RTÉ confession scene did wander over the border into disrespect

RTÉ confession scene did wander over the border into disrespect The controversial scene aired on Divine Mercy Sunday.

It’s sad I know, but one of my hobbies is collecting confession scenes from film and TV drama. I added a new one to my collection last week.

‘That’ confession scene in Fair City (RTÉ One) caused a bit of a stir. Unfortunately, I came across the controversy first and caught up with the offending scene in omnibus edition last Saturday morning, so I did have pre-conceived notions. Artistically, I found it rather stilted, contrived and inevitably soapy – a woman claims she wants confession but it turns out she was the priest’s old girlfriend (from pre-seminary days!) and, unknown to him until now, the father of her 30-year old daughter, thanks to a one-night stand the night before his wedding to another woman. Potboiler or what! Sounds like the extended title to a Dr Phil episode.

The scene took place in an oratory (featuring the lectern put to more respectful use in RTÉ’s studio Masses), and though it starts like a confession, it quickly gets derailed into recriminations and insult trading – he berates her for causing misery as a money-lender, leading to messes he, as a priest, has to clear up. She accuses him of hypocrisy and fires off a few standard broadsides against the Church “bishops in palaces”, “Catholic hocus pocus”…I was surprised our old friend ‘Catholic Guilt’ didn’t have a cameo. I’ve seen a lot worse on RTÉ, but I think it did wander over the border into disrespect, especially with the smoking and drinking in the oratory. And there was no ‘firm purpose of amendment’ in the room!

On Newstalk Breakfast, on the Wednesday after the original broadcast, Ciara Kelly interviewed Fr Kevin McNamara from Kerry – his complaints had featured in the Irish Examiner that morning. He criticised how ill-informed the show was in its understanding and portrayal of confession – they should have researched if they didn’t know, he said. He described the way confession was presented as “blatant, casual and disrespectful”. He had a problem with the format of the confession – e.g. no prayer to start, misuse of the stole, the drinking and smoking. The interview was respectful and Dr Kelly asked him if he found a “general level of disrespect for people of faith and Catholicism on TV or in media” – “without question”, he answered. She also asked about reports that he’d called for Catholics not to pay their TV licences. He said that was not the case, that it was a misquote, but he was posing the question – “Why should Catholics continue to pay their TV licence to a station which continually and deliberately shows a lack of knowledge and respect for the Catholic Faith and sacred doctrine?” To be fair it’s also the station that broadcasts daily Mass!

Later that morning Fr McNamara complimented RTÉ on some good programmes when he was interviewed on Today with Clare Byrne (RTÉ Radio One). He stuck to his guns on his objections to the show, but added that he had spoken to the scriptwriter (later clarified as being the executive producer) who was understanding and apologetic. RTÉ had issued a statement saying that the show being broadcast on Divine Mercy Sunday was purely coincidental and unintentional, apologising for that coincidence. Usefully Fr McNamara broadened the discussion to make some good points about the transformative aspects of confession, effects that he had seen in his 40 years of service as a priest. Again it was a respectful interview, with the host concluding “It was great to get your point of view”.

On broader faith matters there were some interesting points of view when Sean Fletcher interviewed comedian Frank Skinner on Songs of Praise (BBC One, Sunday). Skinner described himself as a ‘cradle Catholic’, who had left the Church at age 19 because of issues with some of the teachings, like papal infallibility. He read a load of anti-Catholic books to bolster his case, but as he said, “it didn’t work”. An elderly priest advised him gently to “come back” and now he’s a regular church-goer again.

At prayer he feels free and honest, with no act, no putting up a front. At prayer he says he offers himself for inspection and described how he feels God intervening. He prayed: “Somewhere in the swirl of me You also become present”.

The hymn that followed was particularly apt – Oh God you search me and you know me.


Pick of the week
RTÉ One Sunday April 25, 11am

Fr Willie Purcell, national vocations director celebrates Mass on Vocations Sunday in the RTÉ Studios, Donnybrook. Music is led by members of the National Centre for Liturgy.


Baby Surgeons: Delivering Miracles
Channel 4 Monday April 26, 9pm

Stories of pregnancy, childbirth and efforts to save unborn babies with pre-birth health issues.

Faith and Life
EWTN Friday April 30, 8.30pm

Featuring Fr Martin O’Hagan, a parish priest in Co. Down, and member of the multi-platinum music group ‘The Priests.’