Saturday 28 November 2009

A Response to the Murphy Report

It is the eve of Advent Sunday as I put these thoughts together – A day on which we are called upon to ‘cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light’. It could hardly be more appropriate in the aftermath of the Murphy Report which is surely a tale of darkness and depravity almost unparalleled in our nation’s history. We must indeed cast away these ‘works of darkness’ but that is not enough; we must ‘put on the armour of light’, i.e. we must do whatever needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable from those who would prey on them and those despicable individuals who would cover their sordid tracks.

So where do we start?
Starting at the top, we should expel the Papal Nuncio who along with his colleagues in the Vatican, including the Pope and his predecessors has demonstrated absolute contempt for the legal authorities of this State. They have actively frustrated and subverted the criminal investigation of clerical child abuse through non-cooperation and non-disclosure. This has undoubtedly delayed the uncovering of abusers and meant that many more young vulnerable lives have been damaged and in some cases destroyed. If any other nation’s representatives had facilitated this we would have no qualms about sending them packing. Our actions now will demonstrate whether this state has truly broken free from the shackles of the Vatican.

Anyone named in the report, be they cardinal, bishop, priest or lay, garda or civilian, should be investigated and where evidence of criminal behaviour or neglect is found they must be prosecuted, not for the sake of revenge, but for justice, in particular justice for those who paid the ultimate price at the hands of these vile abusers.

The ‘formation’ of priests will have to be investigated – If there is something inherent in it that has bred so many abusive clergy then that needs to be identified and challenged. My own church, the Church of Ireland, part of the Anglican Communion is not immune to clerical child abuse but it is far less prevalent and has been at broadly similar levels to that in society as a whole. I have a strong suspicion that the high incidence in the Roman Catholic church is not unrelated to compulsory celibacy – Whether these deviant individuals are attracted to a boys only club with access to vulnerable children or perhaps that the repression of sexuality within the priesthood leads to such twisted manifestations of sexual behaviour I am not sure – I suspect both are factors. This is not an excuse however – There is no excuse for this abominable crime.
In the light of what has happened the church can no longer simply say they are forbidden to talk about priestly celibacy! If this discipline contributes in any way to the situation it is certainly not of God. Historically it was not primarily theological but pragmatic reasons that led to the discipline of compulsory celibacy in the Roman Church and it only became universal in the 12th Century. It may need a radical rethink!

Similarly if there is something in that same formation that supports and reinforces the culture of silence that has sheltered abusers then that too needs to be determined. If the concept of ‘Mental Reservation’, used by Cardinal Connell to justify lying about abusers to civil authorities, is as mainstream in so called Catholic Moral Theology as it now appears one would have to wonder just how moral that theology is. It seems to me that morality has been supplanted by a perverted legalism that is not so much immoral as amoral.

Up till now I have been reluctant to comment on this issue in a sister church – As a convinced and committed ecumenist, which I still am, I did not want to be seen to be point scoring, but this is to serious to hold back for fear of jeopardising friendships. The deliberate and systematic cover up is inexcusable and a complete betrayal of children and the Gospel – Incidentally I think the disconnect is not remotely as prevalent on the ground among the parish clergy – The problem seems to be at higher levels where some bishops have not only let down children but also the vast majority of clergy who were not abusers and now find themselves tarred with the same brush.

We are very lucky in this diocese of Killaloe where I am based to have a Roman Catholic bishop of the stature of Bishop Willie Walsh who has consistently represented the marginalised and put them first – He understands that the role of the church is on the margins not dominating and controlling society. Christianity and power don’t mix! That is another lesson that all the churches, my own included have to take on board. We are called to be ‘not of this world’ which does not mean that we are above the law and a law onto ourselves but rather that we are called to minister to those who this world would hurt and destroy. Ironically in a selfish attempt to hold onto a power that should never have been held by the church, some have destroyed those who they were entrusted to protect. I can only hope and pray that this is truly the end of this tragic chapter in our nation’s history – firstly for the sake of children who of their nature remain vulnerable regardless of child protection policies, and secondly for a church which set free from its bondage to power could do so much more good among those who have been marginalised in so many ways in our world today.

This post referenced in Irish Times today in article by Patsy McGarry: HERE

And also on RTE Drivetime 30/11/09 HERE approx 55 mins in from beginning of show

Nuncio responds Here

Thursday 26 November 2009

When is a lie not a lie?

