Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Taking your seat

It's not fitting to knock someone or an organisation when they are down. Notwithstanding, it does seem in order to make a comment on Irish Rail.

The following line appears on information when you book a seat online with Irish Rail.

"Please take your seat 20 minutes in advance of departure."

Regularly Irish Rail does not allow access to trains 20 minutes within departure.

In Tralee the train spends 12 minutes at the platform! How does one take his or her seat 20 minutes before departure?

Who thinks up the lines for Irish Rail?

And the curtains on the new Spanish trains. Where are they and how much did they cost? They were a nonsense from the outset.

God rules okay

An author of a book published in 2008 quotes Al Queda's reasons for wanting to stop the march of western culture.
He writes, "They maintain that God can't survive in this kind of culture and they have to stop it by force. That is where they are wrong, but notice the insight: God cannot survive in this culture."

The author is obviously concurring with the sentiment in italics. But surely God can and does survive in this culture. To say anything else cannot be Christian. And anyway the only world I know is the world I inhabit and have inhabited since my birth. I hope God survives in my environment, the environment of cycling to work, being at work, cooking my food, walking my dog.

The worrying aspect to the sentiment is that it is written by a Catholic priest. Strange.

Why within the established church is there that tendency to criticise and attack the world we live in, the world of the now? That's the world we use, that's the world within which we fly from LA to Dublin, that's the world in which we invest our money.

It is a nonsense.

Irish Rail warned about viaduct pier

Irish Rail received a call about the viaduct at Broadmeadow on the Monday before the mishap.

A sea scout telephoned them and explained what he noticed. Sea scouts are familiar with the water in the area and are experts at noticing changes in patterns. According to their association, Irish Rail did nothing about it.

"Only when it collapsed did they see the problem. Yet we could see that there was a serious problem developing before it happened, over a period of two months, and it should have been taken more seriously by Iarnrod Eireann," a spokesperson for the Sea Scouts said.

They were so concerned they took photographs of the piers supporting the viaduct and then contacted Irish Rail.

Why did Irish Rail not immediately send out engineers and examine the reported erosion?

Iarnród Éireann spokesman Barry Kenny confirmed that the company had been contacted last Monday week by an individual from the area area.

Why was it not Irish Rail who told this fact to the public? It would be most interesting to be a fly on the wall in the locomotive shed at Connolly Station and see what the loco drivers are saying about the incident.

Is it time for the CEO of Irish Rail to explain what actually was the lead in to the viaduct collapse?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Holy Water

Today's Irish Times carries at least three stories related to subjects dealing with the Catholic Church.

It reports on Fr Eamonn Conway heading up the European Society for Catholic Theology. There is a news item on numbers enrolling for priesthood and Patrick Claffey writes the 'Rite and Reason' column. And last evening's RTE main news carried a segment on an increase in young men signing up to enter seminaries.

Yesterday morning an elderly lady stopped and asked me if the Dominican church in the city centre still dispenses St Vincent Ferrer Holy Water? I was stopped in my tracks. Positive and negative thoughts ran through me head. With all the thoughts that arose maybe the predominant one was, what about the men who bless that water. What is their faith, their opinion, their understanding. and then I went on to wonder if the elderly lady, who spoke to me sat down and chatted and listened to the men who bless that water how would the conversation go? Would the priest be open and honest, would he speak his mind to the elderly lady and tell her exactly what he believes?

Does priesthood allow men speak their minds in a totally open and honest manner.

And with all that has come to light in recent years is there still an absence of clarity and honesty when it comes to theology.

What does it mean when we say Christ rises from the dead, when we say that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. What is Holy Water?

That elderly lady who stopped me has a profound belief in Holy Water. Is her faith represented or parallelled in the faith of the man who blesses it? Does that matter?

Does orthodoxy/conservatism 'force' people to 'hide' behind ideas and lifestyles to which they really do not subscribe? Does that end up in being able to compartmentalise a way of living?

There has been much talk, outrage, anger directed towards the Irish Catholic institutional church. But is there any serious analysis at looking at a theology that makes sense across the wide and varied membership of the church?

Before any shouts of Alleluia re the upsurge in priestly vocation, is there not an urgent need for an honest and serious debate about priesthood. If, as it now seems, there is an increase in priestly vocations, is there a real possibility of more fudge, more pious words? Worrying.
This morning on RTE Radio 1 an ex CIA operative spoke about wrong actions that have been performed by CIA people since 9/11. He pointed out that it had been the 'small people' who had been outed for their misbehaviour. He argued that it was important to ask how come such an environment was created in the first instance.

He would make an excellent contributor at a church organised conference.

And please don't misunderstand me. Like my father before me, I too begin my day by blessing myself with Holy Water. Why? Tradition, custom, superstition, faith, respect, being fooled? Who knows?

