Scenes of joyous return to Mass overshadowed by Westminster

Scenes of joyous return to Mass overshadowed by Westminster Baroness Nuala O’Loan

It was a great sign of hope to see churches opening for Mass in the North on Friday.

Newsline (BBC One NI, Friday) reported from a lunchtime Mass at St Mary’s Church in Belfast describing it as “a small landmark along a difficult journey” – an understatement! One churchgoer said it was “the most important thing for me”. Fr Tim Bartlett spoke of “a day of quiet joy”. Reporter Kevin Sharkey said it would be different, with necessarily small attendance due to health guidelines, and though distancing was in operation for that Mass, it was well attended. I liked the way the report ended with a shot of that attractive banner of St Joseph with the logo ‘St Joseph protect us’.

While this was welcome news for the North, other news wasn’t so good, with the ongoing threat of abortion provisions being forced on that jurisdiction by Westminster. The View (BBC One NI, Thursday) explored the issue in detail. At the start deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was quoted, as if competing for the Euphemism of the Year award, describing abortion as “modern compassionate healthcare”! Journalist and activist Susan McKay was all for wide-ranging abortion measures – she maintained that it was obligatory under international law, human rights and UN requirements. It was good to see columnist with The Irish Catholic Baroness Nuala O’Loan speaking up for the rights of unborn children, and expressing her desire that babies with disabilities be protected – “in each pregnancy there’s a little baby, someone has to speak up for them”. She pointed out that it was only an unelected committee of individuals in the United Nations (UN) that was pushing this. Further she drew attention to the 1,091 abortions carried out in the North last year – so abortion ‘services’ were already in existence. It wasn’t enough for Ms McKay – e.g. she didn’t want it confined to cases of ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ (remember how that was used as a Trojan Horse down here during our referendum). She said it was a misnomer to talk of ‘fatal’ abnormality as distinct from one that wasn’t fatal – she said it was practically impossible for the medics to say whether ‘the thing’ was a fatal abnormality or not.

Ms McKay, I thought, was rather dismissive of Baroness O’Loan – at one point referring to her “private moral version” of what abortion is or isn’t – sounded like a ‘get back in your box’ moment. She overegged it further – accusing Mrs O’Loan of talking in an “offensive” way about women and being “judgemental” it was, as they say, an accusation ‘without evidence’ – I certainly couldn’t find a trace of it.

In the more political discussion that followed Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) said he found that Ms McKay had a “very narrow view of human rights” – were we really saying that the unborn had no rights? Sadly, that’s the approach taken by the courts and electorate down here. John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin was also in the running for the euphemism award as he referred to an abortion regime meeting “the highest standard of human rights”!

The issue was treated in a noteworthy way in two current drama series. New Irish thriller series Smother (RTÉ One, Sunday) started reasonably well with a tight enough plot and good acting (Dervla Kirwan stands out). By episode three it was wilting a bit, but I’ll probably stay with it at this stage. One plot thread features an arrogant bullying father who, despite making the pro-choice spiel, effectively forces his young daughter into having an abortion – with serious knock-on consequences for her wellbeing. In last Sunday’s episode the baby’s father apologised years later for not being there for his girlfriend, but again the pro-choice sentiment was evident.

Unforgotten (ITV, Monday) is back for a fourth series – with yet another historical crime being unearthed much to the discomfort of those originally involved. Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are always watchable in the lead roles, though the idea is getting a bit formulaic at this stage. The drama has its ‘woke’ moments, though in one plot thread a married woman is contemplating abortion after a tentative diagnosis of disability. The husband is initially supportive of going through with the pregnancy but pulls back when he gets drawn in to the ongoing investigation. The mother is hugely conflicted and at one stage describes abortion as “this brutal really horrible thing”. Now there’s a frankness we don’t get very often.


Pick of the Week
Easter Vigil Mass
RTÉ One Holy Saturday April 3, 10.40 pm

Mass from Knock Basilica, which has just been recognised by Pope Francis as an International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine.

Easter Sunday Mass
RTE One Easter Sunday April 4, 10 pm

Easter Sunday Mass from La Carità, a Covid-19 hospital in Locarno, Switzerland, with commentary and translation by Fr Thomas McCarthy OP

BBC Two (NI) Tuesday 10 pm, Wednesday 10 pm, Thursday 10 pm

This three-part documentary series explores Lough Derg, a unique place of pilgrimage, and follows the experiences of young people who descend on the tiny Station Island over a summer.