RTÉ’s Doc on One delivers yet again

RTÉ’s Doc on One delivers yet again Journalist Emma Decker, who presented the Documentary on One episode ‘Sisters’ (RTÉ Radio 1), with her grand aunts, Sr Joe and Sr Gabrielle. Photo: RTÉ

With the increased popularity of podcasts, it’s worth noting the extensive archive of RTÉ Radio 1’s Documentary on One series.

Last Saturday’s episode, ‘Sisters’, was Emma Decker’s engaging exploration of the lives of her grand aunts Sr Joe and Sr Gabrielle, who went to the US as teens to become nuns. They worked primarily with African-American children who were thoroughly marginalised in the late 1950s and early 60s and became involved in the civil rights struggle.

While it was social history, the family story was quite moving – the final heart-breaking farewell with their father, who died before the first return visit, brought tears to the sisters, now in their 80s. And though at that age, as with many of the sisters in the convent, what impressed Decker (who lived with them during her research) was their youthfulness and camaraderie.

Decker was intrigued by the choices these women had made when young, and the choice to leave Ireland her own mother had made. This reflection extended to consideration of her own choices as a young woman. Some might have found Decker herself overly prominent, but I thought she got the balance right in the light of the themes she was pursuing. Some of her pre-conceived notions were challenged while observing the life led by the sisters, but I think she was too casual and simplistic with throwaway comments about oppression of women by the Church. I’d like to have heard more about the sisters’ Faith life and perhaps whether Decker’s own spiritual life was affected. But she didn’t go there. Despite that, awards are deserved.

Meanwhile, the papal visit sparked quite a few church related discussions. On Lunchtime Live (Newstalk) last Friday, former rugby international Shane Byrne, said he was definitely going to see the Pope – he was a practising Catholic and so it made sense. He was critical of mistakes made by the Church, but thought that the “crazy things” that had been done were not about the Faith that people have.

Political commentator Larry believed the Church was a powerful voice in the world and that its message was broader than conservative stands on social issues. He hoped we’d have a “show of solidarity” during the visit and that active young Church people would be involved. Stand-in presenter Andrea Gilligan did a fine job teasing out the issues and the show felt free of its usual agenda driving.


On Tuesday of last week Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) set out to explore à la carte Catholicism but the discussion morphed into considering cultural Catholicism and they’re not quite the same thing.

I thought liberal theologian Gina Menzies was over inclined to quote Mary McAleese, and seemed disinclined to let Catholic hospitals opt out of performing abortions but David Quinn was keen for the Church to show more leadership on this matter.

Fr Joe McDonald was wondering about the bishops taking responsibility for the referendum defeat on a matter of core teaching. Bishop Alphonsus Cullinane of Waterford thought the church used to be too privileged, too closely aligned with the civil authorities and was in a more realistic place now.

Not unrelated was Minister Josepha Madigan’s appearance on the same show last Monday morning – apparently, in the absence of a priest, she had led a reduced liturgical service at Mass time in Mount Merrion parish. Considering that she spearheaded Fine Gael’s campaign to facilitate easier access to abortion, this seemed more than a bit off.

She was in favour of the ordination of women, but didn’t want the core teaching of the Commandments compromised. Seán O’Rourke suggested to her that respect for the sacredness of life was one of these, but she argued that God gave us free will and women should have the choice. I wondered if she’d extend that reasoning to other situations where one person decides to end the life of another?

Just before this, another prominent pro-choice campaigner, Hilary Clinton, was interviewed on The Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1). She rightly lamented the “ripping of children” (her words) from their mothers’ arms in the US migrant controversy, but what about  the ripping of children from their mothers’ wombs?; she said “these children can’t speak for themselves” – how apt . She quoted the Nazi era poem ‘They Came For…’ but didn’t include the unborn in her list of minorities targeted for discrimination. #moralblindspot

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