into the very way their own faith has always been formulated.

Why? One of the most pervasive of all our deep assumptions is the distinction between appearance and reality, surface and depth. Out of it grows the belief that the visible world is a world of mere appearance. Beyond it is a greater, more real and timeless world, from which this world of ours is controlled. The higher world embodies all our norms of objective reality, truth and value.

When people thought this old vision was straightforwardly just true, they saw historical change as being merely superficial. Deep down, everything was timeless and nothing really changed. That was fine, in the agricultural civilisations of the past. But today the growth of knowledge has led us to see everything from the human and the historical point of view.

Everything changes. It floats unanchored on the market, with no more than the measure of truth, reality or value that the market currently assigns to it. Nothing's eternal, and nothing's absolutely fixed. Everything is humanly-posited and under continuous renegotiation.

That's post modernity, where we are now. Inevitably, our religious leaders cannot cope with it. Immersed as we are now in a constant flux of communication, our media and our artists at least show us what our new situation is. But how we are to cope with it spiritually is less clear.

Here is a beginning. We should not be so fearful about change, because the Bible itself is a record of profound historical change. It moves in time from hunter-gatherers to tribal society, from the earliest versions of the state to the great world empires, and from ethnic to universal, "catholic", religion.

The Bible even shows us the first emergence of modern selfhood, in (for example) the Epistle to the Romans. Indeed, one could say that our whole religious tradition springs from and is a meditation upon the hinge between two profoundly different orders, one old and one new. We shouldn't be so fearful about facing a similar transition in our own time.

Don Cupitt is former Dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge. Though a priest of the Church of England, he is the author of over 40 books which challenge Christian orthodoxy

Friday, June 13, 2008

German exams

German Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams today.

For many students today is the last day of exams.

It's been a great year teaching in Castlegregory Secondary School. A word of grateful thanks to the principal and staff. And good luck and God's blessing to all those in the school who have sat their Leaving Cert and are about to set out into a new world. Great times ahead to you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

World Day against Child Labour

While the adults are voting on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland today, young children are voting with their feet in the fight against Child Labour.

At Dublin’s Spire, primary school pupils from 60 schools, mainly from Griffeen Valley Educate Together School in Lucan, are flying kites and releasing 218 balloons. Every balloon represents one million children, who are working instead of being at school. Well over an estimated 218 million children are working in the world today.

The young people at the Spire today-as well as schools and youth clubs throughout the country-are showing their solidarity for their less privileged counterparts around the world, who are forced to work when they should be at school.

Concern’s Stop Child Labour campaign organised the event to mark the World Day Against Child Labour.

Concern is asking people to take note of what the youngsters at the Spire are doing today. They are asking people to support the children at the Spire by buying ethical products, looking behind the label and never being afraid or shy to ask where something is made.

Oyin Lawal from Lucan and in sixth class at Griffeen Valley Educate Together School says, “Each kite had a sign saying ‘Stop Child Labour’. Children should just work in school,” she says.

Alex Kiernan, a classmate of Oyin’s, thinks it is scary that small children should be made work.
“My little five-year old sister is at school while children just her age are made work,” he says.

Ten-year-old Bhawana Chandel discovered that in Nicaragua children have to spray chemicals on crops and often get chemicals in their eyes.
“That’s not fair,” she says.

Nadia Khan, also 10, explains, “We are using our voices for the children in Child Labour because they cannot use theirs”.

And Cían McGlynn, in fourth class, says that they wrote a poem, a song and a play about the issue.

One of their teachers, Denise Ahern, points out that the idea of 218 million child labourers was a figure above the children’s imagination, so they made up a fictional child and called him ‘Makako’ and then used him to represent the plight of child labourers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Goldsmith Summer School

Below is the outline of a talk given by Michael Commane at the Goldsmith Summer School in Ballymahon on Saturday, May 31.

The theme of this year's International Literary Festival was, 'Are the Media above the Law'.

In the seven years I worked at the Kerryman we had a legal person at our beck and call 24 hours a day.

