Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No sight of an Irish journalist

German television station ARD screens Presse Club on Sunday mornings. The programme deals with national and international issues. The panel is made up of four journalists – every week different personnel.

Sunday’s programme dealt exclusively with the Irish problem.

Usually when an international issue is discussed a journalist from the relevant country is on the panel and naturally they speak German.

Sunday’s programme had no Irish journalist on the panel. Was that because they did not look for one or was it that there is no journalist from a national newspaper in Ireland who speaks German?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Der Spiegel on David Berger's opinions

This is the article that appeared in Der Spiegel re David Berger. In many ways it is sensational but alas, accurate.

Harte Worte vom Ex-Herausgeber eines konservativen katholischen Magazins: Der Theologe David Berger behauptet im Gespräch mit dem SPIEGEL, ein "großer Teil der katholischen Kleriker" sei homosexuell. Berger sieht eine Verbindung zwischen verdrängter Sexualität und Schwulenhass.

Hamburg - Der Theologe David Berger, der als korrespondierender Professor für die Päpstlichen Akademie des heiligen Thomas von Aquin in Rom arbeitete, verlangt im Gespräch mit dem SPIEGEL ein Ende der kirchlichen Schwulendiskriminierung: "Es muss anerkannt werden, dass ein großer Teil der katholischen Kleriker und Priesteranwärter in Europa und den Vereinigten Staaten homosexuell veranlagt ist."

Dabei gehe "die größte Schwulenfeindlichkeit in der katholischen Kirche von homophilen Geistlichen aus, die ihre Sexualität krampfhaft verdrängen", meint der inzwischen von seinen Ämtern zurückgetretene Berger. "Offensichtlich werden diejenigen, die ihren Trieben nachgehen, besonders heftig abgelehnt, wenn man die Veranlagung bei sich selbst so schmerzhaft unterdrückt."

Der Theologe, der heute als Gymnasiallehrer bei Köln arbeitet, outete sich im April dieses Jahres, nachdem der Essener Bischof Franz-Josef Overbeck in der Talkshow "Anne Will" während der Debatte um sexuellen Missbrauch Homosexualität als widernatürlich und Sünde bezeichnet hatte. Über seine Erfahrungen in der Kirche hat Berger ein Buch geschrieben, das unter dem Titel "Der heilige Schein. Als schwuler Theologe in der katholischen Kirche" diese Woche erscheint.

Theologe Berger wirft seiner Kirche eine Wagenburgmentalität vor: "Die Angst vor der Welt, vor einer verdorbenen gottlosen Zivilgesellschaft, von der man sich abgrenzen will", führe in eine Isolation und seinen Erfahrungen nach auch zum "Schulterschluss mit Evangelikalen, Bibelfundamentalisten und extrem reaktionären Kräften".

It's the sycophants who landed us in this mess

This column appears in IN&M Irish regional newspapers today.

By Michael Commane
Once I turn on the radio in the morning at 7 it is non-stop bad news about Ireland. Yes, there is a turn-off switch on the radio but that’s analogous to the unwise person who never opens her or his bills when they arrive in the door.

No matter how painful, surely it is important that we know what is happening and why. At last we might now be afforded the opportunity to begin to search for the truth and speak it.

The majority of commentators are up in arms with what is happening in the country. Across the entire spectrum from Joe Duffy callers to the established commentators there is a palpable anger.

Hold on a second. The vast majority of these commentators were telling us some short time ago that we should all go with the flow and they were explaining their reasons with pie charts and PowerPoint. Please give me a break.

There are very few people who ever stand up against those in control and power. It’s not easy to criticise our bosses.

I happen to be a Dominican priest albeit on the fringes. It is natural that I am interested in church life and hierarchical politics. At this stage of my life I know the reality that I am going nowhere on any sort of promotional greasy pole. That’s due to my own inabilities and my refusal to be a good sycophant.

Last December a Capuchin priest, Fr Owen O’Sullivan wrote an article in The Furrow magazine on homosexuality

It was reported in the Irish media that the Vatican has banned Fr O’Sullivan from writing after he suggested homosexuality is ‘simply a facet of the human condition’.

When it comes to banning the written word one thinks of countries such as Burma, China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union and its satellite States.

If you belong to an organisation you are expected to follow the party line. If a politician writes critical material about her or his party it is likely that they will run into trouble with authority. But no political party in a democratic society will admit to banning any member from expressing opinions critical of the party.

Banning someone from expressing her or his opinion is not appropriate in a democratic society. It is certainly not appropriate in a church, which claims to preach the Word of God and is in constant search of truth.

