Monday, July 30, 2012

German police chief sacked

This German Interior Minister sacked the head of the German police today.

No reason given.

German newspapers carried the story at the weekend.

Sentences out of our reach

"We have neglected the tiny sentences of life and now the big ones are beyond our reach."

That's a quote from Seabastian Barry's 'Secret Scripture'. Dr Grene is talking about his relationship with his wife.

But the sentence has a perfect fit in the context of priesthood and religious life where men and women say so little of meaning or worth to one another.

What real words do priests say in their parishes, to their parishioners?

Is it not as clear as day that priesthood in Ireland today is simply dysfunctional?

What to do?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

We owe our loyalty to the truth

Surely and especially as Dominicans we owe our loyalty to the truth and not to the institution.

If someone is unjusty treated then is it not our obligation to support the offended party?

The institutional Catholic Church seems to refuse to learn from its recent sad history.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Archbishop Martin's wise but gentle comments

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said at the MacGill Summer School yesterday, "It is not just that the number of candidates (for priesthood) is low.

"It is also that many of those who present themselves are fragile and some are much more traditional than those who went before them.

"There is a danger that superficial attatchment to the externals of tradition may well be a sign of fearfulness and flight from changed realities."

In many respects that is sensational coming from an archbishop. But is is succintly accurate. And the archbishop has only said the gentlest and kindest words about the current phenomenon.

Last week in a church a lady referring to a young man in his mid-20s studying for priesthood said, "the young boy is so good looking".

Is that the language or the sentiment that a woman would usually use when referring to a man in his mid-20s?

Older men express their embarrassment at the external behaviour of many of the young men studying for priesthood.

And the archbishop did not say a word about the real elephant in the room.

Is it not glaringingly obvious what is happening?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ireland's dental disgrace

The column below appears in this week's INM regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
On Friday I gave a talk at a summer seminar organised by the Irish Dominican Sisters. The seminar was to mark 50 years since Vatican II. I was asked to talk on the media in Ireland. I argued that the primary purpose of newspapers is to make money for their shareholders and if they don’t do that, customers will not buy their product. Good business means you survive and make a profit.

In the days approaching the talk I was nervous and apprehensive.

And then on the Wednesday before the talk while washing my teeth I noticed a piece of a tooth had broken away. The tooth had been a source of pain for the previous few days. But it was nothing serious and really not causing me any bother. But once it broke I became quite anxious. The last thing I wanted to happen was to wake up on Friday morning before the talk with a throbbing toothache. Those of you who have experienced bad toothaches will know exactly what I mean.

I called my dentist in Tralee who kindly arranged for me to visit a dentist in Dublin, who did some temporary repair work on the tooth. It meant it was not going to cause me any added worry for my Friday talk.

It set me thinking about all sorts of things. How privileged I am to have the financial resources to be able to pay for work on my teeth. What must it be like for someone who has no spare cash to get their teeth fixed.

Talk to any dentist and they will quickly tell you that the Irish Government has given up on the dental health of the nation.

If I did not have the money to pay for dental treatment last week PRSI contribibutions would not cover any repair work on my broken tooth. The possession of the medical card would entitle me to have the tooth extracted. I don't have a medical card.

GMS (medical card) patients are entitled to one check up, two fillings and as many extractions as they want per calendar year. PRSI patients are entitled to one examination only per year. The self-employed are entitled to nothing.

Isn’t that really a wonderful State. PRSI patients are entiled to no corrective work and GMS patients are allowed two fillings per year.

Any dentist I have spoken to in recent times is most critical of Government dental policy. Well, that’s not really the correct way to say it as the Government has no dental policy outside extraction.

It seems this Government has no problem with a toothless society.
When the Minister for Health was in a hurry to get back to the Dáil from Cyprus to try to justify or explain, whatever, his financial situation regarding his ownership of a nursing home, he can summon the Government jet to get him home on time.

Just think of it, a Government that incentivises tooth extractions has the money to fly a Government minister home from Cyprus to talk in riddles in the Dáil.

GUBU has risen from the ashes.
I doubt if any of our politicians, top Civil Servants, the bankers who are paid loads of money, give a second thought about going to a dentist. They just pay.

That’s what I did last week. But I'm ashamed of the society in which I am a citizen.

Of course, it’s not just dental care – it’s right across the board. We give lip service to treating all the children of the nation equally. It’s quite clear we don’t.

Last week Social Justice Ireland issued a report which shows how the gap between rich and poor is widening.

We all know that we are in recession but isn’t it odd that the top earners are now in a better position than they were before the crisis hit. And isn’t that ironic as it’s the top earners who are the ladies and gentlemen, who nodded their heads to the gurus and nomenclature of the day and did nothing about stopping the disaster.

Were we not paying them such top salaries so as to do good jobs and ultimately improve the conditions of all the citizens of this little republic?

The Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn keeps reminding us that we are in receivership and I understand that. But I don't understand how we can pay the salaries we do to Government ministers and the panoply of people around them and at the same time have not a care in the world in ripping out people's teeth.

What do GMS/PRSI patients with no spare cash do when they and their children need dental work?

It is shocking. And as long as the current Government 's 'extraction policy' is in place, every Government minister should walk about with his/her head bowed in shame.

How dare they fly in Government jets.

Monday, July 23, 2012

If this is true it's time to move on

A man who goes to daily Mass in a Dominican church in Ireland said today that the Dominicans in his town are not interested in people. He went on, "They are only interested in God. No, that's not right. It's all about self-glorification."

A wise man, who made a simple and amazingly profound and accurate comment.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bringing redemption

Below is the Thinking Anew column in today's Irish Times.

