Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Brave woman in Fethard-on-Sea dies

The woman at the centre of the infamous Fethard-on-Sea boycott saga died on Sunday aged 83.

It is easy to bash the Irish Catholic Church at present, indeed, one could even say that it is a time of witch-hunts.

But the Wexford story is yet again another example of the appalling behaviour of the hierarchical Catholic Church in Ireland.

A priest told a mother that her child would go to a Catholic school and there was nothing she could do about it. The arrogance of it is breathtaking.

The thread that seems to go through all these sad stories of the behaviour of clerics is that of control. Control too is closely linked with forms of sexual deviance.

Church hierarchy 'betrayed' orders

The article below, written by Patsy McGarry, appears in today's Irish Times.

The relationship between bishops and religious orders and congregations has always been a thorny issue.

This rift or row might again focus attention how bishops are appointed.

There is something systemically not right with the whole concept of authority within the Catholic Church. There is far too much subservience and fear from top to bottom within the Catholic Church.

Is there honesty and transparency surrounding the structures of the church?

Is it not true to say that many of the 18 named congregations were under the jurisdiction of the local bishops at the time of the offences.

What follows is the Irish Times article

Church hierarchy 'betrayed' orders

THE CATHOLIC primate Cardinal Seán Brady, the Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev Diarmuid Martin and other bishops have been severely criticised for their actions and statements, where religious congregations were concerned, following publication of the Ryan report.
It has also been claimed that at least three victims of abuse have died by suicide since publication of the report.

Fr Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist priest, has revealed that many members of the congregations feel “terrified”, “ashamed”, “hurt” and “betrayed”, not only because of the actions of the guilty among their own colleagues, but also because of the actions and public statements of the archbishop and other members of the hierarchy who, he said, have led the public criticism of members of Ireland’s religious congregations.

Speaking on Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level programme, to be broadcast on RTÉ television at 11.15am next Sunday, Fr Flannery has said that “there is enormous anger among religious [members of the congregations]. They feel that they have been scapegoated, particularly by one member of the hierarchy, the Archbishop of Dublin”.

Feminist theologian Mary Condren has agreed. “A lot of priests and religious feel extremely betrayed by the fact that the cardinal and the archbishop went to Rome without having spoken with them, then came back and made public statements, again without speaking to them.”
She also claims on the programme that at least three victims of abuse have died by suicide since publication of the Ryan report because they were unable to cope with its public revelations about long-suppressed trauma.

Fr Flannery expressed doubts on the programme as to whether the congregations will ever recover from public vilification, not least because they were already a dwindling force.
“By and large, what we’re talking about is institutions comprising people in their 70s and 80s, which have hardly any young members joining them. So that within the next 10-15 years, the large majority of the religious orders in Ireland, as we know them today, will be gone.”

When asked to explain the abuse that was carried out and systematically covered up within the children’s institutions managed by the congregations, Fr Flannery points the finger firmly at the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality and celibacy for clergy and members of the religious congregations which, he has said, led to an unhealthy degree of repression.

“We need to begin to look at our whole teaching on sexuality and absolutely look at our approach to compulsory celibacy because I have little or no doubt that that, too, is at the root of the problem,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Rights Alliance group has called for the State’s child protection guidelines and the Garda vetting unit to be placed on a statutory footing as well as for the ending of children being detained at St Patrick’s Institution.

In a paper submitted to the Minister for Children, it also endorses the Ryan report’s recommendations.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Marching out of step

Of course the entire world can't be out of step and the lone objector in step. Or can it be so?

What happens when an organisation or institution or religious community refuses to accept what someone says? Does it mean that the views of the individual are necessarily wrong? Could it be that the organisation refuses to listen? Is it a matter of perception?

One thing can be said and that is that the organisation has on its side two important ingredients, power and control. And that seem a universal law.

Very often the organisation will attempt to dismiss the views and opinions of the individual objector. And indeed, many times that manages to quash the spirits of the person.

Most times the organisation or corporation has all the tools of control and manipulation on its side.

Their leaders can come across as rational and pleasant people. They can even make sense, maybe even look 'holy', refined and kind.