This is an early report on the Murphy report on clerical child abuse in Dublin Diocese, released today - Makes for very disturbing reading:

Church 'lied without lying'

PATSY MCGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Thu, Nov 26, 2009

One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying.

According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a church man knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying”.

It gives an example. “John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates. The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not.”

The commission added: “This is clearly untrue but in the Church’s view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved the words '…to you’.”

Marie Collins, who was abused by a Dublin priest, “was particularly angered by the use by the Church authorities of ‘mental reservation’ in dealing with complaints,” the report said.

It continued that Cardinal Desmond Connell had explained the concept to the commission as follows:

“Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realizing that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying. It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”

Example of how they experienced the use of such ‘mental reservaton’ by Church authorities in Dublin were supplied to the commission by Mrs Collins and fellow abuse victim Andrew Madden.

In Mrs Collins’s case, the Dublin archdiocese said in a 1997 press statement that it had co-operated with gardai where her complaint of abuse was concerned. She was upset by it as she had reason to believe otherwise. Her support priest Fr James Norman made inquiries and later told gardaí he that when he did so, the archdiocese replied “we never said we co-operated fully” - placing emphasis on the word ‘fully’ - with the gardaí.

In Mr Madden’s case, Cardinal Connell emphasised he did not lie to the media about the use of diocesan funds for the compensation of clerical child sexual abuse victims.

He explained to Mr Madden he had told journalists “that diocesan funds ARE (report’s emphasis) not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds WERE not used for such a purpose. By using the present tense he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past. According to Mr Madden, Cardinal Connell considered that there was an enormous difference between the two.”

In May 1995, Cardinal Connell denied that diocesan funds were used in paying compensation to abuse victims. When it emerged on RTÉ in September that year that Ivan Payne was loaned €30,000 by the archdiocese to pay compensation to Mr Madden, Cardinal Connell still insisted this was not compensation by the archdiocese. He threatened to sue RTÉ, but did not do so.

Monday 23 November 2009

Is the Parish Pump the limit of our Vision?

The country is in climatic and economic chaos. Homes and businesses are being destroyed by floodwaters and an avalanche of failing enterprises & consequent unemployment, both accelerating at an unprecedented rate.
Meanwhile in a parallel universe somewhere between Oz and Tir na Nog, public sector workers who have secure jobs, income and pension are withdrawing service because they feel they have endured more than their share.
They are not alone in that! I feel that too as one whose job description hovers somewhere between the private and public sectors. Private sector workers and employers feel it too. We are all justly indignant at economic mismanagement and corruption on a national and global scale and we all resent having to dig deeper to bale out those who showed us little generosity in better times. It offends our sense of justice and fair play in the same way as we were incensed by the ‘Hand of Henry’ incident in the World cup qualifier.

Though it will not raise enough money to avoid further widespread economic pain there needs to be some more tangible and extensive sacrifice by those in positions of power and influence such as Government and banking if we are going to ask people on lower wages and even social welfare to accept cuts in their income. There is no credibility in a Taoiseach earning more than the American president lecturing people earning less than a tenth of his income on the necessity to accept further cutbacks. It just doesn’t ring true! We are a small island economy on the verge of bankruptcy and we cannot afford the illusion of being a major player on the world stage. If the citizens are to cut their cloth according to their measure then so must those who would lead and perhaps even inspire us.

There is a danger however that the anger that we all feel, public and private sector alike, blinds us to a few home truths. This government that oversaw the spectacular demise of our economy did not drop out of space. We elected them. They came from our ranks. They were shaped by our demands of them. And what were those demands? We treated them like fixers, local councillors writ large. The dual mandate may have gone but that didn’t change anything; we still expected them to look after our right of way, our sons’ or daughters’ planning permission, and our passport applications. We expected them to spend their days chasing rural funerals and to attend every public event across often scattered communities. And on top of that we expected them to be efficient and expert legislators fully aware of the minutiae of what was going on in their respective departments and committees. No matter how much money we threw at them that was always going to be an impossible ask. Oh and not content with the impossible we also expected them to somehow perpetuate a system where personal wealth grew exponentially and taxation fell in equal proportion. Are we honestly saying we had no part in this? Did we really believe in this Neverland Economics or did we hope that it would last long enough to see us through?
Well now we know the answer and sadly there is no hidden pot of gold for us to fall back on. It seems that the once wealthy bankers and property developers were smoking what they were selling. There is no solution to this economic crisis that does not and will not inflict universal pain.

