Brendan Hoban: Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices

Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices.

Western People 17.8.2021

When something is difficult to understand, a good tactic is to look behind the presenting problem and ask the question: what’s this really about?

The presenting Irish Catholic Church problem at present is: how, in the midst of a pandemic, can we facilitate children and their families in the matter of First Communion and Confirmation?

Everyone accepts that the pandemic is still raging. The experts tell us: one, that the present wave – driven by the aggressive Delta variant – has still not reached its peak; two, that hospital admissions have increased over the last few weeks and (as I write) Dr Holohan, the chief medical officer, has announced that almost 20,000 have tested positive for Covid in the last fortnight; three, that we’re at a ‘key juncture to path our way out of Covid-19’ but ’rising cases still pose a real threat’; and, four, that even with 77% of adults now fully vaccinated, caution for the next few weeks is a sensible course as children aged 12-15 begin to be offered a Covid vaccine from August 12.

It’s a belt and braces strategy which makes eminent sense. If you don’t agree ask those who have lost loved ones to Covid. Or those who still suffer from ‘long Covid’ or even those who have recovered from Covid. Indeed, you could argue that it’s difficult to understand how anyone could possibly question the wisdom of a cautious policy when it’s just a matter of waiting for a few more weeks.

Strangely, a number of Irish Catholic bishops have publicly indicated that they are unilaterally rejecting the official guidance and allowing (indeed effectively encouraging) priests to organise Communions and Confirmations in August.

Why, one wonders, would they do this?

Up to now, the only ones rejecting official health guidance were ‘anti-vaxxers’, conspiracy theorists, attention-seekers, climate change sceptics and a few rogue publicans. To date, it was generally regarded as irresponsible not to accept and support the experts’ wisdom in public health matters and unconscionable in a pandemic to effectively encourage those demanding preference for particular agendas.

Now, some Catholic bishops, so often in the past taking the high moral ground, are no longer adopting what, in the circumstances of a pandemic, seemed to most responsible people the sensible, upright, moral position. Instead, they are joining those who are attempting to undermine the authorities by forensically searching for seeming anomalies in the complex arrangements for protecting public health.

How could bishops possibly defend what seems a morally indefensible position?

The justifications and explanations offered by a few bishops could, I suppose, be analysed at length to throw some light on the motivation behind this extraordinary about-turn which places people at risk of serious illness or death. But, on the face of it, the words of Jesus in Luke 4:23 – ‘Physician, heal yourself’ – seem a suitable riposte to most of it.

So, it might reasonably be asked why, if the official guidance around dates for First Communions and Confirmation were respected for the last year and a bit, a few weeks now would warrant a complete volte face?

Or why anyone might possibly decide that the mission of the Church might suffer an irretrievable set-back if children had to wait a few more weeks – from August to September – to receive Communion or be confirmed.

But back to my first question – what’s this really about? Moving First Communions and Confirmation a few weeks forward? No, that’s just the presenting problem.

The real problem is, first, a refusal of some elements – clerical and lay – within the Catholic Church to accept that our status in Irish society has changed and that we no longer hold the centre of the stage in a way that allowed us in the past to control or dictate the agenda of Irish life. (In effect, our failure to adjust to our changed circumstances). And, second, it’s about the inordinate influence of a small circle of very traditional Catholics – in church and in media, who consistently goad the bishops to stand up to the government, which it consistently portrays as anti-Catholic and even anti-religion.

Unfortunately, a few bishops have succumbed to the pressure of those marginal voices demanding another Church versus State conflict. An example was the recent gung-ho interview of Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin – described variously by respected commentators as ‘disingenuous’, ‘overdoing the righteousness’, etc. – and from which a week or so later he had to back-pedal furiously when the official guidance changed.

This is not responsible leadership but a mixture of grand-standing, appealing to the usual suspects from ‘Catholic’ media who are spoiling for a fight with the government and a failure to understand that the majority of Irish Catholics have no appetite for the culture warrior conflict that has brought such grief to the American Church.

It’s something of a consolation to note that only a third or so of Irish Catholic bishops have indicated their agreement with this new resistance strategy and among that minority some have included ‘get-our clauses’ that distance themselves from it.