The newspaper industry is always scared about the laws of libel.
But even with a legal person at our beck and call we made mistakes.

Those of you who are familiar with Cork will be aware of that special area of Cork called the Barony of Duhallow.

The area is covered by The Corkman newspaper – which is owned by The Kerryman.
On one occasion a woman in the area got married and the headline in the paper ran ‘The Bride of Duhallow’. Alas the letter ‘B’ in Bride was left out.

And just some two weeks later there was a story about a lady in Scartaglen – the home village of the famous Fr Horan – this time the letter ‘d’ in ‘Lady’ was missing. But this time an observant sub editor spotted it just as the paper was about to go on the machine.

One of my jobs at the newspaper was editor of the letters page – a scary job indeed.
A page that needs particularly close vetting. People can say strange things about their friends and enemies.

But once it appears in print and is libellous then the newspaper is held to account.
Newspapers are ever on their guard when it comes to libel. And libel is quite clearly damaging the reputation of a person. They have to be alive. You can say what you like about the dead!
I’m sure that can hurt family big time.

Liam Lawlor’s family know all about that as do so many others.

So what is the function of a free press in a democracy? To tell the news. Important to separate news from comment and opinion.

I often find that the media takes from one news pot and it’s the same old stories that do the rounds.

For instance in the recent unofficial dispute at Irish Rail no-one was interested in doing a proper analysis of what it was about. Pat Kenny was appalling in his coverage of it. A little work and people would have seen how complicated the issue is.

The setting up by the newspapers of the Press Ombudsman and Press council is an important innovation and good for the body politic.

The recent resignation of John Horgan (not Professor John Horgan) is somewhat upsetting. He retired over the controversy over a non-unanimous verdict.

So can we look at three examples within the media, Catholic media, tabloid media and quality media?

The relationship between the hierarchical church and the media is eclectic – the best word I can think of.

You may have seen the coverage of the controversy over the Alive! newspaper.
Joe Costello’s letter and the reply of the Dominican provincial and then the subsequent provincial council – so lacking in transparency.

I heard a young Dominican complain that The Irish Times printed part of the provincial’s letter.
But generally within the catholic press there is very little on the market that is attractive and in touch and critical. Who reads Catholic media products?

But the secular media is not spotless. Take the recent issue of the Waterford bus driver who was found innocent by a court and is now being badgered by the tabloid media. Is that right? What do you think?

But it’s not as bad as the Austrians. A security guard at the hospital where the Fitzl woman is staying had his collarbone broken by a photographer.

There is no doubt that the tabloid press picks up on the slightest sexual infringement of people yet it sails so close to the wind when it comes to standards.

And I have noticed in the quality media a new tendency to copy what the tabloids are saying but in a more sophisticated manner.

Not too much heard about poverty or prisoners. Need for more thorough investigations of the underlying reasons for poverty and deprivation in our society.

But don’t ever forget newspapers have one purpose and that is to make more for their shareholders. Although Jim Farrelly who was MD of Kerryman and Sunday Tribune always stressed that the owners of The Kerryman were the people of Kerry!

The furore concerning the Taoiseach using the F word said something about the newspaper trade. I imagine anyone who has worked inside a newsroom is well aware of the incredible ‘bad language’ that flies around.

There is no perfect newspaper. Nor is there the perfect template for a perfect newspaper.
But that’s the way of the world and the media is the messenger of that world and that way.

Anonymity and invective

There is a thoughtful and interesting comment made on this blog today. It appears under the Lisbon Treaty of May 6.

It is signed. The author can be traced and he has no problem with that.

It is interesting to note the link there is between anonymous comments and invective. There seems also a nexus between a worrying right-wing agenda and anonymity.

Anonymity and secrecy provide the oxygen for so much sadness and wrong-doing, especially in the church.

One of the reasons for the genesis of this blog was to highlight the wrong that anonymity and secrecy create.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's going on?

The article below appears in Saturday's Irish Times.

One word of comment. Appalling. As are the reported comments of the unnamed archbishop.

