Sunday 23 October 2016

'Couples who can't have children must shun IVF and accept limitations'

Fr Brian McKevitt talks Joe Duffy, suppressing dirty thoughts and the fiery pits of hell, writes Niamh Horan

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

MORTAL SINS: Reporter Niamh Horan spoke to Fr Brian McKevitt, editor of the controversial Catholic newspaper ‘Alive!’, about his views on society. Photo: Steve Humphreys
MORTAL SINS: Reporter Niamh Horan spoke to Fr Brian McKevitt, editor of the controversial Catholic newspaper ‘Alive!’, about his views on society. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Fr Brian McKevitt sticks out like a sore thumb when I spot him across the concord of The Square shopping centre in Tallaght, Dublin on Friday morning.

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Dressed in long ivory robes, with a white beard, the Dominican priest appears a world away from the young mothers pushing prams and worn-out shoppers hurrying home to their family for the weekend.

But the editor of the conservative Alive! newspaper is an influential man.

Once named among the 100 most influential Irish people in Village magazine, he oversees a right-wing Catholic publication that fills the churches and letter boxes of over 250,000 Catholics each month.

The freesheet costs €18,000 per month to run - up to two thirds of which comes from personal donations - and is regularly outspoken on issues such as marriage, abortion, homosexuality and fertility.

Back in the Alive! office in St Mary's priory in Tallaght, the Dundalk priest looks more at home.

Brown walls, carpets and furniture adorn the building where he has spent most of his life preaching and writing, from his small bedroom, about all that is right and wrong in the world.

Sitting near stacks of his publication, Fr McKevitt outlines his list of "mortal sins".

Abortion, euthanasia and suicide all make the list.

"I want to emphasise that we cannot judge any individual person. What we are doing here is judging [their] actions," he says.

Several activists have tried to ban Alive!. Former equality minister Aodhan O Riordain in 2007 described it as only "fit for the bin", and Israel's former ambassador to Ireland, Boaz Modai, in 2014 attacked it for one-sided "inaccurate" reporting.

But the opposition hasn't deterred Fr McKevitt.

Today, he tells me IVF -in vitro fertilisation - is another practice he takes issue with.

Is IVF a sin? "Yes."

The reason being that "we have to accept at times there are limitations".

He believes the growth of fertility treatments in Ireland stems from our new-found "culture of personal autonomy".

It is "a culture of choice. 'I want it - therefore I must have it'", he says, arguing that couples who cannot naturally procreate "have to accept their limitations". He also blames the same self-centred mind-set for the introduction of same-sex marriage. "There was no real debate about the issues," he says. "I want it, therefore I must have it."

Society is becoming "more about assertion rather than trying to [flesh] out the rights and wrongs, the good and bad".

He believes "we have lost sight of what marriage really is - a relationship between a man and a woman that is for life and directed towards having children."

So what about married couples who can't have children? "At least that would be their intention," asserts Fr McKevitt. "I mean, if you want to try and understand what something is, you don't begin with where it is not functioning at full power … You try and begin by where it is functioning…. If you want to understand what an eye is about you don't begin with blindness or short-sightedness. You begin with vision.

"If you want to understand what a bicycle is, you don't begin with something that has no chain on it - you begin with something that is functioning fully in the way it should be."

He fears for a society where a government is ever-distancing itself from the church and calls President Michael D Higgins's decision to make no mention of God or Christianity in his Christmas message "very small minded".

Following the same-sex marriage laws introduced last year, he wants the newly-appointed director general of RTE, Dee Forbes, to overhaul what he alleges is the organisation's bias, which does not give conservative Ireland a fair hearing.

"We need a fairer, more open discourse. To have interviewers who are trained properly to interview both sides. Very often they can go tough on one person and see no reason to go tough on the other," he says.

"I would love to see RTE carry out a survey of its current affairs department to ask how many of their staff with a role in production voted for gay marriage and then publish the results. To give us an idea of what way their staff are thinking. I think the same people should declare their interest and say 'this is where I stand' [before the next pro-life referendum]."

He takes particular issue with Joe Duffy, whose Liveline programme he says can turn into a "kangaroo court".

Last week, Fr McKevitt's appearance on the show lit up the switchboards when his newspaper printed a study that stated smacking created happier, more successful children.

The debate took a bizarre twist, where Fr McKevitt went on to wax lyrical about the moral dangers of masturbation.

It prompted Irish singer Niall Breslin to take to his Twitter page and bemoan the fact that he was missing "the greatest hour of radio of all time".

When he is not editing Alive!, Fr McKevitt spends his evenings watching period dramas such as Downton Abbey and War & Peace, a six-part adaptation of Tolstoy's epic novel that contained incest and fruit-smashing sex.

I point out that his willpower must have been severely tested during the mini-series, but Fr McKevitt says suppressing imagination is the key to resistance.

"If thoughts come into one's head you put them aside as rapidly as possible."

Praying for two to three hours a day helps, he says.

Does he believe in hell? "Absolutely."

Is it all flames and fire?

"Well, we cannot imagine what heaven or hell are like. But the idea of the flames and the fire is a way to try and appeal to people's imagination," he offers.

So you are trying to appeal to people's imaginations?

"To give them a sense of the horror of what not going to heaven would be like. It's so awful that we try to use earthly images of awfulness."

I explain I am confused that the church is telling us to suppress our imagination when it comes to masturbation, but then encourages it to stoke our fears of eternal damnation.

"Eh... obviously the gift of imagination is a good thing. It's how we use it [that's important]," he says.

Fr McKevitt decided to join the priesthood after his Leaving Cert. However, before signing on the dotted line, he asked his senior, "Do you think I can stick it?"

These days, he never regrets his decision. But in his earlier years, he saw couples with their children and admits, "It might have made me a bit envious."

I ask if it is hard for someone who has never been married, had children, or indeed sex, to preach on all these issues that he has no real life experience of?

He scratches his head and looks out of the window.

"Obviously, if a person has not experienced something, the person doesn't have that inside knowledge. [But] obviously we are listening and dealing with people all the time."

But listening and going out and living life are two very different things?

And he accepts that at times, even he must accept his limitations.

Sunday Independent

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