In looking for the silver lining in our economic meltdown there are those who said that this would bring us closer together; that in shared adversity we would pull together. That it seems was a vain hope! In good times we looked after number one and so it is today.
We are reaping the rewards of parish pump style government that became trapped by narrow sectional interest and now the unions are leading us down a similar blind alley that will only further divide and polarize a society that needs more than ever before to discover a shared responsibility for a shared crisis.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Elikya Gospel Choir come to Cloughjordan

Superb service this morning thanks to the inspirational music of 'Elikya' (Hope) Gospel Choir. This just a small sample which I grabbed at the end of the service on my phone camera. There was a great mix of styles and pace but all beautiful and inspirational.


How it happened (Origin)

Elikya Choir is a gospel choir and began in 2001 as a project initiated by Doras Lumini (an organisation for refugees and asylum seekers in Limerick), and the Irish World Music Centre at the University of Limerick with the primary objective of promoting multicultural diversity and integration. In February 2006, it was awarded a charity status. Their aims include:
* To present an avenue where peoples of all cultures, races and backgrounds will come together to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving
* Provide to the people of Limerick an African traditional music as an alternative to the Irish traditional music.
* Provide a forum where everyone and from every culture or race will find a sense of belonging.
* Introduce Limerick to some of the cultural and traditional values of the African, including the use of African drums and other singing instruments.
* Provide a forum of workshops where the Irish and non-nationals will learn how to sing and play and understand some aspects of the African people and other ways of singing and to also create an awareness of the philosophy of Elykia Choir.
* Render services free of charge for the greater majority of the people and the community as a whole whenever and wherever needed. (They do this with the hope that they will continue to introduce this rich culture to Ireland and also to maintain good relations with the society).

Who we are & Membership
Elykia comprises of members from the DRC, Angola, South Africa, England, Ireland, Holland etc. At the very beginning, members were mostly peoples from the Congo who were and or living in Ireland because the choir sings predominantly in Linglala, but over time, the uniqueness of the choir opened doors to people from all other parts of the world and continues to do so. It has seen witness the growth of talents and size where they have people with some of the most remarkable voices ever heard across Ireland

Saturday 21 November 2009

Norwegian Choir Wow Cloughjordan

This most unusual choir of 5 voices has only been formed for 2 months and yet they sound as if they have been playing together forever! Beautiful voices and haunting melodies combine to give a wonderfully uplifting experience. As yet unamed the choir are thinking of calling themselves 'Clough' after Cloughjordan Co. Tipperary where this performance took place on Nov 21st 2009. We look forward to more :-) The performance took place in St. Kieran's Church where I am rector.

Friday 20 November 2009

Not content with the All Ireland - Kilkenny Cats try to steal Obama

What a week! Bad enough that we should have world cup qualification stolen from us but Kilkenny are once again trying to muscle in on Moneygall and President Obama's ancestry. See the article here, and also below.

A couple of points relating to this article - Yes of course Kilkenny is part of the story but very much to a lesser extent than Moneygall.

1 Moneygall is not the 'alleged' birthplace of Fulmouth Kearney - It is the birthplace!
2 The actual location of the family home has been located and it is not 'waste ground' but is a house on the main street with some of the original structure of the cottage that preceded it visible. This research was independly conducted by TCD genealogists at Eneclann
3 The tomb in Kilkenny is not therefore “the only tangible link” to Obama but is in fact a far out Great Great Great Great Grand Uncle of President Obama's!

I am glad to see that Mr Rooney was not hoodwinked by this slight of hand by Kilkenny and is still minded to bring the President to Co. Offaly. I am sure the President if he comes will want to visit both sites and indeed perhaps Shinrone, Co. Offaly as well where there are also genuine links to the President. Other links can be promoted without the need to do down the widely acknowledged primary site in Moneygall.

Kilkenny in episcopal pitch on Obama ancestry


Thu, Nov 19, 2009

WHILE BARACK Obama continues his nine-day visit to Asia, the campaign to establish his Irish ancestry has intensified.

Kilkenny has become, after Offaly, the second county to pitch for inclusion on the itinerary if he decides, like many Americans, to visit Ireland in search of his roots.