Every society has its norms of behaviour. And in every society the people in control make sure to secure their positions. Some do it in more subtle ways than others. That’s the way of the world.

All my life I was led to believe that our Civil Servants were a special sort of people – the mandarins in Merrion Street knew best and deserved our respect. I have met one or two departmental secretary generals over the years but the idea of questioning a word of what they said was simply not possible. It would have been considered down right rude and even silly.

They make sure we treat them with reverential respect and pay themselves ridiculous salaries.

If our Civil Service was a shadow of what I hade been led to believe how come they never had the conviction or courage to stand up to politicians and speak their mind. They were and are complicit with the mess we are in now.

I don’t claim to be a prophetic person or any different from the ordinary Joe but 20 years ago I asked for an open and honest discussion within the Dominican Order on all matters relating to sexuality. Noting happened and my comments were put down to, ‘ah that’s Michael at it again’.

The support and honesty of a number of friends made the difference.

There is something profoundly wrong with the relationship between the governed and those who govern, between the people in charge and those who are on the margins. And that too is the way of the world.

I’m tired, frustrated and angry too at how people in power and control do their damndest to surround themselves with the best type of sycophants, who know exactly how to massage the egos of their masters and mistresses.

In these dark days we should place great value in the support we get from our friends, who are willing to speak the truth to us.

In this column last week I wrote about how we Irish seem to have a facility to take so much on the chin and are experts at criticising behind closed doors. In a similar way we seem to have a special talent in saying one thing in public and something very different in private. That’s so in all sectors of our society.

I have seen first hand the trickery that goes on among the priestly class. But that goes on in all groups and classes.

I cherish my friends, the ones, who in good times and bad have told me what they believe and have told it to me in charity and honesty.

I have worked as a journalist, a teacher, a press officer, a factory worker and a priest and all I can say is that I have been fortunate to be blessed with great friends. Systems and what they do to people scare me.

Peter Seewald on Pope Benedict

Peter Seewald's book 'Light Of The World' has been published.

If it is anything on his two previous books on Pope Benedict then it is a must. Those two books are simply a fantastic read.

The headline about the book in today's Irish Times is, 'Pope links failure to tackle abuse with 1960s reform'. In the article journalist Paddy Agnew quotes a passage where the pope quotes the Archbishop of Dublin on how he told the pope that ecclesiastical penal law broke down int he 1960s.

That is true but it 'broke down' right across the Catholic Church.

But it would appear to me that there is an underlying issue here that the church simply refuses to discuss. Maybe it cannot.

Human sexuality is a complicated piece of equipment. It is mysterious, it is sacred. From my experience having spent most of my life close to the clerical state it seems there can be something unsound, something worrying, something far too secret about what happens when a group of men live together.

Of course there are amazing priests, who do extraordinary work. But when things go wrong there seems to be little signs of protective/caring/truthful mechanisms to help solve the situation.

And I come back to what I have said for now over 25 years there is link between some sort of sexual orientation that seems 'different' from the norm and an obsessive interest in ritual. It is also mixed with a worrying misogyny.

The behaviour and style that goes on at many of the Latin Mass celebrations has to worry any ordinary person. It has little if anything to do with prayer.

And I can give chapter and verse to support that belief and feel the time is coming to do so.

For the pope to single out Ireland, if he does, is a little worrying. The horrible abuse 'stuff' is not exclusive to Ireland or the US. The worry that I had about Ireland in the mid 1970s were worries that I was forced to consider in Germany in that same time.

There is a problem out there, an issue that the church continues to refuse to discuss. And it is real and it must be discussed.

I believe the problem is getting worse.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

German theologian says many priests are gay

German theologian David Berger in 'Der heilige Schein' (The Holy Illusion), which appears on bookshelves this week argues that widespread homophobia in the Catholic Church stems from a large number of closeted priests.

Berger is an expert on Thomas Aquinas and former publisher of a Catholic magazine.

"It must be acknowledged that a large number of Catholic clerics and men studying for priesthood in Europe and the United States are homosexually-inclined," Berger told 'Der Spiegel'.

"The worst homophobia in the Catholic Church comes from homophile priests, who are desperately fighting their sexuality," he says.

Berger's book looks like an important read.

'The Irish Times' quotes, "As a teenager, I found myself drawn into conservative Catholic circles that included German aristocrats and industrialists. I had to listen to despicable remarks, praising Hitler for having homosexuals imprisoned and murdered in concentration camps."

When someone says or writes something that substantiates or corroborates what a person suspects or believes it is natural that one is 'fortified' in their beliefs.

It seems what Berger is saying is accurate. I have not yet read the book so comment here is based on what has been written in 'Der Speigel' and 'The Irish Times'.

