There are some programmes I like and some I dislike, and then there are programmes I find inspiring at times, and irritating at others.
Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) fits into the latter category, and last week I was definitely irritated. It all started on the Tuesday when ‘Diane’ (not her real name) expressed how upset she was by reaction towards her at a recent silent retreat in Donegal. Strangely she was on this retreat despite being Protestant and an active lesbian.
She seemed taken aback to have Catholic teaching outlined to her (by her own admission in a gentle manner) by Bro. Basil, a Benedictine monk from France. Allegedly her friend was called an adulteress by another monk, and subject to intrusive questioning.
Bro. Basil came on the line on Thursday’s show, which may not have been the wisest move. So, what followed was an uneasy discussion of what had been a private pastoral conversation – better if they had stuck to general principles.
Presenter Joe Duffy gave Bro. Basil what I thought was an overly intense grilling. Joe seemed particularly hung up on a prayer that was given to ‘Diane’ – a prayer for purity and chastity. Yes, the language sounded old fashioned and maybe the Church needs to find a better language to gain more traction for its teachings on sexuality, but Bro. Basil stayed calm, doing a reasonable job explaining this teaching (“eloquently and fluently”, said Joe). It didn’t help, however, that he was being prompted in the background by another monk.
Joe didn’t help by bringing in another third party, a woman who knew the two who were on the retreat. It all became rather anecdotal and third hand and there were some discrepancies as to the length of the retreat and the numbers attending.
At one stage Bro. Basil declared himself unhappy with the direction of the interview, which Joe, I thought unfairly, interpreted as him threatening to hang up.
When another woman came on the line defending Church teaching Joe asked her: “You’re saying Diane should seek forgiveness for being gay?” She wasn’t, and even after she made the distinction between act and orientation he repeated that question to her. She suggested he might need to seek forgiveness himself for being rude and said that the Catholic Church isn’t anti-women or anti-gay. Great.
I needed some light relief after that and got some laughter therapy from US sitcom The Kids Are Alright (RTÉ1, Friday). The show features a US Catholic family in the 1970’s – eight boys (we get it – large Catholic family) with no-nonsense parents. It’s fast paced, witty and avoids sentimentality.
So far the Catholic element is background. The eldest has left the seminary, there are references to the mother going to church, the boys cover the eyes on a picture of Our Lady so she won’t see their mischief – and there’s a lot of it!
Despite bringing the boys up strictly the mother has a certain moral flexibility – in one episode she gets a fancy hairdo and leaves what she thinks ought to be the price rather than the actual charge, which is greater. The local priest, Fr Dunne, doesn’t get much of a look in – given that he’s played by Paul Dooley I hope he features more prominently in future.
References are made to his sermons and in last Friday’s episode the father insists on bringing one of the boys, 18- year-old Eddie, to Confession after he comes home at 3am having visited his girlfriend. These are suspicious parents and usually their suspicions are well grounded – I’d say most parents can relate to staying awake restless until all the family members are in bed.
Creator Tim Doyle has created a show that’s entirely credible. He does the role of narrator himself and it has to be said this show reminds me particularly of The Wonder Years and, to an extent, Malcolm in the Middle and Young Sheldon. And that just means the show is in pretty good company.
Finally there was a very positive item about Catholic education when Songs of Praise (BBC1, Sunday) visited St Mary’s University in Twickenham. Vice-Chancellor Francis Campbell spoke enthusiastically about the legacy of the visit of Pope Benedict in 2010 and it was uplifting to see a group of articulate and faith-filled young adult students living in a religious community in a house named after the Pope.
Pick of the Week
Film: Stations of the Cross
BBC2, Saturday, August 10, 1.55 am
Challenging film about a young girl undergoing instruction within a strict fundamentalist Catholic order to prepare for her Confirmation.
Life and Soul
RTÉ1 and RTÉ Radio 1 Extra Sunday, Aigist 11, 11 am
To mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, we meet people whose lives have been impacted. With music and reflection.
Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz
EWTN, Monday, August 12, 10am, also Tuesday, August 13, 9.30 pm
Actor Leonardo Defilippis as St Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who withstood the horror of Auschwitz until his death.