Clearly most bishops are unhappy/uncomfortable with the stance a minority of their colleagues has taken and some have bravely indicated their refusal to go down that road. Bravely, because an unspoken tradition is that Irish bishops don’t disagree in public – an infantile pretence calculated to reassure the pious and frustrate honest debate.

A small cadre of Catholic commentators – some of whom have their own agendas – lauding a minority of bishops is bringing us down the wrong road. Indeed, the First Communion fiasco is a telling reminder of what happens when those in positions of leadership listen to the wrong voices. And it’s why Pope Francis has called for a ‘synodal Church’, one where all bishops, priests and people ’walk together’ in a common mission.

I suspect that when the history of those years is written the bishops who rushed to use Communion and Confirmation as a stick with which to beat the government will not nearly be as lauded as those who had the good sense to keep their silence.


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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Pádraig @42, I must also thank you for your kind and gracious post.
    Perhaps, indeed, my “my God!” was over a bit the top.

    I had been preparing a rather flippant comment to post in reply to Brendan’s latest article, Church turns up the heat on climate deniers, wondering aloud when could we now have a proper discourse about the reliability of the science relating to global warming. I would have said that many eminent people have serious doubts about it, that great man, former President Donald Trump and his Eminence, George, Cardinal Pell, another great man, for example. Please excuse my sarcasm! And, only yesterday I read where Barnaby Joyce, leader of the Australian National Party, one of the coalition partners in the Australian government, has said that he will not be “bullied” into accepting this science.

    Of course, the Aussies have a particular vested interest in casting doubts on that particular branch of science because of its vast mineral producing industry.

    But you have disarmed me, Pádraig and I have now dropped that idea.

    There is, I believe, however, a problem with the constant questioning of properly researched science –which is all science, virtually.

    Andrew Wakeham, the anti-vaccine activist, was quickly found out after the Lancet MMR autism fraud but not before his bogus research had devastating affects in the drop in uptake of the MMR vaccine.

    I read a lot of scientific papers and I have also read papers on how to do and how not to do research and Wakeham is always presented as the classic example of how not to do scientific research.

    The science around Covid and the vaccines has been done properly and almost miraculously given that they managed to do in less than a year what would normally take ten years.

    I got the Pfizer vaccine very early on, December and March, because of the nature of my profession. I didn’t know then that 60 in every million who are vaccinated with Pzifer will contract myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle.
    That would not have influenced my decision to have that vaccine but you wonder how many of the 999,940 who would not contract that side affect may have refused the vaccine if this had been widely known.

    The UK, I think everyone agrees, was the world leader in Covid vaccination. However, Canada, Spain, Belgium and Denmark — I think — now have a higher percentage of adults vaccinated than the UK. There are 6 million adults in the UK who have not received even a single dose of vaccine. And this is almost certainly due to the anti-vaccine brigade and the their ongoing campaign.

    Even if I had been offered the AstraZeneca vaccine with its well publicised possible side affect I would not have hesitated in having it.

    So, Pádraig I am not so sure that constantly asking the questions in this particular sphere of knowledge and highlighting possible problems is necessarily a good thing.

    Finally, Pádraig I am so impressed with your proposal to Minister Eamon Ryan, indeed a blueprint for sanity. Very well done.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    Jim@41, thank you for your very kind and gracious reply to my previous post and your magnanimous words to Tony and Brendan too.

    I am so sorry to read that you nearly always find your visits to this site a dispiriting experience.

    I am the exact opposite. Seldom a day passes that I don’t have a look at what is on here and I almost always find it interesting and sometimes uplifting. This has me helped keep my faith, I think, and probably my sanity too.

    And then there is the education we have received from the scholars who regularly contribute here, though they themselves may reject that title.
    I have certainly learned a lot from them.

    I was first attracted to the ACP when I learned that one of the stated aims of the new association was the full implementation of the theology and vision of Vatican II.

    I greatly admire the courage of Brendan and Tony and the others who had the wherewithall to overcome the fear that existed when the idea of a new association of priests in Ireland was mooted.

    Jim, if we are looking for culprits in this relationship — ACP and the bishops — pointing the finger at the leadership of the ACP would be a mistake.