Where backing Obama is enough to be refused communion

AMERICA: A LIFELONG anti-abortion activist and opponent of gay rights who worked for Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, law professor Douglas Kmiec is one of the most prominent lay figures in the American Catholic Church.

A former dean of the law school at the Catholic University of America, he received a shock earlier this year at a Mass for Catholic businessmen when the priest denounced him angrily from the pulpit and refused to serve him when he came forward for Communion.

Kmiec's wife fled the church in tears and others at the Mass were embarrassed by the priest's attack on the professor, who was due to address the businessmen later that day.

Kmiec's offence was that he is supporting Barack Obama in November's presidential election, although he has made clear that he is backing him despite the Democrat's position in favour of abortion rights.

The incident, which has alarmed liberal Catholics, is the latest twist in a long-running controversy about the place of the altar rail as a political battleground.

In 2004, some Catholic bishops said Democratic candidate John Kerry, a Catholic, should not receive Communion because of his position on abortion.

More recently, Kansas archbishop Joseph Naumann told the state's governor, Kathleen Sebelius, who has been mentioned as a possible Obama running mate, to stop taking Communion because of her "actions in support of legalised abortion".

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington this year, some conservatives suggested that Catholic politicians who oppose banning abortion should be refused Communion, but the pontiff gave the sacrament to everyone who came forward, including liberal Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy.

The Kmiec case represents a ratcheting upwards of the controversy because he was targeted not as a politician but as a voter, raising questions about whether any Catholic who votes for Obama in November can receive Communion.

In a statement called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship last November, US bishops offered some guidance to Catholic voters.

"A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favour of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter's intent is to support that position," they said.

Kmiec should have been in the clear because he has stated publicly that he is backing Obama despite their disagreement on abortion and because he believes the Democrat is in tune with Catholic social teaching in other respects.

"I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine good will. I take him on his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides, and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights," Kmiec wrote earlier this year, adding that he was drawn to Obama's "love thy neighbour" style of campaigning and his "appreciation for faith".

Obama has sought to reach out to faith groups more energetically than most Democrats, encouraging supporters to form discussion groups on faith and politics and speaking frequently about his personal spiritual journey.

Catholic leaders have been unimpressed, however, and when I mentioned Obama's name over lunch with an archbishop last year, the prelate's eyes narrowed. "He has great charism [ sic]," he said. "But he is not with us. He's not with us on life; he's not with us on marriage; and he's not with us on schools."

When I asked about Hillary Clinton, whose name had once been a byword for liberal secularism, the archbishop softened. "Mrs Clinton is a very thoughtful person," he said.

Kmiec believes that Obama is neutral on the question of government's role in abortion, leaving it to a woman's conscience and the medical situation, and he believes Catholics should look at the bigger picture.

"Catholic voters are asked to consider what other social goods Obama represents and whether they can honestly and openly say that they are supporting him for that reason and not his stand on abortion," he wrote last week.

"It is important to both reaffirm civility and the related principles of religious freedom that refute gleeful crusades, at home or abroad, to single out supposed apostasy where none exists.""

Damaging one's health

A dilemma today.

There is a comment made on the blog today re the referendum on Thursday. This blog is of a different opinion than the author of the comment and is indeed strongly opposed to the argument and style of the comment. But not to have published it would have been censorship, which meant there was no alternative but to publish.

The comment appears under the Lisbon Treaty of May 6.

Again, why the anonymity?

Two reasons that point to how irrelevant the Irish Dominicans are becoming.

Walking in a town in Ireland yesterday I met a man I know for many years. He 'grew up' with the Dominicans and has been a long-time worshipper in one of our churches.
Yesterday he said, "I can't go there (the Dominican church) any longer. They are doing my head in".

The demonstrations re the stopping of funding for the redevelopment of Dominick Street has meant that people are upset and are also demonstrating. Not a public word, not a whisper from the Dominicans, who are their neighbours and indeed those who administer the parish.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cyclists seldom kill and maim

It is close to four years since I made the decision to stop driving the car on any sort of long journey.

