Knock the only antidote to a week of stereotypes

Stereotyping is normally regarded as a bad thing, and that’s fair enough, but sometimes it seems that it’s acceptable to stereotype certain people, including Catholic priests. 

These thoughts were prompted by a few episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, currently showing on TV3, Wednesday nights. Last week’s episode wound up a story about sex trafficking in a New York parish. 

This parish activity was organised by the bishop and the priests through a local Catholic school where the guidance counsellor, a priest, pinpointed vulnerable girls for the traffickers. The bishop was like a mafia don, looking like he had just stepped out of a Scorcese movie and in one particularly unsavoury scene, one of the priests was caught with a toy boy in a loft apartment he maintained out of parish funds. Oh, in case you thought this was some errant parish gone completely barmy they managed to get in a dig at the Vatican at the end as well. 

Now there were a few bent cops and lawyers as well, but all the priests were corrupt. And the nuns were surprisingly timid and compliant apart from Sr Nina who had mental health issues and tried to help the trafficked girls. What a plot! 

They did try to inject a little balance, and it felt more than token. 

One cop said most priests were good men (why didn’t we see any?) and in a particularly dramatic and moving confrontation with one of the offending priests, this cop said he was Catholic, went to Mass every Sunday, and even twice a week since the current case started. He convinced the priest that forgiveness was available to him if he did the right thing and blew the whistle on the others. 

This wasn’t just spiritual manipulation as we later saw the cop on his knees saying an intense rosary. 

You don’t see that too often in a cop show, but funny enough the same thing happened in the first episode of Shooter (Netflix) which I’ve been catching up on last week.  This time it was a praying FBI agent. Further the main family says grace before meals! It’s another conspiracy thriller, but unfortunately there was too much emphasis on guns and snipers and what bullets do to people. I might return to this one in a later column. 


By contrast the gentle and appealing drama My Mother and Other Strangers (RTÉ 1 Tuesdays and and BBC 1 Sundays) came to an end last week. It was set in Northern Ireland during World War II, and I pointed out a few weeks ago that there was no religion in it, which wouldn’t have been typical of the place. 

That changed in the very next episode when one of the main characters, Michael, went to Confession. Father Nolan (Michael Colgan) was sympathetic but also sought to turn Michael’s desire for restitution to the advantage of the church, in a matter pertaining to some tins of paint! In last week’s final episode he continued to be an underwritten and unsympathetic weasel, whinging about the kind of music to be played during a children’s party at the local US air base. 

That final episode was more than a tad melodramatic, unsatisfactory from both moral and artistic perspectives. 

There was more than a touch of the Mills and Boon as the smouldering vibes between Rose Coyne, the married teacher (a brilliant performance from Hattie Morahan) and Captain Dreyfuss the married US officer (a low key Aaron Staton) reached a high point during a downpour. I thought they should have stuck with the subtlety! The ending left room for a sequel so there’s hope yet. 

And finally, on last Friday night’s Late Late Show (RTÉ 1) there was a very positive item about Knock prompted by the new documentary film Strange Occurrences In A Small Irish Village, coming up on RTÉ next week Tuesday (see over). 

The parish priest of Knock Fr Richard Gibbons described the busy Reconciliation Room as “our engine room”, the place where real miracles occurred. 

One of the volunteers or ‘handmaids’ at Knock was a tonic, full of life and enthusiasm for work, while Bernie Byrne, a descendant of  one of the visionaries gave some useful background information – his family owns many of the souvenir shops, and in the clip I noticed pictures of Pope Francis prominent, while Pope Benedict’s picture was ‘reduced’. Oh dear. 


Pick of the week


EWTN Tuesday, December 20, 5.30pm
Featuring columnist at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan. The two discuss her book, John Paul The Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father.


RTÉ 1 Tuesday, December 20, 9.35pm
Everyone wants to believe in miracles.  Welcome to the village built on one – the story of Knock.


RTÉ 1 Thursday, December 22, 8pm               
Expert hoteliers Francis and John Brennan are on a mission to help Penny Dinners soup kitchen in Cork.