Monday 23 September 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Truth, power and Mattie's abortion DVD'

Bishops' complaints about RTE and offensive TD behaviour stem from loss of political power, writes Gene Kerrigan

NUMBERS GAME: Crowds in the Phoenix Park for the visit of Pope Francis. Photo: Getty (Cartoonist Tom Halliday is on leave)
NUMBERS GAME: Crowds in the Phoenix Park for the visit of Pope Francis. Photo: Getty (Cartoonist Tom Halliday is on leave)

It's one of the hardest of hard drugs - power. And to go from dominating the life of the country to being a minority point of view - that must hurt.

Which is why we have to put up with the Catholic bishops complaining so much, and the socially conservative TDs.

We can live with that.

The latest complaint from the bishops is about how the media - and in particular RTE - were responsible for the alleged flop of the Pope's visit.

Apparently, RTE gave the visit too much coverage - so people didn't go to the Phoenix Park. That's a new one. "Hey, you rotters, you gave us too much coverage."

The bishops also complained that in the run-up to the visit the media reported too much stuff about clerical child abuse.

Well, we reported on the fact that one of the leading church figures coming to the event, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, had to pull out because of his handling of abuse cases.

In the weeks before the visit, a report criticising the church's record on abuse in the USA came out. If you don't want the media to report abuse, and the protection of abusers, don't protect them.

It's not our reporting that drained the church's credibility, it's the church's record.

Anyway, the visit wasn't a flop. Those who wanted to see the Pope went to see him and were pleased with him. The fact that relatively few bothered doesn't mean his visit was a flop. It's just the way things are.

However, the church has some explaining to do about the figures issued and trustingly reported by the media.

From 1923 onwards, no one dared question any assertion made by the church. The Catholic bishops had an understanding - you might call it a confidence and supply arrangement - with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It was an informal coalition between the bishops and the dominant parties.

You bent the knee or paid a tough price. Any deviation from the party line could lead to public denouncement and social isolation. And if you worked for the State - a teacher, for instance - you could be sacked. Some were.

Perhaps such complete dominance led to the intellectual and moral flabbiness of the conservatives.

With such a paucity of resistance, any fool could, for instance, jail pregnant unmarried women in laundries. Or allow "illegitimate" children to waste away in dreadful little hidey-holes.

And it didn't take much effort to stuff the Constitution and legislation with religious laws.

For about 70 years, the coalition of bishops and socially conservative TDs ruled, often brutally. The kids were beaten in school, marital rape was legal. Working-class kids walked the streets in bare feet, and everyone was cool with that. It was things like contraception we had to guard against.

Then, gradually, with much hard work, the changes began.

Contraception mutated from "family planning". Hitting kids was outlawed, and it was made illegal to rape your wife.

Social changes eventually included divorce, marriage equality and the repeal of the Eighth.

And last summer, when the Pope came, just 132,875 people went to the Phoenix Park to see him - where a million had gone in 1979.

It's a bit of a comedown. From running the country to being asked to explain your questionable figures.

So, let's look at those questionable figures.

We were told around 500,000 tickets were available for Mass in the Phoenix Park. Then we got this headline: 'Within a 48-hour period almost 400,000 tickets for Phoenix Park alone were booked.'

Better hurry. Only 100,000 tickets left.

Then, we were told, "bookings for Phoenix Park this morning are at 480,000, meaning we have just 20,000 tickets left".

If those kinds of headlines didn't stir the faithful, nothing would.

Soon, we were told, all tickets for the Phoenix Park had been "snapped up".

This wasn't the media making things up, or guessing. They were quoting the assurances of church representatives, and people from the World Meeting of Families.

Those longing to see the Pope were making "a desperate bid", we were told, to buy tickets at inflated prices, via the internet.

There were claims from TDs that lack of broadband meant that rural people were deprived of tickets, so they wanted extra tickets allocated to rural areas.

"All 500,000 tickets now booked out" for Phoenix Park, reported

There was such an alleged shortage that there was a "Plea for return of unused Pope Francis Mass tickets", according to The Irish Catholic.

A guy who had ordered hundreds of tickets, intending to burn them in a Nope-to-the-Pope protest, had second thoughts. It wasn't fair to believers, he decided. He announced he'd give the tickets to anyone who wanted them.

The authorities had electronic equipment that precisely measured the numbers entering the Phoenix Park site, and the equipment said 132,875. This was later inflated by a questionable estimate of an extra 20,000, for a figure of 152,000.

This wasn't just an event that was poorly attended. We were given detailed accounts of the waves of people actively securing tickets. Did anything like this happen? If so, how come so few turned up?

If nothing like this happened... well...

Henceforth, all figures of any kind coming from Catholic authorities will have to be treated with extreme scepticism.

Once, socially conservative TDs didn't have to think - the bishops did that for them.

We've just seen what happens when socially conservative TDs do their own thinking. In the Oireachtas, socially conservative TDs last week sought to "amend" the proposed abortion legislation, arising from the repeal of the Eighth.

Mattie McGrath and several others demanded that women seeking an abortion be shown a DVD of the procedure, that they be offered the chance to listen to a foetal heartbeat, and so on. The baby you desperately wanted will not live, so you seek an abortion. But, first, Mattie and his mates have a few hoops they'd like you to jump through...

It wasn't that this would stop any woman having an abortion, it was just a few boxes that Mattie and his mates thought she might like to tick, while she's at it.

Behind all this is the suggestion that a woman seeking an abortion hasn't thought it through, unlike Mattie and his mates.

The whining from bishops and from the socially conservative TDs is an inevitable consequence of their loss of political power. It isn't pretty to hear, some of it is downright offensive.

But, these people represent the sincerely held views of a substantial portion of the people, so we have to live with this too. The proposed amendments were rejected.

While the bishops are inept, the socially conservative TDs are so thoroughly awful at fighting their corner that even many of those who share their views must have been embarrassed.

It's worth pointing out that since the early 1990s the abortion route to England has been specifically protected by a constitutional amendment. The political parties went to some lengths to ensure that any woman who wanted an abortion had access to the right to information and the constitutional right to travel.

Anti-abortion? Well, anti-abortion in Ireland, certainly.

And not one of these socially conservative TDs lifted a finger to remove those rights.

Sunday Independent

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