The link to Der Spiegel is http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/0,1518,730287,00.html

Of course there is nothing wrong with being gay. But when homosexual men are forced to deny their sexual orientation surely there is a problem. And if there is a 'disproportion' of gay men who are priests, surely then too there is an issues that needs to be discussed.

For many years I have been struck with the link between gay priests who have an obsessive interest in ritual and all things conservative, gossip about clerical appointmentd, the nonsense of Vatican politics.

Chapter and verse to support that argument.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In the long term bans and dishonesty don't work

Last Saturday’s Irish Times carried a report written by Patsy McGarry about a Capuchin priest, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, who, it reports, has been banned by the Vatican from writing.

It is reported that the Vatican has banned Fr O’Sullivan from writing any more of his writings after he suggested homosexuality is ‘simply a facet of the human condition’.

This follows an article on homosexuality by Fr O’Sullivan in The Furrow last December.

When it comes to banning the written word one thinks of countries such as Burma, China, North Korea, the former Soviet Union and its satellite States.

Of course if you belong to an organisation you are expected to follow the party line. Or are you and should you?

If a politician writes critical material about her or his party it is likely that she or he will run into trouble with authority. But no political party in a democratic society will ever admit to banning any member from expressing opinions critical of the party. The party whip might be taken from them.

Banning someone from expressing their opinion is not appropriate in a democratic society. It is certainly not appropriate in a church, which claims to preach the Word of God and is in constant search of truth.

Fr O’Sullivan’s analogy with what it means to be Irish makes for interesting reading.

Wondering out loud, one might well be tempted to ask what about the orientation of those who issue the banning orders. As the church constantly says there is nothing wrong with orientation but what happens when men are forced to deny their orientation? And that is something the hierarchical church continues to do.

The clear and open dishonesty that follows on is profoundly sad and greatly worrying.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We do all our criticising behind closed doors

This column appears in today's regional Irish newspapers of IN&M

By Michael Commane
Are we Irish hardwired to sit down and take it all on the chin without ever objecting – at least never in public and where it matters?

In one of my first columns in this space I wrote about a problem with so-called tamper-proof milk bottle seals. The problem still exists and in the last few weeks I have managed to open a number of bottles without breaking the seal.

Some months back I brought the matter to the attention of Lidl and they followed it up and told me the manufacturer was going to improve the seal. I telephoned them last week and told them it was still possible to open the bottle without breaking the seal. In the course of our conversation they told me that I was the only person who had brought this matter to their attention. That flabbergasted me. It is really incredible to think that there is milk and cream out there on shelves which is in bottles that are not tamper proof. I am also amazed and flabbergasted that I am the only person in Ireland who has contacted Lidl on this issue. I also seem to be the only person in Ireland who has contacted Tesco and Dunnes as well. Is that really possible? But we Irish seem to take it all on the chin and say or do nothing.

Is it this sort of mentality, this sort of frame of mind that has us in hock? I’m beginning to think so.

When I showed the bottle to a manager in a Dunnes Stores shop, he curtly dismissed me and told me more or less, so what. He pointed out I had used the cream so how in heavens could I be looking for a replacement.

The bottles are simply not tamper proof, which means they are not safe. There is nothing stopping some sort of deranged person from tampering with one of the bottles. And then what would be the outcry?

Last week a journalist colleague visited me in Dublin. We were waiting for the Luas in Milltown at morning rush hour. The first tram arrived. It was crowded, indeed, so crowded that there was no space to get on. Though it did seem to me that if people moved down the central aisle more passengers could get on. Within minutes the next tram arrived and again it was crowded, especially around the doors. And again there was potential for people to pack in better down the aisle. We managed to get on but no-one was willing to ask the people in the aisle to move in closer. I passed a comment to my colleague and she was mortified that I would say anything and worse still if anyone overheard me complaining. There we go again. The Irish don’t complain in public.

But I have since noticed while travelling on the Luas there are not enough rails and supports onto which passengers can hold. The tram operator, Veolia need to be informed that there is need for more hand grips on the Luas. Who will tell them?

Two weeks ago when I went to buy two rollsin a shop in Dublin. I was surprised to see that they had jumped in price from 39 to 45 cent. I was slow to mention the increase but did ask the assistant why there had been an increase, especially in these times when we are all earning less. I was not happy with the reply so I went off to speak to the manager who was most reasonable and helpful. The following week I was back buying two breakfast rolls. They were selling at their old price of 39 cent each.

See how we can change things.