Most of us are conditioned. It is the few who will not be afraid to persist in questioning and objecting.

Take the situation in Burma today. Most of us in the West will naturally and inevitably take the side of the individual protester against the State. Our sympathy and empathy is for the individual and against the State.

Or in Iran, we in the West will empathise with the individual protester and see the organs of State as the oppressor. How does the Supreme Leader and his entourage feel and think about what is happening?

Now look at the Ryan Report in Ireland. Today most people empathise and sympathise with the victims of abuse and cast scorn on the religious congregations for what they did.

Turn the clock back 20, 30, 40 years, the then victims were considered the villains of the peace and the religious congregations were treated with great respect.

In the now of any situation it is the small person, the marginalised, the person who finds it difficult to be understood or speak in the language of the club. who is dismissed. And one way the organisation handles the person is to label him or her as 'angry'.

It is that ingredient which makes the Ryan report such appalling reading. It is that aspect that must make us have sympathy with the demonstrators on the streets in Iran.

Any organisation but especially a religious congregation which does not listen to the marginalised, no matter how unpalatable the story may be, surely has lost its charism.

As a small boy in Dublin's Synge Street I was always confused by the brothers talking about the importance of 'emptying' ourselves just as Christ did. They spoke about how the followers of Christ were 'outsiders and marginalised. The next minute they were talking about the great and the good who were past pupils of the school and were now the captains of industry.

Fiction and fact of newspaper world

What's going on in Iran and where is accuracy and truth to be found?

One surely loses credibility with newspapers and journalists when one observes wholesale plagiarism taking place. Stories appear in one newspaper under one person's name and in another newspaper under someone else's name.

The account of the death of Neda Soltani is reported in at least two newspapers where sections of the story are word for word in both newspapers. The stories are written by two different journalists.

There is a story in yesterday's Herald.am about a Kavanagh bus going on fire on the M50.

The report says 63 people were on the bus. A Kavanagh spokesman says there were between 50 and 53 people on board the Failte Ireland-approved 53-seater bus. And not a word about the discrepancy.

A parish bulletin this week recommends parishioners to buy The Irish Catholic. The writer comments that the newspaper tells the truth.

Is it all just bare-faced lies, sometimes told in a nuanced fashion?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two thoughtful articles

Two interesting article in today's Irish Times. One is by an former resident of Artane and the other is by Joe Humphreys.

Joe Humphreys writes about the good work so many sisters, brothers and priests do and have done and makes reference to a current 'witch hunt'. It's well worth reading.

The article about Artane is about sexual deviance in the culture of the Christian Brothers. It talks about the practice of flagellation within the Christian Brothers and how this could and did lead to sadomasochism. Again, it is an article well worth reading.

Many people make up their mind on the latest material they have read - an easy thing to do. Gay Byrne once famously said that when someone said an article was balanced they meant that they agreed with the opinion expressed.

Joe Humphreys is correct and the article on Artane is intriguing. Of course there are great sisters, priests and brothers, people of extraordinary goodness, charismatic people. But there are also bitter, sad, lazy sisters priests and brothers. In other words, the story of the human race. But is there something 'odd' about celibacy? Is there something about it that can exacerbate oddness and peccadilloes in people?

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the Ryan Report and the behaviour of individual members of religious orders and congregations.

What stops a person from becoming lazy, how can someone be protected from becoming bitter and resentful. How could one ever find out the percentage of people in religious life who are lazy, bitter and resentful? What's the percentage? And of course, what is the percentage in society in general?

Can religious orders and congregations become dysfunctional, can society?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

'Divine intervention'

Iran's President Khamenei declared Friday's election to be a fair one and welcomed Mr Ahmadinejad's victory as a 'divine intervention'. At least that was before the millions took to the streets and people are killed.

No doubt many people when they read that will smile at the idea of 'divine intervention'.

But isn't that exactly an expression used by all the churches. In the case of President Khamenei we see it as a some sort of clever ruse to calm people. We don't believe for a moment that the election or anything about it is linked to any form of divinity.

Surely it must be most dangerous to use the word 'divine'. And yet we traipse the word around with us with such certitude and sureness. It can lead to absurdity.

