Musical chairs an interesting diversion

Musical chairs an interesting diversion Sr Helen Prejean was interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence

While looking forward to the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and the papal visit later this month, I’ve long had a fear that we could easily mess  it up, or have it messed up for us.

Mainstream media coverage often reduces the event to issues of child abuse and the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, with occasional forays into the issue of costs. For real insight into the spiritual aspects of the event you’d want to engage with Catholic media, at least some of the time, for balance and a broader perspective.

We can also get very parochial and petty about it, and I think there was a bit of that in a Liveline discussion (RTÉ Radio 1), Monday of last week, some of it repeated on last Saturday’s Playback. A parishioner from Oldcastle Co. Meath was annoyed that their priest Fr Ray Kelly wasn’t on the bill for the Croke Park event. Then Fr Ray himself came on the line expressing a willingness to sing for the Pope. Another singer, James Kilbane, got involved, criticising the inclusion of Daniel O’Donnel on the concert bill as Daniel had publicly supported the passage of the same-sex marriage referendum, an “anti-Christian” stance, he suggested.

I could see his point, though I thought he did press his points rather too insistently. A gay man, Malcolm, took offence and was “hurt and angry” at Kilbane’s attitude, and rather judgementally personalised it: “Why did you go out of your way to hurt me?”

Fr Michael Cusack got stuck into Kilbane as well, finding his approach “offensive”. Fr Cusack seemed to think that love, along with a “live and let live” outlook, was the essence of Christianity, the latter phrase I thought begged quite a few questions (and in our recent referendum we thoroughly turned our back on the “let live” part of it). I did agree with him that the conversation was “detracting” from the spirit of WMOF.


The topic also surfaced on the News at One (RTE Radio 1) that afternoon when Claire Byrne spoke to Ursula Halligan of We Are Church – she was frustrated that their group hadn’t yet received Confirmation about whether they could have a stand at the WMOF event.

I wondered why a Church event would be expected to facilitate a group that was campaigning against Church teaching on several issues, though she did seem to have some grounds for complaint in that she said it wasn’t made clear from the beginning that they were or weren’t going to be allowed have a stand and it seems expectations were created by what seemed inadequate communications. We didn’t get to hear the WMOF side of the story.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the Church was not to be allowed to have an event that would promote its own teaching and values. What would the reaction be, I wonder, if a gay rights event was pressurised to include, in the interests of inclusion and diversity, a stand for an organisation offering gay conversion therapy?

That recent referendum surfaced again last week – on It Says in the Papers (RTÉ Radio 1) on the Wednesday morning there was a Times Ireland story that Catholic hospitals would not be performing abortions. One might have thought, “well, duh, of course they wouldn’t”, but then on the Thursday edition of the paper review the same newspaper reported the Taoiseach saying that public hospitals may be taken out of religious ownership.  So much for pro-choice then. Henry VIII would be proud.

On last Monday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) prospective presidential candidate Gavin Duffy suggested that the referendum result showed how “progressive and inclusive” Ireland was…except that we’ve just excluded a whole category of human beings.

Still on right to life issues, I was moved listening to Sr Helen Prejean, campaigner against the death penalty, on Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) last weekend. She could feel the outrage of victims’ families but questioned the state’s right to kill its own citizens. She didn’t like Christianity being used to justify capital punishment and spoke of prison staff being dragged into “morally dishonourable” practices. She found chaplains feeling used in the process and many victims’ families declaring they didn’t want people being killed in their name.

I liked her image of Jesus’ arm around the victim but also around the perpetrator, without of course condoning the awful deeds. Challenging or what.


Pick of the week
Documentary on One: The Pope’s Prisoners
RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday, August 4, 1.00 pm

In 1979, to celebrate the visit of Pope John Paul, the Department of Justice decided to grant early release to 76 prisoners – a Papal Amnesty.

John Hume in America
RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday, August 7, 9.35 pm

The story of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume’s pursuit of the political process in Northern Ireland and how he cultivated the support of US presidents.

Franciscan University Presents
EWTN, Wednesday, August 11, 11 am

Author Dr Ryan Anderson addresses how Catholics should respond to the push for transgender rights alongside Franciscan University panelists Dr Regis Martin, Dr William Newton, and Host Michael Hernon.

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