    However, I think things are now changing. At one of the recent Zoom meetings hosted by the ACP —on Synodality, I think –there were five bishops present. Paul Dempsey especially is, I think, a very good young bishop, the new Willie Walsh perhaps.

    Jim, I don’t think people in general are turning their back on God, on the Church, certainly, and for good reasons, but that is not the same as turning their back on God.

    I wonder if you have read Derek Scally’s book “The Best Catholics in the World”. If you haven’t I would recommend it to you. You know, I thought I fully understood why our church in Ireland had suffered such a dramatic loss of respect and credibility. But I was wrong. This is really an excellent book.

    There is also Brendan Hoban’s book “Where Do We Go From Here?” which provides an excellent insight to the difficulties they encountered in setting up the ACP.

    And, of course, Tony Flannery’s two books–or at least the two I have read — “A Question of Conscience” and “From the Outside” — are also excellent.

    Jim, I am always touched by the great sincerity that is so obvious in all your contributions to this site.

    Please don’t feel you have to reply to this. I will not expect you to.

    Thank you again, Jim and peace be with you.

    Goodnight and God bless.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    It’s said that very infectious viruses tend to be milder, and maybe Delta will become a bearable endemic ailment like the flu. But continued caution is advised even for the fully vaccinated. Lots of Vitamin D is also advised.

    Tokyo has been maddeningly slow with providing vaccines, but I was reassured to see that four friends in their mid-thirties have been fully vaccinated, and I think the rate of infection is dropping in the capital (3,000 new infections yesterday for the city of 13,000,000; only 167 over 65; 7 deaths). After a nationwide peak (over 25,000) there’s been a steep drop these last few days.

  4. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Joe@43.

    I have just shared it with family, friends and work colleagues though, happily, everybody in my circle has been very sensible about vaccination.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #39: Paddy:
    “… when he calls into question the reliability of scientific evidence I am genuinely surprised.”
    Not the reliability of scientific evidence, but we must remember the limitations!
    To say “Trust the science” is sometimes used simplistically as if any scientific statement is infallible. The two articles I referred to from the British Medical Journal and The Lancet point out clearly from within the scientific professionals that what seem to be “science” cannot be assumed to be so. We need to be scientific in how we receive scientific declarations.

    And thanks for the appreciation – I didn’t get the impression you were having a go at me!

  6. Jim Stack says:

    I had fully intended to say no more on this topic but I must respond to your post, which is both kind and considered. I hope I too can display both qualities in my reply here.

    Firstly, I should not have said what I did about the motivation for the two articles, and I apologise to both men. I had regretted saying it before ever I read Paddy@40 but had yet to decide whether to come on again and apologise, or to just leave it be.

    I am an occasional visitor to this site. I nearly always find the experience dispiriting, but that may say more about me than about the contributions to the site, which are certainly of a very high standard. But I find it dispiriting because I live in a society which is turning its back on God more and more, I see the Church as the remnant fighting this trend, and then I come on this site and find all these highly educated and articulate priests sounding just as negative about the Church as anyone in the Irish Times or other media. In fact, quite a lot of the articles posted here have appeared in these same media and are often, in my opinion, feeding into the same anti-Catholic frenzy. On a previous visit, for example, I was responding to an article by Fr Liam Power which classified Catholics who want to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and from a priest, as right-wing fanatics – and I did not find a single comment from anyone else on this site which disagreed with this portrayal.
    On my most recent visit, I was relieved to find that some contributors agreed with me that the Pope should not have acted as he did on the TLM, but here too there was a lot of stuff about traditional Catholics that would have been better left unsaid. It disturbs me greatly to see so many priests being so dismissive of sincere Catholics who have stayed with the Church when others left in droves. This to me is behaviour which is reminiscent of what Charlie Haughey said about the British, that they have a long history of betraying their friends and placating their enemies.