By Michael Commane

A few months ago I went to a recycling centre with a wheelie bin full of
newspapers. I had walked about a kilometer pushing the wheelie bin in front of me, and with my dog on a lead. I know I looked odd.

Just as I began to throw the papers into the large container at the bring
centre, a man on duty approached and told me that wheelie bins were not
allowed on the premises.

I was astonished. It was difficult and embarrassing coming this far with
the wheelie bin. Heading back home with a full wheelie bin was not an
attractive idea.

The two of us had a set-to. I raised my voice and remonstrated that I
thought the ruling was crazy. He countered by saying he would call the
police. He also ordered me off the premises and to take my wheelie bin with me. I invited him to go ahead and call the Garda.

I cooled down a little and suggested I leave the bin outside and carry the
paper by hand into the large container. He was having none of it. He
telephoned his supervisor.

Eventually I was allowed bring in the wheelie bin and unload my papers.
When I was leaving I went up to the man and apologised for raising my
voice. We parted on ungracious terms. There were many aspects to the
encounter and it certainly had pantomime characteristics. At least I walked home with a lighter load.

Two weeks ago I was back at the bring centre, this time with a handful of
papers to dump. I approached the attendant. He didn’t recognise me. I
reminded him of our previous encounter.

Then he remembered, put his hand on my shoulder and smiled and we had a friendly chat. We exchanged pleasantries, a few laughs and I headed off to work on my bicycle.
He was so nice and friendly to me and I hope, I to him. I have no problem
calling it a moment of grace. A silly bad tempered altercation, which turned into something positive because of the protagonists backing off and using conciliatory words and gestures.
In tomorrow’s Gospel (Mark 6: 30 - 34) we read how Jesus, who had decided
to head off to a quiet place, relented, had pity on the people and went
back to be with them. The Gospel tells us he had ‘pity’ on them.

The word ‘pity’ might well evoke an expression or an attitude of being
patronising. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus through his
words and deeds was showing compassion.

In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 23: 1 - 6) we
read how Yahweh declares that none of the people will be lost.

It’s easy to get bowed down under rules and regulations. It is always
tempting to formalise our religious practice in such a way that we lose
touch with the essentials. It can become a game. But surely at the very
centre of any religion or faith system is our relationships with other people?

My experience at the bring centre was a reminder how rules can sometimes
get in the way and how human wisdom wins out in the end. And that too is
something about which Jesus was aware.

It is impossible to be a Christian in the exclusive company of oneself.
Christianity is about people. We believe that God joined the human race and
became one of us. We have been raised to a new reality. The Sacraments help bridge the gap between people and God.

The theology of priesthood regularly talks about how the ordained priest
carries out the work of God. But it must never be forgotten that the priest
above all else must be a people’s person. The priest can only be a priest
in the context of other people, all the time showing interest, compassion
and true interest in people. And listening and learning too from people.

Over the last few weeks the Gospel readings have concentrated on the
kindness and compassion of Jesus.

They are an important reminder to all of
us. Our words and deeds should show kindness and compassion.

How can we talk about loving God if we do not show kindness to our fellow
sisters and brothers?

My wheelie bin experience brought home to me the importance of being kind and gentle, even if it all gets off to a bad start. There is always the
possibility of healing.

We might well call it redemption.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Newspapers in business to make money

Talk below was given by Michael Commane today at the Irish Dominican Sisters summer seminar.

My first link with the world of newspapers was in the late 1950s when my uncle, John D Hickey, would come back to my aunt’s house in Thurles having covered a Munster final. He had to file his report back to Abbey Street and I was given the job of turning the handle on the telephone to get through to the operator to call Independent Newspapers in Dublin.

Ever since Sister Helen Mary invited me to give this talk on the media I have been amazed at the number of articles in the Irish newspapers on media affairs.

Indeed at one stage I began keeping newspapers that carried articles on the media but soon realised that I would quickly run out of space if I were to keep all the newspapers that carried relevant articles.

I have been working as a journalist since 1998. Let me stress, my area of competency is with the print media. I am not terribly familiar with radio and television. I do some work with pitching stories to local radio stations and I had column on Radio Kerry for about 12 months.

When the late Fr Paul Hynes was editor of Intercom he asked me to do a piece for him about my experience of the church in Germany. The previous summer I had cycled from Ostend to the parish where I was working. It was between the cities of Frankfurt-am-Main and Wuerzburg. When it appeared I was so excited as it was the theme of the cover page, which showed a picture of the cathedral in Cologne.

Then later Tom Jordan asked me to edit ‘Far and Near’. I cannot express to you how I enjoyed doing that. It was at the beginning of the new technology. And I did the lay out and a parishioner in St Saviour’s did the graphics. I would mail the copy-ready disk to the printers in Cork O’Learys. And if I missed the post I would cycle up to Heuston Station and
put it on the mail train to Cork. Mail trains have gone and when did anyone last use a floppy disk?
In 1997 I went back to school and did a post graduate course in journalism at DIT. From there I spent three months working in The Irish News in Belfast, then six months at the Newry Democrat.

I saw an ad in the Sunday Independent for a journalist at the Kerryman and got the job. I spent the next six years working as a sub editor in Tralee at the Kerryman.

They were great years. I cannot express to you how happy I was there, how happy I was that I was working for Independent News and Media - doing a mix of jobs laying out pages and writing a column. I loved it and miss it

There is no job in the world as good as being a newspaperman or woman. Being a journalist is great fun and a great honour too.

Driving back to Castlegregory in West Kerry on a summer’s evening with the sun in my face I would say out loud. Michael you work on a newspaper.

While there I was also property editor - God love us and letters editor too. A very tricky job as so much libel can happen on that page, especially in a regional paper.