I’m no economist but anyone with eyes in their head has to be aware of how so many things are wrong in this little island of ours. But somehow or other we are afraid to speak out. We are afraid someone might laugh at us or say something nasty to us.

I remember when benchmarking was introduced saying to myself that it had to be crazy. Where were we going to get the money to pay all those wild increases? Naturally, I had no say. But gosh, I know now where we got the money. We borrowed like mad and now we are in hock.

The mantra said close the sugar factories. We did, all four of them over the years. And now we are being told, oops, that might have been a bad thing.

When last did Ireland have a leader, a prophetic and wise person who truly deserved the title of taoiseach.

And whose fault is that? Your fault and my fault. We are all too timid. No point complaining and criticising in whispers and in secret. We’re experts at that.

And it’s that that has helped destroy the State and the church.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A church of two images

Saturday's Irish Times in its Weekend Review carried an interesting interview with Bishop Willie Walsh.

In the piece Bishop Walsh speaks about clerical sex abuse and points to the age of many of the victims and their gender. The retired bishop is saying something of profound importance and hopefully the hierarchical church will listen to what he is saying.

And then there is the archbishop in Belgium, whose spokesman has resigned. He commented that the archbishop is like someone who is driving the wrong way up the road and argues that all the other cars are going the wrong way.

A wonderful metaphor.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

An alleged crime fuelled by alcohol

The story of the radio DJ who is alleged to have committed an offence on an Aer Lingus plane makes it on to all the Irish newspapers today.

There is a photograph in 'The Irish Examiner' of the man driving a motorbike with no helmet. Surely that is an offence.

Not for a moment trying to ameliorate anything concerning the alleged crime, it's yet again another tale linked to alcohol abuse in Ireland.

The alleged act is an appalling crime and the comments made by Pat Kenny are unfortunate and most inappropriate.

Of course it is all linked with terrible arrogance and the idea that there are classes of people to whom the law does not apply. What was it the elderly US lady said about those who pay their taxes?

Why not tell us the drink consumed, the makers of the drink, the shops who supplied the drink?

The metaphor of the crowded Luas

Yesterday I travelled by Luas from Dublin's Milltown to Harcourt Street. It was morning rush hour and the trams were filled to capacity. People were packed together around the doors.
It was impossible to board the tram.

The next one came within seconds. It too was crowded but there was some room. Again, people were packed around the door areas. But down the aisle it was clear to see that people could move closer together so as to allow more people to board. But no-one said a word. They simply allowed it be so.

Something about the Irish, we take so much, say nothing and then when we go home, or in our own private space criticise.

Is that part of the reason why the IMF are about to board a Lufthansa service from Frankfurt-am-Main to Dublin?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey

Henrik Ibsen's 'John Gabriel Borkman' is running in Dublin's Abbey Theatre at present. It has been adapted by Frank McGuinness and stars Fiona Shaw and Alan Rickman.

The banking aspect to the theme makes it apposite and relevant in today's Ireland.

Well worth seeing.

Is it saying that all forms of happiness are ultimately delusional?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Loki Schmidt dies at 91

For most of us our view or appreciation of politicians is garnered from what we read and see on television about them. We never really know much about them, who they are and what they think. We are all fed PR and spin.

Probably it is analogous to that horrible modern 'role model' expression that every celebrity is expected to have.

While we might find the role model idea as a load of bunkum, most of us probably deep down have our heroes.

In today's Irish Times there is a photo of Helmut Schmidt at the funeral service of his wife Loki. The pain and sadness expressed in his face must be a real and true depiction of the loss he has experienced.

As an ordinary punter, an outsider looking at the world of politics, it was clear that the tough German chancellor, the man who had no time for nonsense had an extraordinary relationship with 'Loki'. They were an inseparable pair and that bond is so well captured in the picture. That can't be PR, spin, whatever.

Helmut Schmidt must have loved Loki, who died on October 21 at 91 years of age.

They had been married for 68 years. They married in 1942. The groom, an officer in the Wehrmacht had returned from the Russian front.

In their home in Hamburg there is a photograph of a children's party from 1929. Loki had won a cherry eating competition against five boys. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that turned into a great love story.

The micro sneaky increases no one talks about

We are all being told to expect to earn less. We are all being asked to sacrifice. We are all being told that we pay ourselves too much.

All true.

On Saturday I bought a breakfast roll. It cost 45 cent - an increase of six cent on the previous week.

Today I travelled by Luas to work. The fare from Milltown to Harcourt Street was €2The last time I travelled on that section the fare was less.

And not a word, at least I have read or heard nothing about the Luas increase. I have no control over the macro economics but if you and I decided these increases are simply not fair then why aer we all so silent.

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