    If there are some elements in the Church who refuse to accept our former dominance is gone, I have yet to encounter them. I would be amazed to find that this was what lay behind the bishops’ stance, and I would be amazed to find that they were responding to urgings from other members of the Church who felt this way. To me it seemed obvious that they were just responding to the needs of the flock for restoration of the sacraments, and that is why I thought the public criticism of them was unfair. But I am not a priest, and I am not a regular visitor to this site, so I accept that I may be wrong here. Perhaps there really are bishops who want the power their predecessors had, but to me they seem like decent men doing their best, and not always getting the support they need from some priests. But I repeat, I may be wrong.

    Finally, the Church really did try very hard to implement all the safety measures during the pandemic, and got no recognition at all from the authorities for doing so. The second time we were closed down seemed to many of us high-handed and unreasonable on the part of the authorities, precisely because we had tried so hard to comply with the safety measures. It really is very hard to see how we contribute to the risk of spreading this virus when we abide by all the rules. No one on this site, and no one in NPHET, has given any explanation as to how this might happen.

    Now, it really is time for me to depart. I was sorry to read of Eddie Finnegan’s health struggles, and of Tony Flannery’s bereavement. I will keep them, and all of you, in the prayers.

  7. Paddy Ferry says:

    Jim@37, I realise your views are very sincerely held. However, I feel your position–show me evidence and I will accept official guidance –is not tenable.

    I live in Scotland and I am an ardent football follower( of the association kind–I was not happy on Sunday!! ) and I constantly heard voices raised during the pandemic questioning the fairness of closing down football grounds and then, later, not letting fans in when football started again. It was all about it being in the open air, I think, was the main point being raised to support special treatment for the sport. Likewise in the hospitality industry and, also, in aviation –our old friend, Michael, had always something to say about air travel.
    There were always reasons given for making the case for special treatment and in other activities too.

    So, Jim, if governments had to justify with detailed evidence why each and every activity had to be closed down each time then we would have had chaos and tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths would have resulted.

    When you say that Brendan and Tony’s articles appeared to you as the ACP leadership taking the opportunity to have a go at the bishops, I would have to respectfully completely disagree with you. And, I can only assume you have not been keeping in touch with the ACP or this site over the last ten years as I have.
    I found both articles very well balanced and fair, excellent in fact. Of course those errant members of the hierarchy have listened to the wrong voices. And it is important that they are called to account when they get it so badly wrong as some of them have in this instance.
    And, finally, Jim, I think Brendan hit the nail on the head perfectly with this paragraph:

    “The real problem is, first, a refusal of some elements – clerical and lay – within the Catholic Church to accept that our status in Irish society has changed and that we no longer hold the centre of the stage in a way that allowed us in the past to control or dictate the agenda of Irish life. (In effect, our failure to adjust to our changed circumstances). And, second, it’s about the inordinate influence of a small circle of very traditional Catholics – in church and in media, who consistently goad the bishops to stand up to the government, which it consistently portrays as anti-Catholic and even anti-religion.”

    We simply have to accept that our previously exalted and all powerful status in Irish life is gone forever. And, it will never return and that, I think, is no bad thing.

    Goodnight and God bless, Jim.

  8. Paddy Ferry says:

    Eddie@38, I am so sorry to hear that you have not been well and, it seems, for some time too. I cannot imagine how distressing it must be to be aware that the aetiology of at least some part of your condition is iatrogenic.

    Now, I am not having a go at Pádraig or, at least, that was not what I thought I was doing. I have the greatest respect for Pádraig and I greatly appreciate the contribution he has made to this site. I am also aware of the great contribution he makes to his brother priests in the Dublin archdiocese. There is one topic, as you know, that we absolutely disagree on — and I continue to be baffled by that — but I know there will never be a coming together between us on that.

    Leaving that aside, I will always respect his learning and intelligence. I have said on a number of occasions that Pádraig has been one of our great educators on this site. So, when he calls into question the reliability of scientific evidence I am genuinely surprised. And, it is because of my respect for him that I usually want to engage with him.

    As for my “seizing upon” a phrase of Fr. James Betzke SJ, well, Eddie, I am disappointed that you felt you had to express yourself in that way.
    Sadly, I am not educated enough in Catholic tradition to know that there is a real meaning of “invincible ignorance”.
    Perhaps, indeed, I should check it out.

    Goodnight, Eddie.