Lisbon Treaty

On Saturday an elderly lady was distributing leaflets outside the Swan Centre in Dublin's Rathmines on the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum. She was handing out material from Coir, which is advocating a No vote.

Again before this referendum there is an apparent silence on the ground from the Yes campaign. And has anyone seen a Government representative selling the Yes vote?

What is it about the Government? Is it laziness, incompetence, fear or arrogance that has them locked up behind their bunkers?

We are told the State is borrowing €400 million a week and the people who are telling us that take off and go on holiday. Does that make sense?

How far away are we from civil unrest?

Viaduct collapse

Irish Rail was spectacularly lucky on Friday. What would have been the outcome if a train or two trains had been travelling on the viaduct at Broadmeadow Estuary at the time of collapse?

The locomotive driver deserves great praise for his action in slowing down his train. Not a word from him. No interview with him. Nothing. How that compares with the plane accident in the Hudson River when the pilot was named, interviewed and was recognised as a hero. Nothing of the sort from Irish Rail.

A comment written in a foreign language was left on this blog. As it is not in English or Irish it is not being published.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fr Columba Ryan OP

Last week I learned of the death of Fr Columba Ryan OP.

When I first heard the news I mistook the man for another Irish Dominican who had lived in London and whom I had briefly met once. And then just today it dawned on me, no that's not the man at all. The dead man is a man, whom I had met on a number of occasions while staying at the Dominican Priory in London.

I know nothing about his spiritual or academic prowess. I know nothing about the books, pamphlets or newsletters he wrote. But I do know the old, gracious and clever man I got to know while visiting the Dominicans in London.

He was always extremely kind to me. He had, at least for me, that rare and cherished gift of making you feel important when you were with him. He always spoke sense to me. This man did not know how to speak clerical mumbo jumbo. Nor was he a conformist and seemed to have the courage to live out his convictions in his ordinary every day life.

He was an old man when he died. I am greatly saddened that I had not seen him in recent years. We had much to discuss, much to agree about and certainly a lot to laugh at together. We could both throw scorn on so much of the nonsense.

It must be a coincidence that he died within days of another prophetic Dominican, Fr Ross McAuley. There would be those who would pronounce them as 'difficult men'. They were never mediocre men.

If I am not mistaken his uncle designed the railway station in Nagpur. Another Dominican with railway connections.

The first meaning the dictionary gives for 'mumbo jumbo' is foolish religious reverence, ritual or incantation. Columba Ryan would indeed smile.

Defecting on the internet

Is there an official mechanism within the Catholic Church for 'leaving'?

The comment from the director of the Catholic Communications Office, Martin Long, that it was very sad if people felt the need to defect from the church, but there was no impediment to it, appears patronising. What does he mean when he uses the word 'impediment'?
Really extraordinary.

And his comment referring to schooling is difficult to understand. It would make sense if the schools were not almost totally funded by the Exchequer. But since the State is the paymaster, Mr Long's comments seem to suggest nothing at all has changed in Ireland.

If someone lives in an Irish village and the only school is the local Catholic school, funded by the State, surely parents have a right to send their children to that school, irrespective of their faith?

The article below appeared in Thursday's edition of The Irish Times.

More than 2,000 sign up to defect from church

MORE THAN 2,000 people have indicated their intention to formally leave the Catholic Church, through the website, set up last month.

The website provides a three-step online process that simplifies the creation of a “declaration of defection”, the document that declares the intention to defect from the church.
From July 8th to yesterday evening, some 2,080 people had completed the declaration of defection. However, it is not yet known how many applications have been processed.

Paul Dunbar, who founded the website with Cormac Flynn and Gráinne O’Sullivan, said feedback suggested many people had completed the process, but it was difficult to know exactly how many.

On average, 10-20 people download the declaration to defect every day. Mr Dunbar said he expected this number to increase when the Dublin diocesan child abuse report is released later this year.

He said they had set up the website because they had found it very difficult to get information when they wished to defect.
Reactions from web visitors varied from “I’ve wanted to get out for years” to “What are the consequences?” he added.

The website also highlights the consequences of defecting. It points out that formally leaving the Catholic Church excludes you from Catholic ceremonies, but not from attending such ceremonies. It could affect your child’s chances of attending the local Catholic-run school, if he or she has not been baptised.

Catholic schools have the right to refuse the enrolment of children who are not Catholics. Mr Dunbar said the impact on their children’s education was “the number one reason” people gave for not going ahead with a defection.

The director of the Catholic Communications Office, Martin Long, said it was very sad if people felt the need to defect from the church, but there was no impediment to it. There were contradictions in someone wanting to leave the church but still have a child educated in a church-run school, Mr Long said.

