Saturday, July 31, 2010

Moving service in Duisburg

This morning in the Salvatorkirche in the German city of Duisburg there was a service of remembrance for those killed in the disaster in the city last week. Among those present were the German President and German Chancellor.

At the end of the service, Hannelore Kraft, prime minister of Nordrhein Westfalen gave an address. She spoke of the need to help and support those who have been bereaved and all those who have been injured.

She said that she had been greatly moved during the week while speaking to the bereaved. She quoted one father, who said to her that his daughter would not be lost in vain if as a result of this accident we would all put more value on the importance of people. Frau Kraft reiterated his words and promised she would do all in her power as prime minister of NRW to place the worth of the individual above everything else.

Frau Kraft was visibly moved by the occasion. No doubt her words will ring around the world in the next days.

Friday, July 30, 2010

All the Vatican's men

The article below appears this week in the regional papers of Independent Newspapers.

Has any organisation or institution ever been so much in the media limelight as has the Catholic Church of late? It’s doubtful. By this stage most columnist worldwide have had their say. It is also the perfect organisation about which someone can have a good rant. And strange as it may seem it continues to grab the headlines.

Almost on a daily basis we hear of new revelations. You would imagine we would all be punch drunk at this stage. And then the Vatican issues Norme de gravioribus delictis. In English it means Norms concerning grave crimes. The document lists norms governing how to deal with clerical child sex abuse. And in this same document it refers to the crimes of ordaining women priests and of a Catholic priest taking part in the Eucharist with ministers of ecclesial communities, which do not have apostolic succession nor recognise the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination.

A Vatican official, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, explained that the illicit ordination of women is a sacramental crime, whereas child abuse is a moral crime.

The sacraments have to do with theology. Child abuse has to do with immoral and illegal behaviour. How could any person or organisation talk about sacramental wrong-doing and sexual abuse in the same document? The institutional, hierarchical church has just done so. One thing is for sure, the Vatican doesn’t do spin.

But there is a delicately woven thread linking these issues. Something to do with the fact that the world is made up of women and men but that within the institutional hierarchical church, women are excluded.

This is not at all a rant or a bashing of Mother Church but it is a call for an open, honest and real debate about how the institutional hierarchical church thinks about and relates to women.

Are there any theologians or bishops out there who are simply embarrassed by so much of the shenanigans that come from the Vatican? If so, it would be great if they had the wisdom and courage to express their opinions in a genuine and prophetic fashion.
When I was a novice we were given two reasons for celibacy. We were told it had an eschatological sign and that it gave the priest more time to work with and for his people. Both arguments simply don’t stand up. I have seldom if ever found any priest anywhere who was as holy and heaven-focused, and as hard working as my late mother and father.

But it is not simply the celibacy issue. The institutional hierarchical church seems to have an ‘out-of-world’ vision or attitude towards women and so much of that has to do with sexuality. There are those who will argue that the institutional hierarchical church is at its core misogynistic.

I keep using the expression ‘institutional hierarchical church’ because it is essential to distinguish between the church – the people of God – and the career priests who work in the Vatican.

Over generations, centuries, millennia, the church leadership has been in the incredibly fortuitous, and powerful position to choose what men it calls to Rome to sit in positions of power and influence. Its gene pool encompasses all five continents. It has developed its system over a long period of time. Many aspects of Vatican governance are the envy of the world. It is generally accepted that the Vatican has the best secret service agency in the world. Its library and archives are the envy of the world. It does things well. It has the brightest and the best and it has always known that. And then added to that aura it has that ingredient called God. It actually has inscribed in its vocabulary the word ‘infallible’. So is it possible for the men in the Vatican to sit up and listen to views and opinions that express any sort of criticism?

People outside the walls of the Vatican consider it impossible to come to any understanding about what is at the roots of child sexual abuse without the help and insight of women. Of course, child sexual abuse is a society-wide problem.

The men inside the Vatican genuinely believe they know best and that they have that remarkable and infallible word of God to support and help them in their deliberations. Is there any other way whatsoever to try to begin to explain the mindset of the authors of Norme de gravioribus delictis?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The hope and promise on the wings of Concorde

Last evening Channel 4 showed an hour-long documentary on the rise and fall of the Concorde.

