Friday 21 October 2016

Bishops will find McAleese is a formidable foe

Kenny's impeccable Catholic credentials allow him to give the hierarchy a good kicking, writes Willie Kealy

Wille Kealy

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

REACHING OUT: Pope Francis greets the faithful as he leaves St Peter’s Square at the Vatican
REACHING OUT: Pope Francis greets the faithful as he leaves St Peter’s Square at the Vatican

Who would be a Catholic today? It's so confusing. I mean, what is Francis playing at? When he was elected Pope not that long ago, we didn't know what to make of him. That was mostly because we had never heard of him, coming from South America and all that.

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But he wasn't that long on the job before everyone fell in love. He came across all warm and fuzzy and humble and understanding. There's no doubt that these descriptions and others - such as charitable and kindly and living in the real world - have to be qualified by the fact they work best when he is compared to his predecessor, the former, but not late, Pope Benedict.

Benedict spent most of his time giving the impression, justified or not, that he cared deeply about the Church, he just had difficulty connecting with all the millions of ordinary people who make up the Church - or even the fact that they do. But at least with Benny, you knew where you stood. Anything that was fun was out.

But Francis was different. He understood people, he didn't seem to be hung up on getting into the bedrooms to enforce the rules. His clothes were less fashionable, his car was rubbish - but we got the message. He cared not much for the luxuries of man. He was more intent on having a holy and a happy flock.

But then recently he talked about how he'd be likely to clock a friend of his if he disrespected his mother. Frankie went all macho. Maybe the unaccustomed Italian atmosphere had something to do with it, but that approach wouldn't have been out of place in the profile of an ageing Mafia Don. Then he talked about beating the children. He praised a man he knows for whupping his kids, just because in doing so he avoided hitting them in the face. "That's great," said Frankie. "He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, then move on."

That's another line that could represent the Sicilian code. Can't you hear it coming from Joe Pesci as he stands over the pretty boy who is pleading: "not the face".

So, Francis went from unknown Pope to Gentle Pope to Macho Pope. Which is all well and good. It's his gig, he can play it how he wants to.

But he should be aware that his actions have consequences. He should know that mixed messages cause confusion, and there seem to be few more confused men right now than the Irish hierarchy. Most of them look as if they're finding Frankie hard to swallow. So when this same-sex marriage thing came along, they thought it safer to forget about the new Francisan approach and revert to type. They decided they wouldn't marry young Irish couples any more.

As it happens, more and more young Irish brides are passing on the idea of a big church wedding in favour of a civil ceremony anyway, if only to save money. But if all the Church can offer in future is a chapel ritual, at the end of which you still won't be actually married, maybe more will go the registrar route. Especially now that they are not confined to a registry office, they can have the registrar come to their chosen location and still wear the white dress.

The bishops have chosen the old spoiled child option: It's my ball, and if you don't play by my rules, you can't play at all. They may end up playing by themselves.

Worse than that, they have drawn the anger of some people they would once have regarded as their leading laity. Enda Kenny now thinks nothing of kicking them about. Enda can do this because his Catholic credentials are impeccable. We no longer need to ask what a bear does in the woods to epitomise certainty. Just ask "Is Enda a Catholic?"

And then there is Mary McAleese. Lads, can you not see that you have roused someone who has, in the past, been spoken of as a suitable candidate for First Woman Pope? The former president has studied for a doctorate in canon law. She is also a lawyer of the other kind, having previously been a professor in Trinity College. To be fair to the Irish bishops, it was Frankie who first got her going when he talked about bating the childer.

That caused her to wonder if the Pope had been "actively and internationally promoting the corporal punishment of children," reminding him that the Vatican is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But that was probably mild compared to her most recent contribution on the same-sex marriage referendum. First off, she makes clear, it is a matter of human rights. And no, Ireland's leading female Catholic is not rushing to the defence of bishops' rights: "Nobody is seeking to change any church's rights or laws".

Mary McAleese is in fact standing up for the rights of gay women and men so that they can "fall in love with someone and express that love fully." As the mother of a gay child, she's had enough of stuffing the matter in the closet till it bursts forth as a wave of suicide, especially among young gay men in the 18 to 25-year age group. She wants instead to see this referendum passed so that we can at last help dismantle the "architecture of homophobia."

Francis and the lads might want to draw in the horns a bit. Right now, the Pope probably thinks he stepped over the mark with the Turks last week, siding - pretty reasonably - with the Armenians on World War I genocide. And that was only a week after he had effectively called for a crusade to defend Christians against marauding Muslims. But he's seen nothing yet.

When it comes to the big issues, whether the subject is Chuch or State - or even Church and State - you don't want to mess with Mary Mac.

Sunday Independent

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