Being a Catholic these days can feel like being stuck in an episode of 'Father Ted'



The Catholic Church has written to RTÉ to complain about a sketch featured in the new Mario Rosenstock TV show.

Martin Long from the Catholic Communications Office said the sketch on last week’s show – which featured a man spitting into a bucket in the manner of a boxer, before receiving communion – ridiculed “the reception of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, which is the body of Christ. To make fun of this sacred act is sacrilege and is offensive.” In response, Rosenstock accused the church of trying to “[tell] RTÉ what they can and cannot show”.

That’s not entirely fair – it is possible to see how devout Catholics might have found the sketch offensive and, of course, the communications office is within its rights to complain on their behalf.

At the same time, though, when it comes to making the church look ridiculous, you could argue that the hierarchy itself is doing a better job than any comedian. Being a Catholic these days is a bit like finding yourself trapped in a neverending episode of Father Ted, without the funny bits.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the pope and you’re about to write the book which – as you head into your 86th year – could even be your last. What issue would you feel compelled to tackle?

Would you plump for declining Mass attendance? Would you tackle the issues of reproductive choice, or of women priests? Or maybe you would opt to explore gay marriage, or the child sex abuse crisis currently rocking Australia?

No, of course you wouldn’t; not when there are urgent theological issues to be determined.

Pope Benedict XVI latest book has prompted a rash of “Pope bans Christmas”-type headlines. Although Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives is a proper theological study and the third in the pope’s series on the life of Christ, certain media have seized on a handful of statements within the book: that there is no evidence to state that there were any cattle, donkeys or other livestock present on the night of Jesus’s birth; and that he may not have been born on December 25th, 0000, but several years earlier.

The Vatican has pointed out that these are minor points in an otherwise serious work that attempts to put the life of Christ into a historical context and to remind Catholics of his message. But worthwhile as this may be, I’d question whether theological discussion is really the best use of the pope’s time.

Whatever his aim in writing the book, the result is an impression of an organisation that only occasionally pokes its head out of its ivory tower to deliver increasingly irrelevant edicts to its ever-shrinking audience.

The church is currently experiencing what some of its members believe is the most disruptive and transformative series of events it has undergone since the Reformation. The handling of the various child sex abuse scandals has rocked it to its foundations. The issue of reproductive choice has left many women feeling uncertain about their place in an organisation that wants to deny them control over what happens to their own bodies. Gay people say they feel disenfranchised by its teachings on sexuality.

According to the Ipsos/MRBI 50th anniversary poll published in this newspaper last week, 90 per cent of Irish people still call themselves Catholics, but just over one third go to Mass once a week. One in five does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that God created the universe. Three quarters would opt to trust their own conscience, rather than turn to the church when making major decisions.

Instead of addressing the factors within the church that have led to this drift, the hierarchy seems to have turned inwards, opting to blame its members for a lack of moral fortitude.

Its overriding preoccupation seems to be with what it refers to as the “secularisation and spiritual desertification” of its own flock.

And yet when it has the opportunity to reach out to a group that may be feeling disenfranchised, it bypasses women, and gay people, and those in families that fall outside the church-approved norm – and invites a bunch of circus performers to the Vatican instead. (I didn’t just make that up – that’s what it did last weekend. Meanwhile, Irish survivors of institutional abuse are still waiting for their invitation.)

The church could take solace from the remarkable statistic that 90 per cent of Irish people still count themselves as belonging to it, in name at least, and it could start looking at ways to make them feel more invested in its future.

But I suspect this is not going to happen any time soon, even despite the promise of its latest venture, a foray into social media.

The news that Pope Benedict XVI is about to launch himself into the Twitterverse – his representatives will be tweeting from @pontifex from next Wednesday – is unlikely to persuade many that the organisation he leads is ready to embrace the modern world.

Keep your clubs and clothes on

An organisation called the Sandycove Bathers Association voted last week not to allow women to join its ranks.

The group swims at the Forty Foot in Dún Laoghaire, which until 25 years ago was a male-only swimming area. Women now swim there too, but there is a secluded section around the side that remains unofficially men-only. Thanks to last week’s vote, women still won’t be able to use the group’s huts.

I don’t have an issue with men-only groups, particularly. My desire to join a golf club that will allow me to go around in ugly knitwear saying things like “I left my approach shot pin high on the eighth and then, using my lucky five iron, I lipped out”, is roughly equivalent to my desire to go skinny dipping in the Irish Sea. (I don’t want to join Curves gym or the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, either.)

But I do wish that these exclusive, men-only organisations wouldn’t insist on hijacking the venues with the best views. Especially the ones that encourage their members to go around in the buff. I would very much like to be able to go for a walk by the sea without being confronted by the sight of naked men doing “warm up” stretches, as is a regular spectre at nearby White Rock beach in Killiney. Nude swimming still happens at the Forty Foot, too.

Naturists, here’s a tip: if you want to warm up, put some clothes on. I’m sure most of you are perfectly nice people, but the indisputable fact of the matter is that you would look so much better with the help of textiles.

Give the duchess a rest, she's pregnant

The months and months of tabloid speculation over whether Kate Middleton was sporting a “pregface” or whether she was just smiling, and whether it meant anything that she declined a glass of wine/a spoonful of peanut butter/walked with her hands clasped in front of her stomach, finally came to an end this week with the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is, indeed, with child.

While I am thrilled by the notion of the entire British nation sending out “We’re pregnant!” texts en masse, I hope that the media now lays off her a bit.

It’s hard enough for the unencumbered-by-fame to cope with the unsolicited advice and hands-on-bumps that are part of the package of being visibly pregnant – but imagine the pressure of carrying the future of a monarchy in your uterus.

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