Jude Collins

Friday, 19 July 2013

A tale of two priests

 I’ve only once ever walked out of a church during Mass in protest. (And if I’m honest, most people either ignored my exit or thought the infant in my arms needed a nappy change).  It  was several decades ago and it was in response to a letter from the cardinal or maybe the bishop, which in so many words told the congregation not to vote for Sinn Féin. I was very contrary then, unlike my present agreeable self, and I didn’t like the idea of the hierarchy telling me how to vote, given as how I was all growed up.

Not that I’ve anything against the Catholic clergy. In general they’re a body of  self-less, hard-working, sometimes heroic men. But every so often, one of them gets a fit of the head-staggers and starts saying  stuff that either makes no sense or at best half-sense. An example? Last year Glengormley priest, Fr Eugene O’Neill   said on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster that priests of 45 (his age) or younger found the debate about a united Ireland “literally irrelevant”,   and that the north was a better place to be a Catholic than the south. This year - in fact last Sunday -  Fr Tim Bartlett was on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster, responding to the events of the Twelfth. In the middle of his contribution, Tim went off on a sort of solo run and informed listeners that a lot of Catholics were happy to live in this state as long as they were treated equally and with respect. 

A wise man once told me “If someone tells you something, remember to ask ‘How do you know that?’”  So that’d be my question for Eugene and Tim: how do you know that?  While I’d never presume to read a priest’s mind, my guess is they’d say they got the information from talking to people. Fair enough. That’d be my own experience too. I wouldn’t go so far as Eugene, who I assume has talked to every under-45 priest in Ireland, but I’d say the majority of them probably don’t give a toss about a united Ireland. And I’d agree with Tim that there are a lot of Catholics (depending on how you define ‘a lot’) who are happy to live in this state and who’d like to be treated equally and with respect.

But here’s the thing, Eugene (stop fidgeting, Tim: patience is a virtue, fan bomaite): I know a lot of Catholics who don’t think the north is a better place to be a Catholic than the south. In fact they think both states stink in equal but different ways. They’d prefer to live in a united Ireland that is neither the north nor the south. 

Think of it like this, Eugene. The north Is a big 10-gallon tin of petrol. Just sitting there, being petrol. OK? Now think of the south as a big car with an empty tank. Just sitting there. Both in themselves pretty useless, except you plan to make petrol bombs maybe. But consider what would happen if you transferred the ten gallons into the car. You could say the car has swallowed up the petrol but in fact you’ve now got something quite new. The static petrol has united with the static car to produce - magic - a moving machine! You now can go places hitherto impossible. My point, Eugene, is that a united Ireland for anyone with more than one brain cell doesn‘t mean North + South. It means a new entity, a state that’s capable of achieving things at present impossible in either state.

Now Tim, your turn. First of all, you’re spot on about Catholics wanting to be treated equally and with respect. And I’d guess - it’s only a guess, mind you, I haven’t talked to them all - that they’d want equality and respect for their Protestant fellow-countrymen and women as well. But here’s the thing:  it is possible to want the north to be a place of equality and respect AND to want to live in a united Ireland where, being all growed up, the Irish people govern themselves. It’s not an either/or, Tim. It’s both equality/respect AND national unity. And while Catholic clergy like yourself are entitled to their views - in this case as so often in the past, supporting the status quo -  there are a lot of us Catholics out here who don’t think a united Ireland is one bit irrelevant, mainly because we believe it’s good when people form opinions and make decisions, not because someone tells them what to think or do, but because they’ve thought for themselves and acted to control their lives the way they believe  best.



  1. If William Crawley or his producer is reading your blog,it sounds like a good topic for Sunday Sequence with both yourself and one of the priests quoted.Can we presume that you would admire priests such as Fr Joe Mc Veigh or Fr Des Wilson who never quite seemed to be able to condemn the excesses of the I R A during the Troubles?

  2. Anon 10:40 - I'm not familiar with the stated position of either man but I'm sure if you want to find out their thinking you can contact them - Joe I think is on Twitter and Belfast Media Group should be able to put you in touch with Des. Always best to cut out the middle man, don't you think?

  3. It means a new entity, a state that’s capable of achieving things at present impossible in either state

    How do you know that?

  4. Jude
    I don't know why you would walk out of church. Your very presence there at all suggests you are willing to be told what to do by a man who thinks God talks to him.
    Isn't that part of the deal?

  5. Anon 21:17 - Good question (I always like to see people make progress on the thinking front...) Any statement about the future by definition will have a degree of uncertainty but we can use reasonable judgement to predict. If a worm is cut in half, the two halves may wriggle but they're not going to operate as well as they would if they were one worm.Just as a finger can do certain things but five fingers in a fist can do much more. And then there are such things as trade unions, the EU, etc. In fact I notice on one of the Orange protest banners the statement 'United we stand, divided we fall'. Can't get better advice than that...

  6. Gio - I already said I was young adn contrary at the time, as distinct from agreeable, nay meek chap you're currently addressing. But I think you might need to read up a bit on Catholic theology if you think that priests habitually tell people what to do and claim that God talks to them. You should attend a Sunday Mass some time and test whether your thesis stands up.

  7. Jude
    I have no intention of wasting my Sunday listening to mumbojumbo men and their ( non-scriptural) rituals, of any creed.
    I feel it is safe to say that it is not uncommon for religious leaders to believe that God talks to them.("the Pope revealed that he is stepping aside because God told him to" 24/2/2013.)
    And equally common for churches to tell us what to do. How else would we know not to wear condoms or work on the Sabbath or lie down with a goat etc.

  8. Gio - Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. I have this gut feeling that you'd enjoy the goat thing...

  9. Jude,if you class yourself as an agreeable person presently,you must have been a fearsome disagreeable individual back then(I'm guessing 70s/80s).Apart from walking out of the Church,did you make any representations to the ecclesiastical authorities?I presume that many people back then did their own thing politically and hardly accepted meekly the perceived dictates of the Catholic Church.

  10. Jude;You must lead a very sheltered life if you claim not to know the views of Fr Des Wilson on various topics!Does he not(like yourself) write a column for the Andersonstown News ?Maybe you don't read his columns or possibly you are just being just a little coy!

  11. Are Frs O'Neill and Bartlett any more representative of the Catholic Church than Frs Wilson and Mc Veigh?Presumably the majority of priests just get on with the job for which they were ordained.