Libel has to do with the written word, slander with the spoken word. The broad definition of libel is that if in the common estimation of the ordinary person someone’s character is unjustly damaged then we have libelled that person.

When I first went to The Kerryman Jim Farrelly was managing director and he had worked with my uncle in the Independent. I remember one day he praised me on something I had written.

Whether he meant it or not, how chuffed I was at his comment. It made me think of the management skills of the Irish Dominicans.

Ger Colleran was editor and he had employed me. When reading my CV he presumed I was a former priest and threw the CV on the floor, passing a smart comment to his wife Siobhan. She made him pick it up and read it. Subsequently he called me for interview and gave me the job. We have remained good friends. I am baptizing his grandchild tomorrow in Tralee.

Ger is now managing director of The Star. The Phoenix carried a profile in late May on Ger suggesting that he will soon be editor of either the Sunday Independent or the daily paper.

These days I write a column twice a month for INM regionals that's 13 Irish regional newspapers and I also write a little column once a month for the Irish Times. I have a readership of close to a million. I work in the press office of Concern Worldwide.

The primary function or purpose of newspapers is to make money for their shareholders. That’s good business. They are serving their customers and if they don’t practise good business, people will not buy their product. There is always the danger that they be taken over by elites – the really mega rich. Government might be tempted to intervene.

I don’t believe they have an anti church agenda. Maybe there are people who
see them as opinion formers and leaders. But they are not. Their job is to tell the story. We could argue that point: The Guardian tells a different story than The Times or Telegraph. But have you ever noticed how journalists move from one newspaper to another and it’s a seamless change.
But it is also important to stress that we all see reality through our own eyes. Can there be such a thing as a completely objective ‘story telling. We all see reality through our own eyes. Have you ever watched Press TV?

I regularly wrote the editorial at The Kerryman and only once was it spiked and that was when I took the side of the then Irish Locomotive Drivers Association, ILDA and their leader Brendan Ogle. I supported their strike. The editor said no. He was right and I was wrong.

By the way, when using an acronym always spell the word out in full when using for the first time

The piece on ILDA was spiked and just this year I was told I could not write a column comparing the money Independent News and Media pays me for my column with how much Baby Jesus received when he stepped down from the top job at INM.

Do you know who Baby Jesus is? See, they call/called Sir Anthony God, so then they had to think up a name for his son Gavin. But it looks as if God has gone from this throne.

I don't believe there is a newspaper conspiracy against the church. Yes, owners of newspapers and journalists are angry with the church and of course they express their anger with the institutional church. There is one thing journalists hate and that is humbug and they perceive the leadership of the church to be past masters in the art of humbug.

During the war in Vietnam Richard Nixon once said, “it would be so much easier to run this war in a dictatorial way, kill the journalists and carryon the war”. Nixon hated the media with a passion. If people hate the
media, it’s important to ask, why?

In June in The Irish Times Vincent Browne dedicated a column to explaining
how the media is biased against working class people and shows a bias in favour of the rich and famous - the people who help sell newspapers.

He compared the coverage the murder of Breda Waters in January 2011 received compared to the coverage that the murder of Michaela McAreavey received. He argues sales and ratings are what it’s all about.

The Waters murder case is on at present in Ennis. Who knows about it? Whereas the McAreavy trial had journalists in Mauritius for weeks

There is a great parable there. I don’t believe the media is anti church and even if it is, it is not per se but rather by being so they believe they can sell more newspapers.

So often one hears Catholics complain that such and such a story gets no coverage because it is a good news Catholic story and the media try to silence it. The only reason it does not get coverage is because the media does not think it will sell papers.

We are not at all as important as we think we are. And remember, whether we like it or not, good news is no news.

And I know that first hand. I work in the press office in Concern where I spend my day trying to pitch stories to newspapers. Thousands of people might be dying in Sub Saharan Africa and we have a graphic account from an eyewitness.

Yet the newspapers will most likely go with some ephemeral topic that is forgotten tomorrow. And don’t think that’s the sole prerogative of the tabloid press.

This year Concern is spending €160 million in the 25 countries where we are working and we are spending €500,000 on our communications this year in Ireland so that we can sell our story to the Irish public in as accurate and attractive a package as possible.

After the inquiry into the Prime Time Investigates libel on Fr Kevin Reynolds it was much bandied about that RTE suffered from the disease of Group-think. I have no doubt it does. But we all suffer that particular ailment and I think no one more so than right wing groups within the church. They genuinely believe that the media is out to get them. I believe they are wrong.

The newspaper industry is in serious crisis – maybe that is something it shares with the institutional church. Modern technology means that newspapers are in a daily battle to keep abreast of the latest developments in social media.

In the last few months INM newspapers have introduced new technology that allows sub editors to lay out pages in any location in the company network. It means for example that The Kerryman can be laid out in Wexford, Sligo or Drogheda.

Last month in Australia three top editors at the Fairfax Media Group resigned, sending gasps through the newsrooms of the country’s two oldest broadsheets, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. The London based Independent newspaper stopped printing and distributing its daily and Sunday titles in Ireland on July 2,

There are things going on in journalism which as Dominicans we need to understand. Print journalism is with very few exceptions losing money hand over fist. The internet has taken advertising and circulation. Staff is being cut, and quality is suffering. Worse than that there is cut throat competition between surviving print outlets. And that means that corners are being cut, and quality suffers even more.

Why send a skilled photographer and reporter to deal with a complex problem when you can get a vivid albeit one-sided view of it by recording the Joe Duffy show on radio and adding in some - probably fictional quotes.

If they can pick a good salacious story up off the web [far too often] they will do it. It costs money to do their own research. It costs money to send journalists to do stories, it costs money to send photographers to events.
Most regional newspapers now have no staff photographers.

Here let me stop to say something important.

