Shorter sermon falls short of captivating Wexford faithful


AS HE stepped down from the altar in Rowe Street Church in Wexford yesterday afternoon, the Bishop of Ferns was on his own. The wave of welcome that had swept Dr Brendan Comiskey to the porch in Enniscorthy cathedral the previous night had turned into a few outstretched hands.

Most people stood stiffly at their seats to watch their bishop's second public appearance.

At the last row in the Wexford town church, they gathered around.

The greetings were more muted. So was the applause that followed his second reading of the five page homily he had delivered the night before. It was a shortened version, he said, but the original was available on the way out.

The voice had cracked in the same place as it had on Saturday night when he mentioned his family. "We had very little in Tasson, where we were brought up but we had our good name... where do I go to get that back?" The question hung in the silence.

At the end, the congregation filed past him in the porch but some used the side doors. One woman stopped to say: "I don't want him back. I don't think he's a very good role model." Another felt the opposite. "He's a great man," she told her friend. "And isn't he looking well?"

Dr Comiskey arrived minutes before the Mass was due to start, pausing for the cameras on the steps. One man walked away from the buzz of the vestry in silence.

"I normally read at 12.30 p.m. Mass," he said. "Today I'm not. I feel let down by the man's actions. He ran away when things got hot leaving a lot of bewildered old people behind. We've good clergy here and we got on well enough for five months without him."

During the Mass, Dr Comiskey laced the 300 or so pairs of eyes fixed on him and said: "I have my weaknesses, but running away has never been one of them."

But the cooler reception he received yesterday did not go unremarked. "You must be one of the 9 per cent," he said to a well wisher, referring to last week's poll in the Wexford People. Out of 309 people polled, 9 per cent said they had a great deal of confidence in him.

Compared to the master performance of the previous night, yesterday was a comedown.

The congregation of St Aidan's in Enniscorthy feted him on Saturday night as the hero who had conquered the twin evils of alcoholism and journalism. "Did you miss me?" he asked them. "I did," said the young woman in the last row.

"You should'a said I didn't know you were away," said the bishop. Laughter all round.

And later, "I'm feeling great. In fact I've no excuse now for doing no work ... I hope you didn't get those gaunt pictures of me."

The peoples' bishop had returned and the people were there in his cathedral to shake his hand, kiss his cheek and be enfolded in his green robes.

"This'll create another scandal," he joked, as he hugged a white haired woman. He greeted his brother, Paddy, and wisecracked about his days in Trinity College Dublin, doing his master's degree in management. "They were the best of times and the worst of times."

The Church of Ireland bishop, Dr Noel Willoughby, was "delighted to be here and to be able to welcome him home, and by being here identify with him and wish him well". Dr Comiskey, he said, was "a great friend".

As Dr Comiskey sat in his cathedral among his people on Saturday night, he faced his own name in gold letters at the base of the alter arch.

Every bishop back to St Aidanus in the seventh century is listed. There is little room for his successor's name.

In the vestry a single cigarette butt, still damp, lay on the sink of the vestment room. Outside a slightly crumpled piece of card with an anonymous note. "Well done! Excellent!!" it said. "As you finish and give your blessing, apologise for delaying people and say you'll be available to meet the congregation (underlined) after Mass."