Wednesday 18 September 2019

RTE took major interest in minor Mass boycott

If a single solitary person was to call on people to boycott RTE on a given day of the week in protest against, say, its perceived bias, how do you imagine RTE would react? I'd imagine they'd ignore the call completely and among themselves dismiss the person as a crank.

But when a single solitary person has the Catholic Church in his or her sights, it's a different matter entirely. Then the person gets all the publicity they can handle. This is exactly what happened to Jennifer Sleeman when she called on Catholics to boycott Masses last Sunday in protest against the male-only priesthood.

In the event, the call for the boycott was a total damp squib. There was no measurable effect on Mass attendance and some priests said that, if anything, attendance was up. Nonetheless, RTE covered the event as though it wasn't a total failure.

On Sunday night, its television news programme interviewed random Mass-goers who wanted nothing to do with the boycott. To 'balance' them it then interviewed specifically selected individuals, including Professor Linda Hogan, a long-time supporter of women priests and all things liberal.

We might ask how would RTE react if on 'Boycott RTE Day', there was no discernible drop in its viewership figures, but nevertheless TV3 went out of its way to give the impression that something of note had really taken place? Without doubt, RTE would see it is a piece of anti-RTE campaigning by TV3.

To add insult to injury, RTE then gave yet more coverage to the 'boycott' on Monday night. This time it interviewed Fr Tony Flannery of the newly founded 'Association of Catholic Priests'.

The association had attacked the bishops' statement as "unhelpful", accused it of "bordering on triumphalism" and claimed that there had been "substantial support" for the boycott without offering any evidence for the claim.

The Monday night report said that while there hadn't been "universal" support for the boycott -- are we supposed to believe there was almost universal support? -- "some Mass-goers had worn the green armband in solidarity". So once again RTE was equating the huge numbers who went to Mass as usual on Sunday with the miniscule number who supported Mrs Sleeman.

In fact, the report was perfect from RTE's point of view because it allowed it once again to air the liberal position re women in the church and at the same time give publicity to an organisation that should be renamed 'Priests for Liberal Reform in the Church'.

The boycott was always unlikely to succeed because most Catholics will never use the Mass as a political weapon. But Mrs Sleeman achieved her aim in one respect, in that she got people talking about the issue of women's ordination.

However, what she also highlighted was the need for the Irish church to explain Catholic teaching on this matter. It needs to explain, for example, that the male-only priesthood is linked to the nature of the Mass itself and specifically the Act of Consecration. Jesus' maleness was no more accidental than his choice of bread to represent his body and wine to represent his blood.

None of these elements of the Mass can be changed without calling into question whether a valid Act of Consecration would take place at all.

Of course, you may think this is all hocus pocus anyway, but if so then you're rejecting the core sacred act of the Catholic faith, in which case why ordain anyone, because if no Act of Consecration takes place no matter what, then we don't need an ordained priesthood.

In any event, in the last two weeks we have seen RTE doing its best to talk down the visit of the Pope to the UK, and talk up the boycott of the Mass. One could be forgiven for thinking it wanted the former to fail and the latter to succeed.

But course, that's just me being paranoid -- as everyone knows, RTE is a model of objectivity in all things.

dquinn@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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