Yesterday, in scenes worthy of The Da Vinci Code, the US ambassador visited the medieval St Canice’s Cathedral to investigate, at first-hand, reports of a tomb which allegedly proves the connection.

Dan Rooney, accompanied by his wife Patricia, was shown the grave of John Kearney, a bishop of Ossory and provost of Trinity College, who died in 1813 and was, according to researchers, the great, great, great, great granduncle of Mr Obama.

The ambassador, who plans to brief the president on this newly-discovered branch of his family tree, said that Mr Obama is “very much” interested in his Irish heritage and “wants to come” here. However, no date has yet been pencilled in for a visit because the president’s schedule is “so full”.

Mr Rooney, who was appointed by Mr Obama, said that “the first time I met Barack the candidate I told him, ‘you’ve got to come to Ireland’ and he said, ‘I’ll go with you, that’s great’.”

The Kilkenny “claim” on the US president may prompt a stand-off with residents of Moneygall in south Co Offaly. The village, with a population of 298, on the Dublin-Limerick road is the alleged birthplace of Fulmouth Kearney, a shoemaker’s son who emigrated to America in 1850 after the Famine and became Mr Obama’s great, great, great grandfather – on his mother’s side.

But, although the Offaly bloodline is more direct, there is no physical structure around which to develop a tourist destination. The site where the Kearney house once stood is today a patch of waste ground. The one-acre plot is owned by the county council – which had planned to use it for social housing but is now reportedly considering building a “heritage centre”.

The authorities in Kilkenny are hoping that the tomb – which Pat Nolan, director of the Irish Origins Research Agency described as “the only tangible link” to Mr Obama – may help to secure a presidential visit and boost tourism.

The mayor, Cllr Malcolm Noonan, is sending an invitation to the White House. The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, a native and resident of Co Offaly, has already invited Mr Obama to Moneygall.

Mr Rooney diplomatically hinted that the president could visit both destinations. The impeccably blue-collar credentials of Offaly’s Fulmouth Kearney – who embarked on the American Dream as an illiterate farm labourer in Indiana – may appeal to a Democrat president.

But, as the Church of Ireland Dean of St Canice’s, Norman Lynas, pointed out, Kilkenny’s John Kearney represented “the eminent side of the family that you’d want to be associated with”.

On a day of unexpected connections, Mr Rooney, who is also chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said his football club currently employed a security guard called John Kearney who is “extremely Irish”.

© 2009 The Irish Times

Thursday 19 November 2009

The Hand of Henry - Sing this song and register your protest!

No time to waste! - Circulate this far and wide until Monsieur Henry is brought to book - And remember: No Baguettes, No vin francais and I'd rather wear a beard than use Gilette!

Monday 16 November 2009

INTO - With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I have just penned this letter to the papers:

Dear Sir/Madam,
In common with many clergy in Ireland I am a school manager and Chairperson of the parish school Board of Management. (I am aware that that is an issue in itself but that is a discussion for another day.) Today, in this capacity I received written strike notice from INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation), informing me of the forthcoming industrial action on Tuesday 24 November 2009.
I was not at all surprised to get the letter but I was surprised and disappointed at the tone of the letter. It informed me (in bold type) that 'members in all schools have been directed to withdraw their services on that day. Accordingly, INTO members will not attend for work on Tuesday 24 November 2009. Yours sincerely........'
My disappointment stems from what the letter failed to say as opposed to what it said. There was no expression of regret for the disruption that this would cause for children and families and nor was there any acknowledgement of the discomfort most teachers feel in withdrawing service. In my experience the vast majority of our teachers have a deeply vocational attitude to their work and despite the common begrudgery surrounding their hours and holidays serve us and our children exceptionally well. The teachers that I have the pleasure of engaging with are women and men with a real love for their work and the children they teach.
These teachers deserve better than the abrupt communication delivered on their behalf by the INTO. If I was a member of that union I would feel badly let down. In the current financial crisis there is an emerging consensus that we need as a people to express common ground and to build a sense of shared rights and responsibilities. This arrogant and callous communication will only serve to deepen division and confirm prejudice. I would implore teachers to make sure that they are better served in future for this is a betrayal of their integrity by those who are supposed to be their allies and fellow professionals.

