Fr Flannery is right - the Church is eroding its own authority
Fr Tony Flannery (Irish Independent, December 23) is correct when he says of the Christmas story: "It is a beautiful story, but it is a mythical account of the birth of Jesus, not a historical one" and "for too long [the Church] presented the Christmas story as historical reality".
The Christmas story "contains similar elements to other ancient myths about the birth of gods" - a reference to gods who preceded Jesus by centuries and who had many of the same attributes as Jesus: Virgin birth, miracle working, death and resurrection and ascent into heaven.
Fr Flannery wisely puts discussion of the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus into the realm of "the mysterious actions of God".
He also quotes theologian Charles Raven when he writes: "It is sinful pride, and great foolishness, to talk as if we could define the infinite or formulate absolute truth." This, of course, is what the Catholic Church has been doing for centuries - never more so than when the notion of "papal infallibility" was introduced in the nineteenth century.
One wonders why the only "infallible" pronunciation since then relates to the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, surely a myth comparable to the Christmas story?
The Catholic Church has infantilised the teaching of religion, relying on power and authority, rather than reason and history. The result is that an educated (and supposedly Catholic) population now simply ignores Church teaching on more or less everything - contraception, co-habitation before marriage, gay rights, the right to divorce and even the absolute ban on abortion.
It is abundantly clear that many people, especially the young, simply do not believe in much of the doctrine of old, as demonstrated by the freefall in religious practice and especially by the empty seminaries.
Fr Flannery knows that the tenets of Christianity are good in themselves and myth and legend do not have to be portrayed as eternal truth in order to buttress the Christian message. Nor should Catholic beliefs need to be enforced by the laws of the land.
But we are talking about the Catholic Church - and it is no surprise that a group of conservative elderly bishops, obsessed with authority and unable to face up to robust intellectual challenges, have ensured that one of their brightest and best has been silenced by the Vatican.
Portmarnock, Co Dublin
New year, a new start for everyone
For some, the dawning of a new year can be a clean slate, a time of renewal and redemption. Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
Each new day could be a rebirth, and as the old adage so simply states: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."
Yesterday is gone for good. Part of the exhilaration that accompanies every January 1 is the optimism that starting over is possible and the belief that new beginnings can create new and successful outcomes.
St Francis of Assisi hit the nail on the head with this amazing quote: "Start by doing what's necessary, then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."
As the calendar turns over to another year, most people start thinking about what they did or didn't do the in past year, and what they would like the new year to bring. Some people make resolutions or goals, others might just spend some time in prayerful mediation.
Every new year comes with new opportunities and challenges. Perhaps just a smile, and the hand of friendship is all it takes to start a happy new year.
Ennis, Co Clare
Teachers punished for their stand
The Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 has provisions relating to "non-covered" public servants, which are designed to punish them for exercising their democratic right to refuse to sign up to the Public Services Stability Agreement. Their refusal to sign is not based on greed - quite the opposite, they have taken a laudable, principled and unselfish stance against the continuation of discriminatory new entrant salary scales.
The proposed three-year suspension of contracted increments amounts to an effective pay cut, with reference to contract for all individuals affected, lasting until they belatedly reach the top point of the scale.
Unfairness is to be visited by law on those who take a principled stance, to their own cost, against unfairness to colleagues in the form of discriminatory new-entrant salary scales. Is this vindictive and unethical proposal even Constitutional?
It already reflects badly on our Government that it has chosen, presumably with an eye to votes, to prioritise general tax cuts and payment increases over dealing fully with the blatant unfairness of discriminatory new-entrant pay-scales.
It is an entirely unethical and odious proposal.
In the Senate, the relevant provisions have been described as supporting discrimination by the State, and as creating a dangerous precedent.
These provisions have been referred to in the Dáil as being draconian, bullying, rotten, outrageous, and as an attack on human rights, an attack on trade union rights, and as State coercion.
Fianna Fáil has been very quiet on the matter, presumably it is looking the other way due it to its confidence and supply agreement.
The Labour Party has largely gone missing, perhaps in hiding in embarrassment along with the large unions who have taken a less principled approach.
I can find no attempted rebuttal to the criticism from those proposing the Bill, yet it sails on towards being passed into law.
US bullying on Jerusalem
Never has an American president dared to use extortion and pressure to intimidate UN members against their conscience. The issue of Jerusalem is non-negotiable.
Jerusalem is a sacred city for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Its grandeur, splendour, beauty, heritage and spirit should transcend sectarian and religious divisions, hatred and oppression. The Palestinian people have endured persecution and unspeakable anguish. They have shown tremendous valour in the face of Israel's military occupation.
They deserve an independent state of their own, freedom, justice and dignity. Also the Hashemite custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem is a sacred kernel of peace. It is time to draw an inspiration from the spirit of Christmas and reaffirm our unshakable commitment to bring peace for the well-being of mankind.
Dr Munjed Fraid al Qutob