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thank God for Pádraig’s consistent willingness to ask questions and probe honest doubts. As somebody who is currently undergoing very searching medical probing, scanning, biopsies, radiotherapy, etc. at no fewer than three London hospitals and half a dozen departments with their attendant consultants and professors, I say Thank God for them all and their close networking while also insisting on asking all the annoying questions that bug me, whether in preparatory appointments or while on the procedure table or under their all-seeing scanners. ‘Trust the Science’ by all means, but also be keenly aware of the misdiagnoses and iatrogenic diversions I’ve been led along since around 1995.

    And when you seize upon a phrase of James Betzke SJ to write: “And the ‘invincible ignorance’ expression is very appropriate and, as we have seen in this debate, even among those who are seemingly intelligent and thinking people in other(s) areas. But Covid, vaccines, bishops’ rights to circumvent the common good and even the issue of whether science can be trusted …. my God!!”, well it seems you’re having another go at Pádraig rather than engaging with ‘Ger Hopkins’, Jim Stack or those trans-Atlantic anti-vaxxers who keep invading this ACP parish. As for the real meaning of ‘invincible ignorance’ in the Catholic tradition, check it out.

    Finally as to Fr James Bretzke’s IKEA flatpack metaphor, surely he meant to recommend the Allen Key in preference to the hammer as the key tool to get his Swedish table steady on its four legs?

  10. Jim Stack says:

    I will reply as best I can to Joe@35, and then withdraw. To me, and to many others, the sacraments are important. Show me evidence that receiving the sacraments risks spreading the virus and I will reluctantly accept their postponement. I do not simply accept “official guidance” however, I would like to see some evidence that the official guidance is based on some actual research, and that has not happened here. Social distancing and hand sanitising and mask-wearing and limitation of numbers are, in my experience, observed fairly meticulously at Masses, far more than they are observed in shops, say. Even before I was vaccinated, I felt safe in church even though I am in one of the at-risk groups, because of my age and some underlying conditions. I do not feel safe in shops, and go only when I have to.

    I accept that others feel differently and continue to stay away from church. That is their right. But to publicly castigate the bishops, for what was a very reasonable stance in the circumstances, is not right and should not have happened. No one has produced a scrap of evidence that these bishops behaved irresponsibly.

    Fr Hoban’s article, and Fr Flannery’s in the Examiner, came across to me as the ACP leadership seizing on an opportunity to have another go at certain bishops. I actually agree with Fr Flannery that preparation of children for the sacraments needs to be looked at, but he should not have linked it to the virus debate.

  11. Paddy Ferry says:

    Bendan Hoban: Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices.

    Thanks, Liamy for sharing that excellent and profound piece.

    I particularly liked this little extract:

    “….Catholics have no moral reason to oppose them,” Aug. 10, 2021) and Sam Sawyer, S.J. (“How not to talk about vaccines: Some bishops are choosing the culture war over the common good,” March 3, 2021; and “Catholic bishops must not turn vaccines into a culture war issue,” Aug. 11, 2021)” (All previous articles in the Jesuit magazine, America.)

    And the “invincible ignorance” expression is very appropriate and, as we have seen in this debate, even among those who are seemingly intelligent and thinking people in others areas. But Covid, vaccines, bishops’ rights to circumvent the common good and even the issue of whether science can be trusted ….my God!!

    Thank God for Joe’s stamina and expertise.

    Joe, There was a piece on the news last night (BBC 10.00pm news) on the rate of infection in Japan — or maybe it was just in Tokyo — which described how the daily total of infections has risen from a daily rate of 1500 in July to 6500 yesterday and virtually all among the unvaccinated.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Brendan Hoban is far too sensible a person to muse on the state of bishops’ consciences. He is simply pointing out the objective immorality of endangering the life and health of the faithful. People may make mistakes in good conscience, but that does not lessen their gravity.

    The Archbishop of Tokyo closes down all masses, without waiting for proof that church services have transmitted the virus. He does not wait to act until victims have been found.

  13. Jim Stack says:

    “How could bishops possibly defend what seems a morally indefensible position?” That sentence is lifted verbatim from the newspaper article by Fr Hoban which sparked off this entire debate – the article we are all supposed to be discussing here.