Rev'd Canon Stephen Neill
Modreeny Rectory,
Co. Tipperary

Bones are for Burying

Most interesting column by Sarah Carey in last week's Irish Times re the fate of human remains disturbed on an ongoing basis during our building boom. A very sensible and sensitive piece: Read it HERE

Thursday 5 November 2009

Some useful advice for the Anglican Communion

I came across this today in 'The Irish Catholic' Fr. Rolheiser is one of the main reasons I read this paper. If we in the Anglican Communion were to follow his advice how much better things might be. His columns are available HERE

On Litmus Tests for Christian Discipleship


We live today with a lot of polarization, both inside of our churches and in society at large. There is something healthy in this, despite its bitter underside. Moral outrage and anger is in the end an indication of moral fervor. We still believe in things, in right and wrong. There's virtue in that.

But that being said, there is also something very unhealthy in our present situation, one within which sincere people can no longer have a civil and respectful conversation with each other over certain moral and religious issues because each side ultimately disrespects the other, convinced that the other has sold out on some issue that constitutes a litmus test for moral goodness. Inside the church and inside of our civic political processes, invariably, each side, liberal and conservative alike, has one issue that is its ultimate non-negotiable and which constitutes the litmus test by which to judge the moral and religious goodness of everyone else.

For some the single issue is a moral one (abortion, gay marriage, justice for a particular group), for others the single issue is an ecclesial practice (church attendance. membership in a particular denomination), and for others the single issue is dogmatic (women's ordination, the uncritical acceptance of scripture or of church authority, syncretism). But invariably one issue is singled out so as to become the basis for an ultimate discriminating judgment, a litmus test, as to whether someone else is worthy of religious and moral respect.

But is this legitimate? Can a single issue become a litmus test? What does Jesus say on this? What do the scriptures say on this? Can one single moral or religious issue be seen as constituting the very essence, the center, the non-negotiable heart of Christian discipleship?

In a sense, yes, though this must be carefully nuanced. As well, each New Testament writer formats this in a different way:

In the Gospel of Matthew the moral heart of discipleship is articulated by Jesus in what we call The Sermon on the Mount. At its center lies this challenge: Can you love an enemy? Can you truly forgive someone who has hurt you? Can you bless someone who has cursed you? Can you be good to those who have done you harm? Can you forgive a murderer?

This challenge is what sets Jesus' moral teaching apart from others and gives it its unique character - and its real teeth. This is meant to be the distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus: He or she can love and forgive an enemy. If the Gospel of Matthew, or perhaps the New Testament as a whole, gives us a litmus test for discipleship, this might be its one-line formulation: Can you love and forgive an enemy?

Luke's Gospel makes essentially the same point in a different language. There Jesus challenges us to be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate and then goes on to define that compassion as a love, like that of the Father of the Prodigal Son and Older Brother, that lets its light shine on the bad as well as the good, that reaches out and loves irrespective of what is deserving and what isn't. The litmus test here might be worded: Love each other beyond differences and beyond what you think is deserving of love. Do not love just your own kind or someone who reciprocates. Embrace in love as widely as God embraces in love.

The Epistles of Paul capture this in the distinction Paul makes between what he calls life in the flesh as opposed to what he calls life in the Spirit. The former, life in the flesh, is characterized by "lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factionalism, envy, drunkenness, and orgies." When these exist in our lives, Paul cautions, we may not delude ourselves into thinking we are living inside of God's spirit.

Conversely, life in the Spirit, for Paul, is characterized by "charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, endurance, mildness, kindness, generosity, faith, and chastity." It is only when we these qualities are manifest in our lives that we may understand ourselves as walking in true discipleship.

For Paul, the litmus test is not one, single moral issue but rather a whole way of living that radiates more charity than selfishness, more joy than bitterness, more peace than factionalism, more patience and respect than negative judgment and gossip, more empathy than anger, and more willingness to sweat the blood of sacrifice than to give into the temptations of the moment.

This is not to suggest that particular moral, dogmatic, and ecclesial issues are not important; some of them are a matter of life and death. But Christian discipleship is not just about our actions, it's also about our hearts. The essence of Christian discipleship lies in putting on the heart of Christ. Proper morality, defense of truth, and life-giving church practices follow from that - and, when rooted in that, they become respectful, forgiving, and loving.

Monday 2 November 2009

The School Ansaphone

The school Ansaphone - an essential piece of equipment in all schools. As a school manager this is sooooo true - I love it!