Fr Vincent Twomey is writing again about his links with the pope. Will someone please tell the man to give it a break. Who cares whether the pope knows him, taught him or whatever. And the way the newspapers keep repeating it is lazy and boring.

It's becoming something of an emptiness hearing high clerics comment on the past. It was their predecessors who were at the helm. Say the news had never become public would they be now, of their volition, publishing the information?

Anyone who knows the system of appointing bishops must recognise there is something greatly amiss within the Catholic Church.

As said before in this blog, any organisation that claims it knows the 'mind' of God and demands of its ministers they be celibate is walking on extraordinary fragile ground.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ryanair charges you for your own paper

Ryanair charges passengers €5 for boarding cards.

The passenger uses his/her computer, printer and paper to produce the boarding pass. And time. And Ryanair charges. Amazing.

Michael O'Leary insists he will never introduce a fuel tax.

How can Ryanair charge passengers to supply their own paper?

Why not just add €5.00 to the fare?

Saying sorry

When corporate organisations make public apologies what actually does it mean? And when the apologies are for events that happened long before the current leadership was in place what is the apology about?

The British Government apologising for its deeds in Ireland, and now the Irish hierarchical church for its behaviour to young children in industrial schools.

Last Monday I walked through the Holocaust memorial right in the heart of Berlin. It is between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. It is relatively new. There are approximately 2,000 stone blocks that afford the visitor to walk deep down in the earth between the high blocks of stone. It is bare and it can be scarily horrifying.

The day I was there there were young children shouting and jumping and dancing in the place. Clearly it meant nothing to them. How could it. No, not their parents, not even their grandparents but maybe some of their great-grandparents plied their evil deeds that helped cause the holocaust.

The Germans put up their hands and say it was a Holocaust. It is written in German law that anyone who denies the Holocaust is committing a crime.

But the companies which supplied the Zyklon B to the gas chambers, the car manufactures who supplied Hitler with his top of the range vehicles, and on and on, are still in place.

When I see an Irish bishop wear a chain and cross, when I hear that Irish bishops speak to the Pope about what happened and that the Pope is moved to tears, I simply wonder.

When one reads of the 'outrage' expressed by the leading figures in society, the words written by the columnists, I wonder again.

How come the 'leaders of the day' and the 'influential people of the day' more or less always come from the same strands of society?

Where were the media to report on what went on in Buchenwald or Oranienburg or Goldenbridge or Artane?

Why did we let it happen? Why do we allow it happen?

Is it that we always and forever give too much obeisance to those in power. There seems always to be a sufficient number of people who want to 'get on' no matter what the price.

How come an editor will never criticise his or her owner, a CEO will never ask dangerous questions about the firm in public or a bishop challenge the very method used to appoint him?

Survival is the name of the game. And none of us likes to be disturbed. The higher up the ladder the more scared the feeling of rejection.

A type of Holocaust

The front page of Monday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried an article on Ireland and the Ryan report. It uses the expresseion Eine Art Holocaust - a type of Holocaust.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A bad deal by the Government

The 18 religious orders have agreed to revisit their agreement with the State. Before the outcry of public opinion it was generally held that it was a legally binding agreement.

What is the situation with the Government's agreement with Shell on the Corrib oil field? It seems the Irish Government did an appalling bad deal with Shell and now this deal cannot be revisited. Why not? If there were enough public outrage could the deal not be redone? Of course it could. Shell is a powerful international oil company.

Is it true that the pipeline Shell is using is carrying non-purified gas at high pressure and that this type of gas transmission happens nowhere else int he world?

Who was the Government minister who did this deal?

It is interesting how news can be 'handled'.

Inappropriate ideas and language

Fr Vincent Twomey is quoted as saying, “Many of those had no real vocations and in that sense they were frustrated sexually."

Fr Twomey was referring to the abuse that has now been unfolded.

The statement at face value seems 'strange'. Has Fr Twomey some extraordinary insight that allows him discern what a 'true vocation' is?

Is he saying that men with 'true vocations' were not 'frustrated sexually'?

Fr Twomey expresses a certitude and cosiness about priesthood and celibacy that is most worrying.