Warning: if the person quoted is not identified, you are not getting the whole truth. Far too often the person quoted is only identified as a ‘source’. Some popular publications have discovered the way to retain readers is to scare the life out of them. So there is a barrage of the horrors that immigrants bring stories, of hopelessly exaggerated crime stories as the
Daily Beast tries to out sell the Daily Brute, in convincing readers that they will wake up dead in their beds if something is not done, lock up whoever the latest hate figure is or send them home. Then TV takes its cue from print, and constructs compelling narratives which reinforce the half truths. And up pops your politician in waiting - saying vote for me and I will rid you of these pestilences. And politics then joins the race to the bottom started by the print media.

That's an apocalyptic and crude version of the damage to politics and public discourse caused by the problems of the print media.

No doubt many of you have followed the Leveson Inquiry. It could happen here. I’m not sure I feel as smug about the Irish Media as does John Horgan. Mr Horgan spoke at the Leveson Inquiry last week.
Remember that the Irish Sun is published by News International which publishes the Sunday Times in Ireland. The Irish Daily Mail is owned by the UK Daily Mail, and 50 per cent of the Irish Star is owned by Richard Desmond who refuses to join the existing flawed UK regulation scheme.

You can be quite sure that phones have been hacked in Ireland, and each one of you should change the pin number on your mobile phone today if you have not already done so.

Talking about politicians - they have realised that newspaper staff is cut to the bone. So if they have a well-written short story they know it has a great chance of being published. That’s why politicians use journalists to write their stories for them. Just look at the number of former journalists Government ministers use in their press offices.

We should also know that and be doing similar tricks. We need people with media skills who can put across our values in a convincing way. Look at how former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan put a human face on the prison service. He answered questions, told the truth in plain language and people trusted him. Do we have a John Lonergan in the Dominican Order? Do we?

People have no idea the sweat and tears that goes into producing a newspaper. It is hectic frenetic, insane but above all the most satisfying job in the world.

Every Tuesday in the Kerryman I began work at 09.30 and worked until midnight.

Did you know that INM made a decision to stop using full points in all abbreviations in all its publications? Anyone guess why? To save ink and hence save money. It’s money, stupid Clinton.

Do you know what papers INM own in Ireland?

They own 13 regional newspapers.Sligo, Dundalk/Drogheda, Wexford, Wicklow, Bray, Kerry and Cork. The Sunday Independent, The Irish Independent, The Evening Herald, The Sunday World, 49 per cent of The Irish Daily Star, Ireland's Own, The Belfast Telegraph.

Most regional newspapers are owned by INM, Crosby group, Johnston Press and the Alpha Newspaper Group owned by John Taylor – Lord Kilclooney

The NUJ will say it is not a good idea that regional newspapers are owned by four large conglomerates.
Last month the Offaly Independent closed and NUJ’s Seamus Dooley pointed out that what had happened in the newspaper trade has been a dark day for journalism. He pointed out that local newspapers were never a cash cow but during the years of the Celtic Tiger, big
business moved in and bought up most of the regional media. The Clare Champion is still in family hands.

The Leinster Leader has halved its circulation in the last five years. Johnston Press bought it and if they were to recoup their money they would have to put a cover price of €10 on the paper.

The crass obeisance that Irish society gave to the church in Ireland for all my childhood and youth was unusual, to say the least. Certainly not healthy.

Go to your local library and look through old editions of your local newspapers and see how the newspapers were cap in hand with the church. And newspapers always capture the mood of the time. Just look at The Kerryman I
have here from 1953.

That was Ireland.

I think it is worth noting that the Vatican Council ran from 1962 to 1965 and during that time, RTE television was born. So this year we are celebrating 50 years of the Council and RTE Television.

Maybe some of you have read Robert Kaiser’s definitive work on the Vatican Council. In that book Kaiser clearly and in the most descriptive way possible explains that when it comes to being media savvy in any sort of normal way the Vatican was lost. It seemed the Vatican had not got the tools to deal with the modern media.

Redemptorist Francis X Murphy, who used the pseudonym Xavier Rynne revealed the inner workings of the Vatican Council to The New Yorker. He is credited with setting the tone for the popular view of the council, depicting it as conservative versus liberal.

But it is worth noting that the first two documents of Vatican II, from 1963, were the ones on liturgy and on social communication. Vivian Boland said to me that the church has always been very conscious and aware of methods of communication, uses them but also sees itself in rivalry with other 'communicators'. But why the rivalry? The church’s mission is to disseminate the Word of God in the here and now - the world in which we live.

Pope JohnXXlll saw in his election the commission to love the world in a special way, to minister to it and serve it.

The French Dominican Chenu said that the love of truth was more efficacious, more true in the intrepid witness of dialogue than in the protectionism of interdicts and defensive bulwarks.

I saw in a recent edition of the Tablet Archbishop DiNoia says it’s okay to criticise Chenu, Congar and deLubac now.

Karl Barth spoke about a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
So why is the church so scared of an open and free media? Last month they appointed Opus Dei man, Greg Burke to a newly created position of media adviser. Mr Burke has been working for Fox News for the last 10 years!
Fox is owned by the Murdoch [News] Corp. And Rupert Murdoch is a Papal Knight. He received his knighthood in 1998, the year before he married his third wife, Wendi Deng.

In June Rowan Williams commented how poor the Anglican Communion is in disseminating the good news stories it has.

The Vatican Council came and gave a great opportunity to people like Austin Flannery, Sean Mac Reamonn, John Horgan and Louis McRedmond. They were given the opportunity of reporting the workings of the Council, its reports and procedures. They were also able to convey the gossip and magic that surrounds the Vatican. It was a great opportunity for newspapers. But it also allowed some aspects of theological discussion to appear on Irish newspapers.
And Austin Flannery used the opportunity to perfection. He was there at the right moment and he deserves great praise for what he did.