I have developed a great way of travelling on a weekly basis from West Kerry to my office in Dublin's Camden Street.

I drive the car to Tralee rail station, rail it to Hesuton and cycle from there to work.
In almost four years only on two occasions have I been significantly late. Thank you Irish Rail.

During the June bank holiday I attended the Goldsmith Summer School in Ballymahon, Co Longford and because of our sub-standard public transport infrastructure there was little choice but to drive there from West Kerry.

I am still in shock after the experience. The roads, the rage, the signage, everything about the journey, was hell on earth.

Kilometres of poor quality roads with turns and bends on them that are simply fit for nothing more than horse-drawn carts.

Much of the signposting if it were not so serious would be tremendously funny. But in the signage stakes Athlone must take top prize. Driving from Ballymahon to Kerry I did not see one single sign in or near Athlone directing me towards the south. Then again, with summer here many of our road signs have been covered over with trees and bushes. Wonderful.

But it was the road rage that really drew my attention. Cars tailgating, cars and trucks consistently break the speed limit and then on many occasions, that wonderful Irish greeting, 'the fingers'.

The journey to and from Ballymahon was of nightmare proportions.

During the entire journey I noticed just one Garda speed control in operation.

It was on the Limerick side of Castleisland. I was so relieved to see someone trying to protect us on the roads that I stopped and had a chat with the garda. Indeed, we had a most pleasant conversation. He was in agreement with me on the state of our driving. He was most charming and an oasis in the midst of bedlam. Thank you garda.

After that journey I am amazed how more people are not killed and maimed on our roads.
And then on Bank Holiday Monday I read Ann Marie Hourihane criticise Dublin cyclists who use the footpath to get from place to place. She refers to these cyclists as 'Dublin's menacing fleet of arrogant cyclists'.

Of course it is wrong to break the law and it can be extremely dangerous to cycle on the footpath. But.

May I invite Ms Hourihane to join me cycling from Parnell Square to Camden Street.
I cycle down O'Connell Street but because of a near miss on one occasion and the incredibly badly designed street I have taken to cycling down the central pedestrian area. I cycle slowly and carefully.

You would think there would be a through cycle lane on Dublin's main street. But nothing of the sort. It is a most eclectic arrangement. There are two different types of cycle lanes on the street and there is a section with no cycle lane. The only place for a safe cycle lane in O’Connell Street is down the middle of the thoroughfare.

I am waiting for a garda to stop me. I will be polite and do what I am told. But should I be summoned I intend taking the case to Europe.

The majority of the cycle lanes that are in place are extremely dangerous. They give the cyclist a false security. Most of them are enclosed with broken white lanes, which allow vehicles to straddle them. In many cases the car lanes are so narrow that they have to drive in them.
Ms Hourihane is making a valid observation. But why is it always the underdog, the small person who is picked out and blamed for our woes, whatever they are.

How many people have been killed by drivers of motorised vehicles this year and how many have been killed by cyclists?

Ms Hourihane also writes, “Dublin cyclists travel on the pavement as a matter of simple routine”. That is simply not true.

Statistics are not always lies.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Goldsmith Summer School

At the Goldsmith Summer School in Ballymahon at the weekend keynote speaker Kevin Myers spoke about the media and how nasty and intrusive it has become.

He pointed out how he finds an increasing nastiness in all forms of media and was scathing in his attack of the Joe Duffy Show. He reminded his listeners of the hype that was created around his famous/infamous column on 'Mothers of Bastards'.

RTE crime correspondent Paul Reynolds spoke of the increasing intrusion by journalists in the private lives of people.

Kevin Myers' analysis of the new world of nastiness has many interesting aspects to it.

Could it not be said that the 'world of nastiness' was always part of the world and the only difference now is that it is no longer private but out in the public forum for public perusal?

The theme of the weekend was 'Journalism is above the media'.

Abbeyshrule, which is circa eight kilometres from Ballymahon is an idyllic spot with the RoyalCanal running through it.