The programme brought you right into the mind set that created this extraordinary flying machine, which travelled at Mach 2.2.

And then at the end we saw it go up in flames on take-off on a runway in Paris.

Many of the pilots were interviewed and they all spoke of their hope and belief in the aircraft. One of the pilots spoke of how it was the greatest piece of engineering in the 20th century and how it began in such hope and promise and then collapsed. He argued that there was no need for it to collapse.

The then UK transport secretary, Tony Benn spoke of the aircraft's grace and speed and how it lifted the spirit of the British and French people. And why they added that famous 'e'.

The programme in many ways could mirror the hopes and promises that Vatican ll offered so many. It began with such promise and so much of it crash landed - just like Concorde.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pudding bomber dies

The obituary of Fritz Teufel in Saturday's Irish Times is well worth a read. There certainly has to be an allegorical content to it. What would he have to say about Irish society today?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting the facts wrong

On Sunday there was an incident on the railway near Mountrath where a man lost his life.

The following day an Irish national newspaper reported the incident. It said that the man was hit sometime around 7pm by the 6pm Intercity Express from Cork.

Has an Irish train yet managed to travel from Cork to Mountrath in 60 minutes? It would mean we have the fastest trains in the world. Not so. The fastest Irish trains can travel is 160km/h.

There is no train timetabled to leave Cork at 18.00 on Sundays.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Haiti earthquake

Monday July 12 marks six months since the earthquake in Haiti.

This week Morning Ireland is reporting from the country and Ireland's. Peter Power, Ireland's minister for development aid is currently in Haiti.

The generosity of the Irish people towards the people of Haiti has been extraordinary.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Criticism of parliamentary democracy

In the weekly newsletter of the Dominican priory in Tralee, dated July 4, there is an editorial-type comment, which compares democracy in the Irish State with democracy in the Dominican Order. The piece is not signed.

It is curious article. It tells us that every priest and brother votes according to his own conscience and that each brother is bound to carefully weigh (sic) up all that is said and decide on what he believes is the best for the Community (sic).

How does the author know that the voter votes according to those criteria?

The article then goes on to criticise how Irish politicians are forced to take the party whip when it comes to parliamentary votes.

Is that not how parliamentary democracy works?

Reading the piece it shares a commonality with Vincent Twomey's article in last week's Irish Times.

There is a bias and dishonesty about it that is worrying.

The article also states that the people elect local and national leaders. Of course that is not the case as the taoiseach is elected by Dáil Éireann.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The word according to Stanley McChrystal

This link brings you to the famous Stanley McChrystal interveiw. Well worth a read.

Let the Irish people decide

Below is an opinion piece written by Vincent Twomey, which appeared in The Irish Times on Tuesday, June 29.

What is it about the article that leaves one feel that the author is breathtakingly arrogant? The writer at the flick of his hand dismisses people who disagree with his opinion. The adjectives he uses in describing those who hold a different opinion than he are so different from the adjectives he uses to describe his allies. Note how he talks about a tiny but vocal minority when referring to his opponents but when referring to his allies he writes, 'the sincere convictions of most citizens'. This is similar to a style used by the tabloids. There is nothing refreshing or hopeful about it. It is non-convincing and simply non nice writing.

Also there seems to be evident that tendency to create fear in the reader. The piece about the photographer has simply to be laughable.

Vincent Twomey has a problem with political decision being taken in secret. Is this man for real and does he believe what he write?

Is the article not shrouded in some type of worrying spoof?

Surely if there is a constitutional issue, the Irish Courts will and can decide.