Archbishop McQuaid set up his Radharc team and the Dominicans sent off Rom Dodd and TP McInerney to study radio and TV. When writing the obituary on TP for the Irish Times I contacted Claire Duignan MD of RTE Radio - her respect and praise for Tom really struck me

But the Council document on Communications was actually very different from the ecumenical spirit and practice of Vatican ll. It deals primarily with one church rather than with Christianity at large; it relied on outdated Catholic misconceptions rather than upon creative achievements of the secular mass communication profession and practice.

It falls far short of the high standard established by other documents. One Catholic editor at the time said about it, “it is not only
pre-aggiornamento but definitely pre-Pius Xll.
Isn’t ironic that back then a commentator said that the Decree might one day be cited as a classic example of how Vatican ll failed to come to grips with the world around it.

Of course the Council had its limitations but its efforts meant that the church could never go back to the old ways. Or could it? But certainly it allowed the media to have a less exaggerated opinion or understanding of the church.

Anyone who has been following the current Vatileaks one has to be struck by the tone and the language that the Vatican uses. I for one find their tone alienating.

Cardinal Bertone has spoken of a conspiracy against the church. I’m sure there’s not, but even if there is, to use the word ‘conspiracy’ is immediately setting a bad tone.

Time never stands still and certainly the media carnival never stands still. It is constantly moving from one story to another. News needs to be new. It is voracious for news and sensation. And that too applies to the newspapers of record.

And what better sensational stories, than what has been going on in Mother Church year after year. The mix of the secrecy of the church, its stringent views on all matters dealing with sexuality, makes it so inviting for newspapers.

And may I say the church’s apparent incompetence when it comes to dealing with the media has left the media with no alternative but to behave as it does.

The church considers itself above the ephemeral world of newspapers and that’s why we are where we are.

Never forget that the newspaper of today is used tomorrow as fish and chip wrapper. Of course it is an ephemeral world, a moving vision but it is a medium that people have to use and the church has seldom if ever used it in any sort of professional way.
The church always and ever seems to give the impression that it knows best. Newspapers hate that and so will make it their business to take them down a peg or two.

I remember when I was a novice Fr Basil Prendergast was alleged to have been involved in a coven in England. I think at the time I thought he had married a witch!

It’s a long time ago but I can still remember all the talk was that the provincial had managed to keep it out of the Irish papers but could not keep it out of the News of the World. There was a feeling that we were protecting Ireland by keeping the story out of the papers.

And isn’t that interesting - the church always uses that word SCANDAL. Everything must be kept quiet for fear of scandalising people. Of course papers love SCANDAL

May I jump forward to 2002. I was working in the Kerryman. We received a call at the office from an upset mother. Her son had been convicted of drink driving and she wanted to know would we keep it out of the paper.

It so happened that we did not have a reporter in court on the day. Had she not called we would never have known about it. But once she called we made it our business to get the story and publish it.

That’s how newspapers work. And it is a lesson well worth learning.

I have to admit that I have been ‘damaged’ by journalism. If Helen, Mary and I were walking down the road and we came on a road accident, I imagine Helen Mary’s first reaction would be what to do. Mine might well be to ask where are they from and is there a story in it.

I think what is happening with the Catholic press at present is not at all helpful to the long-term mission of the church. I sometimes get the impression that if it could go back to the old days it would jump at the opportunity.

It’s the small things that catch them out.
Regularly, indeed far too often the Irish Catholic will publish photographs. Every cleric will have his name and title and not a name or title for the non clerics in the same photo. Every week I notice they do that.

When I was with The Kerryman a picture could simply not appear without the name of every single person noted. I spotted a religious publication recently and every single picture
was captionless. That is simply insulting to the reader and crass unprofessionalism.

Take the simplest mistake - how often do we use the word church as if the Catholic church is the only church in the world? Think for a moment of the insult and hurt to people of other Christian denominations. We don’t need to say Catholic church every time, but the first mention in any piece of writing or broadcasting must include it - good manners alone requires that.
I believe we priests have terribly inflated ideas about our own skills. And guess what newspaper editors notice that.

Newspapers owe us nothing, nothing at all.

The church really needs to come down off its high horse and realise that.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin’s Russia they are in the game of attempting to control media and get media to say nice things about them. We are the church telling the story of the marginalised.

Of course none of us wants to read bad news about ourselves in the newspaper and anyone with a grain of sense would do all in her or his power to keep bad news out of the paper.

When I finish this talk some of you might well say that I have been too harsh. Personally, I think I am being mild mannered and avoiding all hyperbole. And yes I know my long-suffering superiors have me down as a
fully-paid up member of the Awkward Squad.

There are some things I have learned over the years.

When you send something to a newspaper it must be well written, concise. Write it in such a way that after one paragraph the sub editor wants to read on. Presume nothing. One of the great skills I learned as a sub editor was to be able after the first paragraph to know whether or not the person could write.

Be clear, Re read it many times, using the scalpel generously. As a school teacher, I have noticed the improvement students make when they re-read their essays, especially, weaker students. I gave grinds to a young boy who is dyslexic and re-reading work has transformed the boy.

Don’t think that your words are the most important and greatest words ever written. Presume nothing.

Don’t be pompous. Watch out for the little things that might indeed prove far more important than you think. For example, why upper case Priest, Bishop, Cardinal? Only upper case in titles, Doctor Murphy, Bishop Murphy, Cardinal Daly.

Have you ever made it your business to get a copy of a newspaper’s style guide? Have you ever checked out The Guardian’s Style
Guide on the web?