Would he say that the founder of the Legionaries of Christ did not have a true vocation? The logic of his argument would seem to apply he would have to, and in that case could it be argued that the congregation is 'invalid' and should be disbanded. Maybe it should be.

Great nonsense has been written about 'vocation' to the priesthood.

It is always worth noting when someone in the organisation does 'well' the side is considered 'great and wonderful'. When things go wrong, the individual becomes the 'dregs of society'.
Nothing new in the underlings and those not in power and control being scapegoated.

In the Russian German museum at Karlshorst outside Berlin there is a recording of a speech given by Himmler to party faithful. It is about the character of the Russian person. He uses terms such as the 'dregs of society'.

All organisations need to be checked and monitored and no grouping can police itself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Harvard professorship

Today's Guardian newspaper reports that Harvard University is about to endow the US's first named professorship of sexuality.

The chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies introduces a discipline still in its infancy into the heart of the country's academic establishment.

Its supporters claim the move by one of the world's most august universities will send a message to other institutions globally that 'queer studies', as some call it, has finally arrived.

The chair has been backed by a $1.5m gift from the university's 4,600-strong caucus of gay men and lesbians which will fund an eminent visiting scholar to teach at Harvard on a rotating basis. The campaign was supported by 275 donors.

What would happen say if a Catholic priest were appointed to the chair or a number of Catholic priests attended lectures on the course?

Would the Vatican object? The Vatican well knows that there are gay priests, so what then would be the problem with a priest being appointed to the chair?

It would seem the issue with gay priests in the Catholic Church has to do with non-transparency and secrecy? And it is that non-transparency and 'secrecy' that has landed the Irish Catholic institutional church into such a nightmare at present.

It is not that one's sexuality is of public interest but it would seem the church goes to great lengths to deny the reality that actually exists.

And it really does seem quite extraordinary that the church leadership continues to bury its head.

When the media tries to equate liberal thinking with a go-easy approach to issues of homosexuality within priesthood, it appears they are missing the point. It would seem that there is a far greater link between homosexual priests and doctrinaire orthodoxy. Maybe anecdotal but no less real.

But the 'issue' all the time seems to be one of obfuscation and 'keeping the lid' on things. Surely it is this very 'thing' that leads to such pain, hurt and maybe deviance.

Then again, maybe lids need to be kept tight and firm! Who knows.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lester's words on Vincent O'Brien

Legendary Vincent O'Brien died on Monday. The man from Churchtown in Co Cork, who trained his horses at Ballydoyle in Co Tipperary, was a genius with no equal. He trained six Epsom Derby winners. Nijinsky, Ballymoss, Sir Ivor, Roberto were among his greats.

Jockey Lester Piggott said of him; "Everything he did was geared to keeping his horses happy and relaxed at home so that they would perform to their full potential on the racecourse, and the results speak for themselves." And Piggott was another genius.

But reading those lines of Piggott it was impossible not to be conscious of their poignancy. The thousands of our little children who were brutalised were never allowed perform to their full potential. And the results speak for themselves.

UCD professor writes that Ireland has become an international disgrace

This article appeared in Saturday's Irish Times. It is a thoughtful; piece and makes some attempt at understanding or explaining why it happened.

Is anyone asking if celibacy is linked to all this? An organisation or an institution that believes it is in some way or other in tune with the 'mind' of God and at the same time expects as an essential prerequisite that its members be celibate, is surely walking and behaving on fragile territory.

For many men celibacy has enhanced their lifestyles within priesthood. But what has it really done to large numbers of men?

People who are opposed to the church and its ideal will dismiss it all as a 'nonsense'. Some/many loyal to the church believe it is a 'non-negotiable'.

It is a highly complicated and intricate area of debate. And it all needs to be discussed in charity and respect.

Ireland was not unique in its industrial schools but the nature of Irish Catholicism set it apart, writes TOM INGLIS

IRELAND HAS become an international disgrace. It is now known that we incarcerated thousands of innocent little children into schools where they were abused, raped and tortured. How and why did it happen?

