Controversy, controversy everywhere

The synod. water charges, Ebola and other controversies

Media coverage of the Synod on the Family lingered on fitfully last week. The most prominent contribution was from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (pictured below) in his interview on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) last Thursday.

The item started with a loaded introduction from Audrey Carville that betrayed media preoccupations – she suggested that the Church was a ‘cold house’ for gay and divorced-remarried people and that, based on the final report, it looked like it was going to stay cold.

Archbishop Martin was neither disappointed nor satisfied with the report. He had voted in favour of all the paragraphs, sometimes because he thought a ‘no’ vote might have given “a more negative image”. He thought the ‘temperature’ was changing in the attitude of the Church towards homosexual and divorced-remarried people and that some of the language (no example given) the Church had used in the past about homosexual people should not be used again.

Further, he thought the language used about cohabitation in the report was “revolutionary”.

Things weren’t always black and white and most of us lived in the grey areas, he said. 

I thought it was a pity that the specifics of that weren’t teased out.

He admired the way Pope Francis had listened during the synod and had said nothing until that well-received address at the end – he was like a patient father with a contentious family.


Carville had an odd anecdote about a divorced woman who was refused communion until she approached and left the altar with her arms crossed. I thought the archbishop was about to challenge or clarify that, but he hesitated and just spoke about Pope Francis wanting to reach out to people in such situations.

Meanwhile, away from the current controversies, Terrence Malick’s Oscar-nominated film The Tree of Life was shown on Film 4 last Thursday. It’s a work of great beauty and grace, but also surreal and challenging, strong on style, short on conventional narrative and occasionally frustrating.

It’s a long time since I saw a film with so much prayer and scripture reference in it, along with a striking creation sequence. The most interesting strand in it is the story of a family in 1950’s USA and the fallout from the death of one of the three sons. There are conflicts, an atmosphere of unease at times and touching moments of love.

The episodic presentation highlights the sense that we are getting memories of growing up and universal ones at that. Malick seems to hold the story and characters at arm’s length – often the dialogue is hard to hear and scenes seem bitty, often ending before the action has quite concluded.

Ultimately, the parts are greater than the whole – individual scenes shine, for example a funeral, the mother’s reflections, a little boy’s prayer and an upbeat scene at the end that seems to represent the world beyond the grave where people meet their deceased loved ones.

I wanted to like The Tree of Life and I did like the wonderful set pieces and cinematography, but I wondered, at times, if I might have been in ‘emperor’s new clothes’ territory.

And to finish, a few snippets – the water charges controversy dominated the media last week, and quite a few commentators, including Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway onTonight with Vincent Browne (TV3, Monday of last week), suggested that the Government couldn’t ignore thousands of people protesting on the streets. Funnily enough, they managed to ignore the many thousands that marched to protest against the Government’s abortion bill 18 months ago.

One result of that kerfuffle was Lucinda Creighton TD becoming an independent TD. She has been a formidable contributor to media debates since then, nowhere more than on RTÉ 1’s Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1) Wednesday of last week. I’m getting to like presenter Cormac O hEadhra’s robust style, and on that show he pressed her hard on why she hadn’t formed a political party by now. Personally I hope she takes her time and comes up with something effective that doesn’t look like any current party. Maybe then we might get the ‘new politics’ we were promised.

The Ebola crisis has been hitting the headlines as well, and it was nice to see a recovered nurse, Nina Pham (on RTÉ’s Newslast Friday) saying that when she had the disease, she trusted in God and in her medical team. Nice combination!