Use simple everyday words. Be truthful. And when you have sent your story by email make sure to follow it up with a telephone call.

I also think it is important for an order or congregation to have a dedicated person who will deal with the media. And by that I mean someone who is a good networker and gets to know journalists.

In the past the networking might have been with editors as it was a power and authoritative relationship. But today it’s important that we get to know the journalists on the ground.

I wonder when last did an Irish Dominican go for lunch or coffee with a journalist.

In my job in the press office in Concern I deal with the regional Irish media and I cannot stress the importance of networking. You cannot imagine how easy my job is as a result of knowing journalists in newspapers.

I have never seen the Irish Media Contacts Directory in any of our priories. I find that strange for an order that says it is dedicated to preaching the Word.

I can well imagine that the art of networking has proved most beneficial for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. No doubt you know his brother. Seamus Martin is a former Irish Times journalist. Ireland is a small place and one journalist knows another and the word spread very fast. And to his credit the archbishop has used his own media savvy and his networking to great benefit.

I think when it comes to dealing with the media and getting across the message of the Gospel it is essential we are gentle and kind, easy with other people. Far too often we give the silly impression of being proud and
arrogant, knowing it all.

And that’s so strange because we all know so little about God.

But I remain convinced that the Church has an amazing privilege and indeed obligation always to stay engaged with the world.

A Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, or at least the electronic versions.

Are we as Dominicans convinced of our message. What is our message? Surely it is one of Good News and hope in a country, in a world that so needs hope.
Do we believe in the importance of our story?

In my job in Concern I hear how people see that our work is worthy but maybe dull. How do we go that extra step to show that our work is yes worthy but also dynamic?

The Good News surely is worthy and dynamic.

What a privilege it is to tell the world.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dominican Sisters' three day summer seminar

The Irish Dominican Sisters are hosting a three day seminar in Dublin this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The theme is, Vatican II Remembering, Reclaiming, Proclaiming.

Among those speaking are Helen Mary Harmey, Margaret MacCurtain, Bernard Treacy, Seamus Tuohy and Bishop Richard Clarke.

The writer of this blog is speaking tomorrow on the media. The theme of the talk is that the primary purpose of newspapers is to make money for shareholders and that there is not a media agenda against the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ACP assemblies in Galway and Mallow

The Association of Catholic Priests has announced regional assemblies for Galway and Mallow.

The Galway assembly is planned for October 6 in Galway's Clayton Hotel and the Mallow assembly is in the Commons Inn on October 13.

Over 1,000 people attended the meeting in Dublin in May.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany

Georgi Zhukov
Friedrich Paulus
Seventy years ago today the battle of Stalingrad began.

It lasted until the following February.

Zhukov told Paulus he would see him again in Berlin

He did.

Zhukov went on to be the Soviet man in charge of Berlin after the war.

He became Soviet Defence Minister. Stalin fired him and he was later rehabilitated.

His two daughters became well-known personalities travelling all over Russia speaking about their famous father.

Paulus lived out his life in Dresden and was an adviser to the East German army.

His body was brought for burial in Baden, in the then West Germany, next to that of his wife, who had died in 1949 having not seen her husband since his departure for the Eastern front in the summer of 1942.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Two articles, one neutral, one nasty

Saturday's 'Irish Times' Weekend Supplement carried a feature on gay marriage. The page-long feature was titled 'How gay marriage went mainstream'.

The article was written by Kathy Sheridan.

There was nothing nasty or sneering about the piece. It told the story of what has happened in Ireland over the last few years and how people now accept the phenomenon of civil partnerships, whether a couple is tying the knot in Longford or Enniscorthy.

In the current issue of 'Alive' there is an editorial on the same topic. The anger and nastiness in the piece screams out at the reader.

What does that mean? Is it saying something?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Irish don't like to talk about sex

Mentioned on this blog last week, Dil Wickremasinghe writes again this week in The Irish Times.

She blames the Catholic Church for the fact that Irish people don't like to talk about sex.

What would she write if she spent two or three years living in a religious community, especially a place where men 'train' to be priests.

It would be interesting to know what she would write about those who 'form' the 'trainees'.

Of course Dil Wickremasinghe has not the definitive word on the topic. But surely those who think they have, certainly don't.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Even the Germans need to work harder

Every thing is relative.

Today General Motors announced a change at their Opel plant in Rüsselsheim in Germany.

The current MD is being replaced by GM's US vice president.

German car industry commentators point out that the new man from the US is 'tough' and the Germans are in for harsh times.

Kind and easy words go a long way

Of course it's tempting to read our own interpretation ino the Bible. But the Gospel reading today gives the impression of someone who tells his disciples to go easy on other people. If they are not interested in what you are saying then head off somewhere else.

There is something gentle and nice about that. There is certainly nothing strident or fanatical about it.

How lucky we are to live in a system that, more or less, allows people to be.

Being trenchant about anything seems unattractive.

How can anyone ever be trenchant when it comes to do with God? Is that not heading towards idolatry?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dominican gives thumbs up to criticise French brothers

Archbishop Di Noia talks of retreat.
US Dominican Archbishop Gus DiNoia,  has told an American Catholic paper he believes "the dominant progressivism reading of the Second Vatican Council is in retreat" and this should make it easier to reconcile the so-called Lefebvrists with Rome.

"So Benedict has liberated us for the first time. You can now criticise De Lubac, Congar, Chenu" the American Dominican told the National Catholic Register.

Archbishop DiNoia said he was "sympathetic" towards the Lefebvrists and some of their concerns.

DiNoia was in the past elected provinical of his Dominican province in the US but the election was not upheld by the then Master of the Order, Timothy Radcliffe.