Some dioceses received one or two applications for defections per year, while others did not receive any, he added.

“Quite often, there will be an offer to discuss it from the parish. When people have the full information, they may or may not want to go through with it. If you do make that decision, there are consequences that will flow from it.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Turing enigma

This article appears in yesterday's London Independent.

It is a shocking story and gives an insight into the damage that is done when people are betrayed, when people have to hide and live lives of fear. The cruelty of misguided and ill-informed authority.

It is a parable of great value.

The Turing enigma: Campaigners demand pardon for mathematics genius
He should have been hailed a hero for his wartime codebreaking. Instead he was prosecuted for his homosexuality and took his own life. So why has Britain never said sorry? Jonathan Brown reports
Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Alan Turing helped crack German Enigma codes during the Second World War

He may have played a pivotal role in securing victory in the Second World War for his country six years earlier, but few outside the academic community would have recognised Alan Turing as he made his way down Manchester's Oxford Street shortly before Christmas in 1951. Someone who did notice the athletically-built scientist, however, was a young working class gay man called Arnold Murray.

Homosexuality was still illegal under the same repressive laws which had sent Oscar Wilde to jail half a century earlier. But regardless of the risk, the chance encounter was to develop into something more substantial and Murray spent a number of nights at the older man's modest home in suburban Wilmslow.

A month later, after Turing, a veteran of the then still secret Bletchley Park code-cracking team, had been giving a talk to the BBC on his pioneering work on artificial intelligence, he returned home to find his house burgled.

The culprit was an acquaintance of Murray's, who would prey on Murray's lovers, thinking they would be so afraid of being outed that they would not report the thefts to the police.
But Turing defied this convention and went straight to the police, where he admitted his affair – a "crime" for which he was spared the normal two-year jail term in favour of a hormonal treatment designed to beef up his masculine urges and suppress his homosexuality. The resulting publicity was to prove too much to bear and in June 1954, the 41-year-old was found dead in bed by his housekeeper. He had eaten an apple he had laced with poison.

The consequences which unfolded were not only a tragedy for Turing, his friends and family, it also robbed the world of one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Now campaigners are demanding an official apology from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, recognising the "consequences of prejudice that ended his career". More than 700 people have signed a petition started by the leading computer scientist John Graham-Cumming on the Downing Street website, including gay rights campaigners, politicians and scientists.

"What really annoyed me about this was here was a man who died in his early 40s because he was a homosexual. He was a war hero but here was a part of our history that we were turning a blind eye to when we should be celebrating it. There were a lot of homosexual people during the war doing incredible work – if it was not for Turing we would most likely be having this conversation in German," Mr Graham-Cumming said.

Turing had already made major contributions to mathematics and the embryonic computing sciences before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. But it was for his work among the wartime Enigma code crackers at Bletchley Park for which he will be best remembered. "Turing realised that we had to turn what was then a cottage industry of code breaking into a full scale industry. He was probably the most important person there," said Simon Greenish, director of Bletchley Park Trust.

His "bombe" machine was able to rapidly de-code the 158 million, million, million variations used by the Nazis in their commands with the creation of a prototype high speed processor. It saved tens of thousands of lives and variations on the original helped both the British and the US to eventual victory.

But although he was, by any measure, a genius, Turing was an idiosyncratic figure bordering on the strange. A runner and rower of Olympic ability, he used to occasionally run the 40 miles between London and Bletchley to attend meetings. His behaviour and high-pitched voice drew furtive smiles from colleagues who tolerated his eccentricities such as chaining his tea mug to the radiator or riding his bicycle wearing a gas mask to avoid hay fever.

After the war, and having been awarded an OBE, Turing moved to the US to work at the National Physical laboratory where he began work on creating the stored-program computer but returned to Manchester in 1948, where he continued his pioneering work in the field of mathematical biology. But the arrest and conviction in 1952 for gross indecency shattered him. The chemical castration caused his breasts to enlarge and bloated his athletic physique. He was also banned from travelling to America. What followed was described by his biographer David Leavitt as a "slow, sad descent into grief and madness" and Turing began travelling abroad in search of sex safe beyond the reach of the British law.

Professor Richard Gill, Professor of mathematical statistics at Leiden University, is among those to sign the petition. "He was one of the geniuses of the 20th century and I have the feeling he was also a pretty decent guy. How his life ended was incredibly sad. In his last years he was thinking very deeply about some very difficult puzzles which give most people a bit of a headache. He was surely going further with this work and was certainly not finished yet," he said.