The Civil Partnership Bill – before the Dáil this week – forces citizens to collude in things they believe to be morally wrong

NO CHURCH-STATE controversy in recent times has raised so many difficult political and moral issues compared with those raised by the proposed Civil Partnership Bill. These include:
the nature of the family and its status in the Irish Constitution;
the rights and obligations of citizens arising from the fact that they live together in a mutually supportive and stable partnership, or plan to do so;
the rights and obligations of legislators when legislating on laws which touch on fundamental constitutional or moral issues;
the right of citizens to make conscientious objections on the basis of their moral convictions or religious beliefs;
and, finally, the rights and obligations, if any, of ordained ministers of the Catholic Church either individually (bishops and priests) or as a body (through the bishops’ conference) to express publicly their views on any proposed legislation.
All of these issues touch on the nature of democracy, more specifically on the question of the role of conscience in democracy – and, by implication, the rights of the church with regard to its obligation to form the conscience of its adherents.

When the Irish Bishops’ Conference issued its statement recently on the proposed legislation, there was an outcry from a handful of members of the Oireachtas. A tiny but very vocal minority were outraged at the audacity of the bishops to express any opinion on this or, presumably, on any other matter. They effectively claimed that the church – in particular, in the wake of the Ferns, the Ryan and the Murphy reports – should remain silent.

This, of course, would leave the way free for that tiny but vocal minority of secularists to impose their views on the whole of society, views that are repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens. These same citizens are being increasingly intimidated by a media that has adopted these “liberal-progressive” views. Is this democracy, Irish style?

Citizens may disagree on the nature of marriage and the morality of sexual relations outside marriage. But they cannot be indifferent, since, apart from personal moral wellbeing, the wellbeing of society as a whole is at stake. In addition, the Bill touches on the Constitution and its recognition of the privileged role of marriage due to its unique significance for the common good of society.

Even though the Bill avoids the actual term, it fundamentally redefines the well-known legal definition of marriage as the “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others” (recently cited by Baroness Deech, the chairwoman of the Bar Standards Board, professor of law at Gresham College, London).

This definition seems to be at the basis of the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (see The Irish Times , June 26th, 2010) rejecting the claims of same-sex couples to a right to marry.

One may disagree with the usual legal definition but this is such a fundamental issue that citizens must be free to make up their own minds in the debate. And here, I would argue, members of the Oireachtas have the primordial right as citizens and legislators to be free of the Party Whipparty whip and to follow their conscience. Conscience is the only bulwark against the totalitarian tendencies of all states. This finds recognition in the present German Basic Law (or constitution), which, to avoid a repetition of totalitarianism of the Nazi period, when the conscience of citizens was mercilessly crushed, insists those elected to parliament “ . . . shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience” (Art 38.1).

As a result, the German parliament, like Westminster, allows a free vote on contentious moral issues. By asking for a free vote in the Dáil on the proposed Bill, the Irish bishops in their recent statement did nothing less than reiterate this basic democratic principle.

I have elsewhere argued that Irish democracy has been neutered by the inordinately dominant role played by the party whip. Though necessary in many instances in order to expedite business in parliament, the way the party whip is invoked in the Oireachtas effectively eliminates the need for real debate in parliament. It reduces parliament to rubber-stamping decisions which have been taken in secret.

Legislators are thereby deprived of their right to exercise their own responsibility for the common good as legislators acting according to their own conscience. The overuse of the party whip effectively “banishes conscience to the bathroom” (to quote Vaclav Havel in a similar context) and so undermines democracy.

But the proposed Bill goes a step further. It effectively deprives all citizens of their right of conscientious objection to the provisions of the Bill, should it become law. All appeals – including those from two Church of Ireland bishops – to make provisions in the Bill for citizens to follow their conscience have been rejected.

Should the Bill become law, people such as registrars, photographers or those responsible for parish halls, etc, will be forced to co-operate in acts they consider in good conscience to be morally wrong.

In sum, the refusal to include a conscience clause in the proposed Civil Partnership Bill undermines the primacy of conscience which is the bedrock of democracy. The imposition of the party whip for the vote on this particular Bill (and on other similar Bills) is contrary to the right and duty of TDs and Senators to act as legislators in the full sense of the term, responsible to their conscience.

From Mark to Deutschmark to euro

This day 20 years ago the citizens of the GDR went along to their banks and transferred their Marks for the coveted Deutschmark. A short 12 years later they changed again, this time from Deutschmark to euro.

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