At the time there was much speculation as to why the worldwide head of the Dominican Order had not sanctioned DiNoia's election.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A woman who finds freedom in Dublin

Dil Wickremasinghe writes a piece in today's Irish Times on last Saturday's Gay Pride parade in Dublin, which attracted an estimated 30,000 people.

She writes about her own sexual discovery growing up in Sri Lanka and how life was 'incredibly hard' for her.

The theme of last Saturday's Dublin parade was, 'Show your true colours'.

Were there any Catholic priests present in the parade?

The story of Dil Wickremasinghe is interesting and sad too - her mother threw her out and her father suggested she kill herself. Horrific.

So what happens gay men who are priests? What would have happened gay priests had they marched last Saturday? Would they be asked not to march? Would they be asked to retire from their priesthood? Would they be asked to hide or deny their sexual orientation?

Why is it that priests, who are gay, appear to be misogynysts, unlike open gay men?

Why is it that gay priests, in the norm, are trenchant in their conservatism?

Why is it that closet gay priests place such great emphasis on ritual and liturgy?

What happens in a religious communiity when the number of gay men outnumbers those who are heterosexual?

Does it matter?

Is it more healthy for it all to be swept under the carpet?

Reading Dil Wickremasinghe, it would seem the role of silence and denial is not healthy.

Anyone with a close expereince with the institutional church must be forced to agree with Dil Wickremasinghe.

Amos - a prophet for our time

The first reading at Mass today is from the prophet Amos.

Amos lived between 783 and 743. It was a period of prosperity in the Northern Kingdom but it was also a time when the wealthy exploited the poor.

A quote from the Jerusalem Bible: "Fine liturgical show disguised the lack of sound religion."

Amos was surely a man of our time.

And guess what he was expelled from Israel.

Among the things he condemned was the deceitful consolation of insincere ceremonial.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Brave words of von Galen

This is an excerpt of a sermon by Cardinal Clemens von Galen, delivered on Sunday, August 3, 1941, in Münster Cathedral, in which he risked his life by openly condemning the Nazi euthanasia programme.

Fellow Christians! In the pastoral letter of the German bishops of June 26, 1941, which was read out in all the Catholic churches in Germany on July 6, 1941, it states among other things: It is true that there are definite commandments in Catholic moral doctrine which are no longer applicable if their fulfillment involves too many difficulties.

However, there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one has the power to release us and which we must fulfil even if it costs us our lives. Never under any circumstances may a human being kill an innocent person apart from war and legitimate self-defense. On July 6, I already had cause to add to the pastoral letter the following explanation: for some months we have been hearing reports that, on the orders of Berlin, patients from mental asylums who have been ill for a long time and may appear incurable, are being compulsorily removed. Then, after a short time, the relatives are regularly informed that the corpse has been burnt and the ashes can be delivered. There is a general suspicion verging on certainty, that these numerous unexpected deaths of mentally ill people do not occur of themselves but are deliberately brought about, that the doctrine is being followed, according to which one may destroy so-called 'worthless life,' that is, kill innocent people if one considers that their lives are of no further value for the nation and the state.

I am reliably informed that lists are also being drawn up in the asylums of the province of Westphalia as well of those patients who are to be taken away as so-called 'unproductive national comrades' and shortly to be killed. The first transport left the Marienthal institution near Münster during this past week.

German men and women, section 211 of the Reich Penal Code is still valid. It states: 'He who deliberately kills another person will be punished by death for murder if the killing is premeditated.'

Those patients who are destined to be killed are transported away from home to a distant asylum presumably in order to protect those who deliberately kill those poor people, members of our families, from this legal punishment. Some illness is then given as the cause of death. Since the corpse has been burnt straight away, the relatives and also the criminal police are unable to establish whether the illness really occurred and what the cause of death was.

However, I have been assured that the Reich Interior Ministry and the office of the Reich Doctors' Leader, Dr. Conti, make no bones about the fact that in reality a large number of mentally ill people in Germany have been deliberately killed and more will be killed in the future.

The Penal Code lays down in section 139: 'He who receives credible information concerning the intention to commit a crime against life and neglects to alert the authorities or the person who is threatened in time...will be punished.'

When I learned of the intention to transport patients from Marienthal in order to kill them, I brought a formal charge at the State Court in Münster and with the Police President in Münster by means of a registered letter which read as follows: "According to information which I have received, in the course of this week a large number of patients from the Marienthal Provincial Asylum near Münster are to be transported to the Eichberg asylum as so-called 'unproductive national comrades' and will then soon be deliberately killed, as is generally believed has occurred with such transports from other asylums. Since such an action is not only contrary to the moral laws of God and Nature but also is punishable with death as murder under section 211 of the Penal Code, I hereby bring a charge in accordance with my duty under section 139 of the Penal Code, and request you to provide immediate protection for the national comrades threatened in this way by taking action against those agencies who are intending their removal and murder, and that you inform me of the steps that have been taken."

I have received no news concerning intervention by the Prosecutor's Office or by the police...Thus we must assume that the poor helpless patients will soon be killed.

For what reason?

Not because they have committed a crime worthy of death. Not because they attacked their nurses or orderlies so that the latter had no other choice but to use legitimate force to defend their lives against their attackers. Those are cases where, in addition to the killing of an armed enemy in a just war, the use of force to the point of killing is allowed and is often required.

No, it is not for such reasons that these unfortunate patients must die but rather because, in the opinion of some department, on the testimony of some commission, they have become 'worthless life' because according to this testimony they are 'unproductive national comrades.' The argument goes: they can no longer produce commodities, they are like an old machine that no longer works, they are like an old horse which has become incurably lame, they are like a cow which no longer gives milk.

What does one do with such an old machine? It is thrown on the scrap heap. What does one do with a lame horse, with such an unproductive cow?