But there is another twist in the story of Alan Turing. Some have been moved to question whether he saw himself as a gay martyr. His chosen mode of death echoed his favourite fairytale Snow White, from which he was often moved to quote the phrase "Dip the apple in the brew, let the sleeping death seep through". His family insisted his death was merely a tragic accident while others have even hinted more darkly at murder because the inquest was never to establish that the apple contained cyanide. Recent years have seen his reputation partly restored. A memorial statue has been erected on the fringes of Manchester's Gay Village while the city's inner ring road bears his name. An official apology, however, continues to elude him.

Homosexuality and the law: Why Alan Turing was considered a criminal

*The 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act made any homosexual act illegal, even in private. Among the most famous prosecutions was that of Oscar Wilde in 1895.

*Section 11 stated that "any male person who, in public or private, commits ... any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour."

*This part of the Act was inserted at the last minute after being drafted by the MP Henry Labouchere. It did not fit in with the rest of the Act, which dealt with sex crimes relating to young women, but was still passed by the House of Commons.

*The amendment was described as a "blackmailer's charter" as it effectively outlawed any and every form of male homosexuality. It prompted a number of prosecutions.

*The Act was repealed in England and Wales in 1956, but homosexuality was not fully legalised until 1967.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bernhard Schlink's 'The Reader'

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink was in the news some years ago. It has also been made into a film.

Schlink portrays Hanna, with whom Michael falls in love at a young age. He later discovered she was a guard at Auschwitz.

It is a powerful description of an illiterate woman, who probably ends up at Auschwitz in an attempt to hide her illiteracy. And then her trial is another 'escape'.

It is a great read.

Michael decides to discuss his dilemma with his father, who is a philosophy professor and has written books on Kant and Hegel.

He says about his father, "For a long time I believed there must be a wealth of undiscovered treasure behind that uncommunicative manner, but later I wondered if there was anything behind it at all."

That surely is a powerful sentiment. How often are people 'built up' to be wise and important but really have nothing to say or offer? They hide behind all sorts of clever tricks and empty formulae. A curtain veils the fact that they may really believe in nothing, or stand for nothing. What happens when that applies to priests? Can priesthood be an almost perfect incubation space for such pomp and emptiness.

The very idea of clerical dress gives so much form to that sham and veneer. Surely it must allow for the perfect curtain. It can give an 'authority' that is simply not there and maybe make the person 'untouchable'.

Michael immediately adds about his father: " Perhaps he had been full of emotions as a boy and a young man, and by giving them no outlet had allowed them over the years to wither and die".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ross McAuley OP

Fr Ross McAuley died at the Drogheda Memorial Hospital on the Curragh in Co Kildare on Sunday. His remains were removed to the Dominican church in Athy on Tuesday evening and burial took place today after requiem Mass in St Dominic's.

At the liturgy on Tuesday Fr Joe O'Brien spoke of the presence of God and how Ross was always conscious of God's presence.

He told the congregation that he and we most likely believed in God and his presence, and that Ross was now experiencing God's presence. He suggested/'warned' the congregation that Ross was 'watching' over all of us.

His words were most uplifting and apt.

This blog has already posted a column on Ross. It was written some days before he died.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

Is there a Latin version of 'Caritas in Veritate'?

It seems there is not. Is this unusual? In what language was it written?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It remains a taboo subject

The Anglican Communion is currently attempting to come to terms with the issue of homosexuality among its priests.

There has been much publicity surrounding the debate. There are those who are worried and concerned that it might well cause division within the church.

While the Anglicans discuss the matter in private and in public, there is little or no debate within the Catholic church concerning the matter. Indeed, it is almost a taboo subject.

Why is that?

It would seem that the Anglicans have the courage and openness to address the issue and then talk about it publicly.

Of course it is a significant matter within the Catholic church too but there is no discussion about it. To add to the complexity of the matter there seems to be a nexus between clerical closet homosexuality and an inordinate 'concern' for pseudo-orthodoxy. There also seems to be a link between some type of curious piousity and closet homosexuality within clericalism.

It is very difficult to understand how gay men, who are priests, manage to give such support to the conservative aspects of Catholic church teaching. It seems that the tendency is in the ascendent. It is most unlikely that there will be any attempt to discuss the issue. And that is a great pity.

Gay men are anything but misogynist, the same cannot be said about gay clerics.

No anonymous comments will be published on this topic.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Timothy Garton Ash's article

Last week Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash wrote about the Conservative party's allies in the European Parliament.

He referred to a Polish politician. His thesis was that the he believed the man stood for little. At present he was aligned with conservative policy. He also pointed out that he has also been associated with hard right wing groups and been close to being anti Semitic in his views.

It was an interesting article and TGA did admit that the only sure thing that he could say about the Polish politician was that he was good at pushing his own image and liked fine wines.

Reading the article it did occur to this reader that he could very well have been writing about many Catholic priests who espouse right wing views.

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