Callan kicks off ‘Divorcing God’ debate

Callan kicks off ‘Divorcing God’ debate

So, you want to explore the state of religion in the country today, what do you do? Send an agnostic, avowedly cynical, gay comedian to do the job? Well, it might work?

That’s what happened with Divorcing God (RTÉ1, Wednesday) presented by Oliver Callan. The show was interesting, there were some reasonably fresh perspectives, observations and reflections. He certainly wasn’t out to do a hatchet job on the Church, and wasn’t a fan of an aggressive secularism that would wipe the Church from the national stage altogether (low bar?).

There were mentions of babies and bathwater, but there were gaps: no sign of vibrant Catholic youth festivals, Youth 2000, the Emmanuel concerts, parish catechists and many more green shoots. The role of religion in the arts barely figured, there were no young priests or nuns giving their perspective and other religions were poorly represented.

There were many positives too; Callan was respectful of the religious people he interviewed and gave the impression of one open to religious belief. He certainly acknowledged all the good the Church has done in schools and hospitals, while also reminding us of the pain and hurt caused – the abuse scandals were prominent. He visited a Catholic school and when asking a class who was proud to be Catholic, most students raised their hands but asking who believed in all the Church’s ideas no one raised a hand – hardly surprising given the loaded question!


As a gay person he felt estranged from the Church but had never heard anything homophobic from the altar. He did reference the idea of being gay as a sin, which of course the Church never taught. No one made the distinction between ‘being’ and ‘doing’.

He visited one of the new evangelical churches for a worship service, and there were plenty of young people there, but someone could have told him that young Catholics can be evangelical too (I didn’t get to see the show live because I was with around 300 of them at the Matt Maher concert in  St Paul’s Arran Quay, where there is a range of lively activities for enthusiastic young Catholics).

He featured a young family who were not into religion at all and a young family for whom Mass going and Catholic schooling were still important, though the mother was in favour of women priests and didn’t follow the Church on all social issues. It’s hard to find enthusiastic and orthodox young Catholics represented in the media.

In one scene he visited a church with a youthful choir where, though not ‘in communion’, he received Communion. I wasn’t keen on his use at times of the word “we”– who was he presuming to speak for? It seemed his thesis was that the Catholic Church wasn’t dead yet and had more life in it than “we” thought.

Not entirely unrelated, Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, Thursday) featured an item on euthanasia. Campaigner Tom Curran described setting up a more affordable way of offering assisted suicide in Switzerland . He described a new killing machine, but of course it wasn’t called that, as euphemism is one of the main tools in the armoury of those who would break down our long-standing and innate reluctance to kill others. At times it felt like an ad for the service – the interview was almost entirely unchallenging.

This was followed by an interview with Prof. Des O’Neill who had major reservations. He pointed out the contradiction between this initiative and our society’s current concerns about the prevalence of suicide. Both in real life, and in some movies he referenced, euthanasia was often used in situations of inadequate care – he lamented the many misperceptions around care at the end of life.

Significantly he was questioned more robustly than was the case with Mr Curran, with the little god of ‘choice’ being raised as if it should trump all else.

Euthanasia was one of the issues raised in Catholic Enlightenment (EWTN, Saturday). Fr Andrew Pinsent raised a point echoing Prof. O’Neill – the danger of some lives being seen as not worth living.

This ongoing show is rather talky, just a conversation between him and Fr Marcus Holden, but the issues are certainly of interest, with the main emphasis being on what Catholicism has contributed to the modern world – I’d suspect people would be surprised at the number of anti-Catholic myths that get busted!


Pick of the Week
EWTN, Saturday, June 22, 9.30 pm

While discerning his own conversion, Donald Johnson travelled around the country and met all kinds of people who overcame obstacles and opposition to fully embrace their Catholic faith.

RTÉ1, Sunday, June 23, 11 am

Live Mass with a gathered congregation from St. Conleth’s Church, Newbridge. Celebrant is Fr Paul Dempsey,  with music by the In Caelo choir. Musical director: Cora Coffey.

EWTN, Monday, June 24, 7 pm

The career of St Thomas More is examined for the numerous instances in which he displayed the virtues which distinguished him as a model for others in public and political life.