Ireland was not unique. French theorist Michel Foucault pointed out in Discipline and Punish that the idea of separating out deviants and misfits – whether they be mad, bad, poor or sick – was central to the creation of modern society. Mental asylums, jails, poor houses, reformatory schools and welfare homes sprang up all around Europe from the 16th century. Those deemed to be a threat to social order were herded into these institutions.

Those who ran the institutions specialised in producing forms of discipline and control that physically and mentally ensured that inmates were obedient and docile. Punishments for transgression were quick and harsh.

But there were added factors when it came to Ireland. As with many other social practices, the Irish did things to extreme. The British had left a legacy of treating the Irish as uncivilised savages. They instituted regimes of discipline and control that were taken over and developed by agencies of the Catholic Church.

The church played a central role in the discipline, civilisation and modernisation of Irish society. It was central to resisting and challenging the power of the British state. It was already enormously powerful before Independence. The devotion and loyalty of its members meant that the church became not only autonomous from the new Irish State but able to symbolically dominate it, particularly when it tried to interfere in areas over which it had obtained monopoly control.

However, for most of the 20th century it was a cosy relationship. There were differences over the decades but, generally, the State did not interfere with the church’s running of any of its schools, asylums, hospitals and homes.

The heyday of the Catholic Church was, then, akin to the years of the Celtic Tiger. The church was like a big bank. They had over a thousand vocations each year which produced the personnel necessary to manage and run the plethora of institutions, including reformatories and industrial schools. Indeed they had a surplus and were able to export not just missionaries but, with them, the particularly Catholic model of running these schools.

This is where Foucault again becomes useful. He argued that the most subtle way to discipline and control people was to sexualise them. From the 19th century, sex no longer remained under the jurisdiction of religion and medicine, it began to be studied and analysed by a new breed of human scientists including psychiatrists, demographers, educators, analysts, therapists, psychologists and sociologists.

GENERALLY, THROUGHOUT the 20th century there was a move from harsh physical forms of discipline and control to more subtle forms which involved forms of critical reflection and discussion about the self and the nature of sexual desire, pleasure and perversion.
However, again, things were different in Ireland. Sex remained wrapped up in Catholic teaching for longer. Such was the monopoly of the church over Irish society that, outside of a detached scientific medical language, it was almost impossible to mention the word sex.

Bourdieu, another French theorist, argued that there is a realm of thought called doxa: a realm of unquestioned orthodoxy in which things cannot be thought or let alone said. There was only ever one form of bad thought in Catholic Ireland.

It is when we put these two factors together, the huge numbers of reformatories and industrial schools in Ireland and the silence about sex, that we get the type of sadism and sexual perversion.

The absence of any thinking outside the box, let alone criticism and resistance, meant that very few people questioned the policy, particularly of religious Brothers, of taking young boys, barely teenagers, and sending them off to novitiate houses. Those who ran these novitiates operated within forms of repression, discipline and control that were copied in the schools.

The young men and women who ran these schools were servants of a system of power that was beyond question, they were Roman foot-soldiers. They were caught in a regime of Catholic thought and practice from which, effectively, there was little escape. There was no mechanism by which they could talk about themselves, their desires and frustrations. They took their anger out on the children. The children became their scapegoats.

There are three additional factors. The church propagated a form of sexuality which led to limited and often unsuccessful forms of fertility control and, thereby, the creation of large families. For most of the 20th century, Ireland had one of the highest levels of fertility in the West. The reformatory and industrial schools were, effectively, a system of dealing with excess children that, the State deemed, could not be cared for elsewhere.

Secondly, by giving the schools capitation grants for each inmate and by developing a policy (completely within the doxa of the time) of a hands-off form of regulation and control, the State ensured their persistence.

Finally, this was a system of absolute power. Many “good” Catholics knew for a long time what was happening in these schools, but they deliberately turned a blind eye. They could not mention the unmentionable.

There were no whistleblowers: there was no room for any questioning, let alone discussion or debate. The Catholic Church has always valued loyalty and obedience to the institution and it has always been willing to be loyal and to support those who had given their lives to the church, despite the enormity of their sins.

Tom Inglis is associate professor of sociology in UCD and the author of Moral Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland

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The 'Thinking Anew' column in The Irish Times today. Michael Commane Sometimes I wonder has all the pious 'stuff' we have ...