Challenge to see the positives

Challenge to see the positives Some of the people who featured in BBC TV's Faith Behind Bars

While advance coverage of this week’s papal visit was largely negative, there was one programme at least that struck a positive note.

True North: The Pope and I (BBC1, Wednesday) was an affectionate, sometimes whimsical look at the reaction of various people from Northern Ireland to the recent popes and especially to the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II. Mary, from ‘The Holy Shop’ in Belfast, told us that pictures of St John Paul were still very popular, as were those of Pope Francis. Benedict didn’t fare so well, and unfortunately some contributors were negative towards him, but with an effort to understand – he was an intellectual, he did his best, he was afraid of saying the wrong thing, he was following the first ‘celebrity Pope’.

However many Northerners had very fond memories of the ’79 visit, especially their journeys to see the Pope in Drogheda – we were told of huge traffic jams heading south on the M1 motorway from 7 am that morning. Clips were shown from the Phoenix Park Mass as well, and of his visit to England and Glasgow.


One enthusiastic English woman showed the dress she wore when she was chosen to present flowers to Pope John Paul II when she was a very young girl. Many reminisced about being upset and tearful when he died – one woman said it was “like losing a friend”.

Many of these cheerful contributors were looking forward to the visit of Francis as well, and there was no Church bashing or cynical or iconoclasm. Of course there are darker issues to discuss, but it was good to watch a programme that engendered some welcome enthusiasm for this week’s papal visit.

On the negative front the comments of ex-President Mary McAleese about Pope Francis were well flagged, and on a loop on RTE News Now for most of last Saturday. When I caught up with her soft interview with Brendan O’Connor on Saturday’s Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1), it wasn’t quite as negative as I expected – the folks at RTE News had chosen to highlight the most negative bit of what she’d said – the web headline captured the spin: “Pope putting defence of Church ahead of abuse victims.”

Yet in the interview she was talking about the attitude his formation as a bishop would have imbued him with. She also said he was a man of “phenomenal strengths” and that she believed his heart was on the side of the victims but that he needed a plan.

She made lots of thought-provoking points about the need for the Church hierarchy to involve more lay people as advisors, to involve outside expertise – she thought the leadership was poorly qualified on its own to deal effectively with the crises.

However, I thought she went off the Catholic rail completely when she reviewed recent changes in Ireland. She mentioned legalising of divorce, same sex marriage and abortion and said “in all these things we have retrieved the Christ I grew up wanting to believe in”. Seriously?

I heard it reported that she had called the World Meeting of Families a “right-wing rally” which I thought was overly dismissive, but it was Brendan O’Connor, though fair at some points, that initially suggested the phrase (he also threw in “fundamentalist”) and McAleese did agree with him. Interestingly this was converted into “orthodox rally” by Brendan Butler of ‘We Are Church’ in an interview with Jonathan Healy on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) last Monday morning.

On last Sunday’s This Week (RTÉ Radio 1), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s pro-cathedral address last Sunday morning got plenty of coverage, as did an interview with him after the event.

He thought some structures worked well and that some were too loose. He wa-nted to see the elimination of excusing and cover up where such existed – structures that permitted or facilitated abuse must be broken down for ever.

John Allen from the American Crux Now website is one of the most highly regarded commentators on Church mat-ters and his interview on Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1) last Monday is worth listening back to. Like Mary McAleese, he thought Pope Francis was upset by the scandals and had made efforts to improve the mechanism to deal with them, though one initiative didn’t work out.

He thought that Pope Francis was still hugely popular as a world leader, but there was an urgency to put in place mechanisms to deal with accountability for those involved in cover-up.

Like Archbishop Martin, he thought it was high time to go beyond just apologising to victims.

On another important strand of Church life, Faith Behind Bars (BBC One, Tuesday) was a sober but positive exploration of the work of prison chaplains, including a Catholic priest, in Edinburgh.

Spiritual and practical help was offered but not forced, and while there was no denying the seriousness of crimes committed, there was a strong sense of the importance of rehabilitation and a second chance, a sense of the unique value of each person.


Pick of the week
Pope Francis In Ireland
RTÉ1, Saturday, August 25, 10 am

Live coverage of Pope Francis’ arrival at Dublin Airport and his visits to Áras an Uachtaráin and Dublin Castle. Presented by Bryan Dobson, Sharon Ni Bheolain and Aine Lawlor (also EWTN).

The Leap of Faith – Pope Visit Special
RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday, August 25, 10 am

Setting the scene as Pope Francis visits Ireland this weekend, join Michael Comyn for an hour-long Leap of Faith special.

Pope Francis In Ireland
RTÉ1, Saturday, August 25, 2.55 pm

Live coverage from Dublin city centre of Pope Francis’ visit to St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and to the Capuchin Centre. Presented by Miriam O’Callaghan and Bryan Dobson.

Pope Francis In Ireland – Festival Of Families
RTÉ2, Saturday, August 25, 5.45 pm

Mary Kennedy is joined at Croke Park by guests including Francis Brennan, Oliver Callan, Norah Casey and Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, to set the scene for tonight’s Festival of Families – a spectacular Catholic celebration of all things family, in the presence of Pope Francis – with commentary by Marty Whelan. Performances include Andrea Bocelli, Daniel O’Donnell and Nathan Carter (live also on EWTN, with repeat Sunday 2.30am and 5am).

Festival of Families
RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday, August 25, 6 pm

Brenda Donohue and Marty Morrissey are live from Croke Park as the Pope attends the Festival of Families and will be speaking to people who have secured a place at the festival and bringing us the colour and atmosphere from the day.

Pope Francis In Ireland
RTÉ1, Sunday, August 26, 9 am

Live coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Knock. Presented by Eileen Dunne and Caitriona Perry (live also on EWTN, with repeat Monday 2.30am and 5am).

Pope Francis In Ireland
RTÉ1, Sunday, August 26, 2 pm

Live coverage of the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Presented by Bryan Dobson, Aine Lawlor and Fr Dermod McCarthy (live also on EWTN, with repeat at 11pm).

Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, August 26, 3.30 pm

Claire McCollum joins the celebrations for the visit of Pope Francis. Meeting up with the 100-strong group travelling from the Archdiocese of Birmingham One of the places Pope Francis will visit is Knock Shrine and Sean Fletcher finds out what draws 1.5 million pilgrims there every year.

Pope Francis In Ireland  
RTÉ1, Monday, August 27, 8.30 pm

Highlights of the Papal visit.