No, I do not want to continue the comparison to the end--however fearful the justification for it and the symbolic force of it are. We are not dealing with machines, horses and cows whose only function is to serve mankind, to produce goods for man. One may smash them, one may slaughter them as soon as they no longer fulfil this function.

No, we are dealing with human beings, our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters. With poor people, sick people, if you like unproductive people.

But have they for that reason forfeited the right to life?

Have you, have I the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive?

If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill 'unproductive' fellow human beings then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill the unproductive people then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one's unproductive fellow human beings then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids. If it is once accepted that people have the right to kill 'unproductive' fellow humans--and even if initially it only affects the poor defenseless mentally ill--then as a matter of principle murder is permitted for all unproductive people, in other words for the incurably sick, the people who have become invalids through labor and war, for us all when we become old, frail and therefore unproductive.

Then, it is only necessary for some secret edict to order that the method developed for the mentally ill should be extended to other 'unproductive' people, that it should be applied to those suffering from incurable lung disease, to the elderly who are frail or invalids, to the severely disabled soldiers. Then none of our lives will be safe any more. Some commission can put us on the list of the 'unproductive,' who in their opinion have become worthless life. And no police force will protect us and no court will investigate our murder and give the murderer the punishment he deserves.

Who will be able to trust his doctor any more?

He may report his patient as 'unproductive' and receive instructions to kill him. It is impossible to imagine the degree of moral depravity, of general mistrust that would then spread even through families if this dreadful doctrine is tolerated, accepted and followed.

Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation if God's Holy Commandment 'Thou shalt not kill,' which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder and lightning, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.

Cardinal Clemens von Galen - August 3, 1941

The sermon sent a shockwave through the Nazi leadership all the way up to Hitler. As a result, on August 23, 1941, Hitler suspended Aktion T4.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vatican first state to recognise Franco

The piece below appears in this week's Independent News and Media Irish regional newspapers. INM has 14 regional newspapers in Ireland. Audited readership figures for INM regionals is 440,000

By Michael Commane
As a result of what I wrote in last week’s column about Cardinal Dolan and clerical dress a local radio station invited me to discuss the topic on a
lunchtime programme.

And then the following day I received a text message from an elderly lady,
who is a friend of mine and very kind to me. But she always tells it as it is.

In her text message she wrote: “Why r U always giving out about the
Catholic Church? What it needs now is support?”

Of course I listened to what she said. I always do. Indeed, I telephoned
her but in the meantime something else had happened within the church that
had annoyed me and her too, I think.
I take my friend’s point. But I certainly would hate to belong to a church
of sycophants and ‘yes-men’.

Intercom is a pastoral and liturgical resource magazine published by
Veritas Group, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Commission on

The magazine appears 10 times a year. Many priests use it as a help in
preparing their liturgies and sermons.
In a short question and answer section on topics for last Sunday’s Mass Fr
Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap writes: “Open debate is one thing but open
dissent is another. There are enough critics outside the Church without
critics from within tearing it apart”.

Had I not come across that comment I might well have taken the advice of my
elderly friend and covered over the cracks and be ‘real nice’ in the column
this week.

I think Fr O’Flynn expresses a terrible ghetto mentality. I don’t believe
the church, the people of God, should see itself as being attacked from
outside. Surely the message of the Gospel is one of kindness, love,
persuasion and gentleness. The church is not an organisation, surrounded by
watchtowers, protecting itself from the world. Any cursory reading of the
Gospel will rid the reader of such banal ideas.

Some weeks ago I heard a commentator on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) claiming that the church had every reason to be triumphalistic.

That sounds horrible to me. Surely the church founded by Jesus Christ is a
church for the marginalised and always in support of the weak, the fragile,
those who are poor and in need of care, love and support.

So it is in that context that I spotted a church related topic during the
week that made me wonder about the church into which I was ordained a
priest 38 years ago on Saturday next.

The Vatican became the first foreign state to recognise the hastily
installed Federico Franco as President of Paraguay, after Fernando Lugo, a
former bishop, was forced from office.
Experts say Lugo’s removal from power is both a ‘coup’ and a ‘legal act’.
In his four years as president Lugo had established free health care,
extended free education by three years, given increased funding to schools
and introduced financial support for families whose children were begging
on the streets.

In a letter written by the Dominican Order from Asuncion, the capital of
Paraguay, we are told that: “The Senate removed Lugo in a political
judgement totally rejected by the citizens, who are in favour of those
social changes which were opening a way towards a more dignified life for
all.” The letter goes on to say that fortunately: “In the midst of the
unacceptable situation taking place in Paraguay, we have the support of the
international community”.

The foreign secretaries of 12 countries, which form the Union of South
American Nations (Unasur) were present in Asuncion and expressed their complete solidarity for the people of Paraguay, and they back
constitutional President Fernando Lugo.

MERCOSUR, a trading partnership of four South American countries meeting
last weekend suspended Paraguay from participation in support of ousted
President Fernando Lugo.

The Dominican letter finishes, thanking fellow Dominicans around the world
who have shown them solidarity and support.

And then we learn of how the Vatican is the first state to recognise the
new man. This is followed by a picture in the international press of a
bishop warmly embracing the new president, Federico Franco.

In last week’s Tablet, which is a an International Catholic weekly
magazine, published in the UK, Irish Dominican Larry Kelly, who spent many
years working in South America, writes a succinct and clear letter arguing
that the ‘coup’ must not be allowed succeed.

Now according to Fr Silvester O’Flynn, criticism from ‘within’ tears the
church apart’.

Mmm, I’m not sure about that. Indeed, I would have thought dialogue has to
be part of any institution or organisation that would ever claim to mention
the name of Jesus Christ.

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