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Mind you, it's really none of my business


There are times when you have to accept that something is just none of your business. That incident in Ennistymon, for instance. The Traveller claiming she was being turned away from a Catholic church, during a First Communion ceremony, because of her dress.

It wasn't a dress I'd wear myself, to be honest, but in the context of dresses as they're worn today, it certainly was not immodest. And, in the online video, the priest standing at the entrance to the church, ignoring the pleas of the woman - well, when a priest reminds you of a stony-faced bouncer outside a Temple Bar nightclub, that's not good.

Turn away, I tell myself, none of your business.

Those of us who were raised in the faith by devout Catholics we loved, who respect the beliefs of those of our friends, relatives and neighbours who retain that faith - and who have ourselves become detached from the Church - realise there are times you just have to step away.

The Ennistymon thing is an internal issue. And there are plenty of Catholics well able to handle it, not least that woman herself.

Or that report from Ballina last week. The one about the priest who took to the pulpit to chastise those of his congregation who allegedly "gave two fingers to the church" when they voted Yes in the marriage equality referendum.

There was a report that the priest asked Yes voters to stand up in church, and that he said the "barbarians are at the gate", but I hope that's not true.

When I read that the priest asked Mass-goers to recite the Apostles' Creed only if they "felt the Church had anything to offer" - well, I got the urge to tell him he doesn't actually own the prayer. He can't restrict it to those with approved political views.

But, look - the man was upset. The ground is shifting under his feet, he needs help to recognise that there's...

Then, I tell myself - butt out, it's none of your business.

This is internal business, reserved for those who belong to the Church.

Even when yer man from the Iona 'Institute' gets all shirty and questions the Catholic credentials of Mary McAleese, Fr Peter McVerry, Prof Linda Hogan, Fr Gabriel Daly, Angela Hanley and Sr Stanislaus Kennedy.

Leave it, Gene, I tell myself, he's not worth it.

Besides, McAleese and those other folk are more than capable of fighting their own corner.

And internal disputes are no business of those of us outside the fold.

Besides, we have enough to handle - issues in which the role of the Catholic Church and the State have long been indistinguishable. Such things are indeed our business.

It's a historic thing. From the Twenties, whatever party was in office ran the country as part of a coalition with the Catholic church. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. The Church had a large say in political power, the parties benefited from the shared religious aura of the Church.

Because of that coalition, the State got lots of cheap labour from priests, nuns and brothers in running the schools and the hospitals.

And the Magdalene Laundries.

And the mother and baby homes, the industrial schools and all the other places where whimpered despair still echoes quietly in the corners of former dormitories.

Those things, and the remnants of those decades of Church-State coalition - in the schools and the hospitals - are our business. As is the manner in which the Church continues to hanker after political control.

After the marriage equality referendum, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin publicly wondered if his church has "drifted away completely from young people". He said: "I ask myself - most of these young people who voted Yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years."

What I'm hearing in this is something like, "Listen, we had the little buggers for a dozen years and they still voted against our expressed wishes".

When the Archbishop says the Church has to "find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people," it makes me uneasy.

"We need to find," says the Archbishop, "a new language."

What I hear is something like: We've lost control, we must redesign the language we use in the dozen years we have these kids in our "Catholic school system," so when they come out the other end their view of life will be ours.

Now, religions have a right to proselytise. Religious freedom means they have an unhindered right to seek to attract new members. What's a bit creepy is when, for a dozen years, the bishops control the environment in which young people grow and learn - the schools.

And the bishops are frank that they're surprised and upset that, despite having this control for a dozen years of those kids' lives, they must be using the wrong language, resulting in the kids leaving the process still able to think for themselves.

And the bishops are openly working on a "new language" that will be more effective in achieving a different outcome.

This isn't religion, or education, it's politics.

It's less than 10 years since a cancer drug trial was delayed at the Mater Hospital because of the decision of a subcommittee of three, which included a priest and a nun. According to a contemporary report in the Irish Independent: "They objected because female patients who could get pregnant would have to take contraceptives under the treatment."

Here's a suggestion, pro bono - one which might just improve the fortunes of the Church. After all, under the current regime, in which the Church clings fervently to the remnants of its political power, things aren't going so well.

Stick to religion.

Get out of education and health.

Why don't Catholic parents enjoy the religious education of their children? It's left to teachers. In the run-up to First Communion and Confirmation, huge amounts of school time are spent on rehearsals. In a crammed curriculum, other subjects suffer.

Why isn't religious education the role and the joy of the parents, in conjunction with the Church? They could even use the schools at weekends.

Why doesn't the Church partake in the joy of the religious family, passing on its beliefs from one generation to the next? Why must it instead be wrapped up in church control of the schools?

Why doesn't the Church reform such ceremonies as First Communion, making them simpler, undercutting the expensive business it has become? Could it be fear that if you remove the glamour aspect - right up to the tanning and the limo - the kids mightn't be as interested?

Think it through, lads.

Remember, a month before the recent referendum, when you threatened to refuse to sign civil wedding forms if we voted Yes? And the State would have to make other arrangements?

You described it as "the nuclear option". And you've been quiet about it since we voted against your wishes.

Well, perhaps the State should take the initiative, if you find it embarrassing to appear to threaten us. Someone's getting married, they inform the State where and when, the State sends someone along to arrange the form-signing. No big deal.

During the photo-taking outside the church, at the reception - wherever's convenient. It just needs someone with a biro, a collapsible table and a cheery disposition.

It would free the priest to concentrate on the religious aspects.

Like I say, concentrating on religion could give the Church a shot in the arm.

Or is the real fear that without what's left of the grip on health and education and the various ceremonies, the religion might not be strong enough to survive? Really, lads, you should have more confidence in your people.

Mind you, not that it's any of my business.

Sunday Independent