    Joe O’Leary @28 writes of “Otiose ditherings about bishops’ consciences” which I think was directed at me (I confess that I had to look up the meaning of otiose!) But it seems perfectly reasonable to me to talk about consciences when the bishops are being accused of taking a morally indefensible position.

    It would indeed be morally indefensible if the public health authorities had produced any evidence that church gatherings had contributed to the spread of this virus. No such evidence has been produced, but the authorities went ahead and closed churches for a second time anyway. When they were eventually allowed to re-open, obstacles were still being placed in the way of First Holy Communion and Confirmation services, and this was communicated to the public in an offhand way, bordering on contempt, at the tail end of a press conference, and giving the clear impression that the matter had not even been discussed at Cabinet.

    In a nutshell, no data showing infection risk from church gatherings, and no evidence that the matter had even been examined by the health authorities or brought to the Cabinet. Against that background, Fr Hoban’s article seems particularly unfair to those bishops who decided not to postpone the services any longer.They were given no good reason to do otherwise.

  14. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    If you want extra discussion of the vaccine question, you may find something of interest in a series of 8 podcasts from the Royal Irish Academy:
    In particular for this discussion: In episode five Dick Ahlstrom chats to Professor Jane Suiter, Director of the Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society at DCU about what drives the spread of disinformation and how it can undermine vaccination programmes.
    There’s a 14-page “Expert Statement” at
    We still need to deal with how to address those who are hostile and who feel that they are being ignored – not a healthy situation for society.

  15. Pat Savage says:


    Excellent post.

    Sadly some within the ACP wish to play the PC card at times.

    It is most unfortunate that during this crisis a lot of the comments from those who wrote on this forum must not have had the chance to read the actual public letters sent by public health authorities (Nphet) to the minister of health. There were certainly occasions when the advice given did not appear to match the actions taken by government.

    Secondly, it’s amazing how two senior politicians in this country post the Merrion Street bash issued an a apology to a service industry and another to their party leader but not to the people of the state who, despite great loss, gave up a lot.

    I wish to state I agreed at the vast majority of times with restrictions, unfortunately, those in leadership in our political community thought those rules didn’t refer to them.

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    This is the worst possible moment for politicians to defy medical advice (given the tremendous infectiousness of Delta). Let them learn from Govs Abbott and DeSantis.

    The bishops should speak up in defence of their flock’s life and health.

    We cannot inflict unacceptable delays on young people who need live music events and football matches right now! Live music and sporting events are a matter of life and death! Is it money that lies behind this madness? Is it cheaper to let our young people sicken and die than to lose the takings they bring to live events?

    Just this is the kind of dreamy wishful frivolity that has caused governments to drop the ball so often (including in the utterly ridiculous, futile, hugely unpopular Olympic non-events in Tokyo). And the winner every time has been: the virus!

    I trust that Irish common sense will prevail. Remember that the virus has already taken more Irish lives than the Troubles.

  17. Ger Hopkins says:

    Up til now It’s been hard to tell if the ACP leadership has a problem with the defiance of Covid regulations by some Bishops because they are defying the health advice or because they are defying the secular authorities.

    Now we get to find out. NPHET has advised that restrictions should continue
    and in the next few days it looks like the government will be ignoring that and removing most restrictions.

    Daily case numbers will be the same, as will ICU numbers and deaths. The only thing that will have changed is a political decision by the government. Will the ACP be out condemning the (mostly) non medical experts in the cabinet?

    If not, if the ACP are OK with the govt defying medical advice, some might wonder why they weren’t OK when the Bishops did it. If the ACP think it’s OK to defy medical advice, was the ACP leadership’s real problem that the Bishops were going up against the secular authorities? Are we about to be given an insight in to where the allegiances of the ACP leadership truly lie?

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Archdiocese of Tokyo has closed down all Masses in view of the surge in Delta infections. The numbers have swung between 5,000 and 2,000 a day. Ireland has 2,000 new infections a day (which would amount proportionately to 6,000 a day in Tokyo which has three times the population of Ireland).

    Otiose ditherings about bishops’ consciences and church-state etiquette are irrelevant to the practical danger. If we play fast and loose with the virus, the virus will always win.

    The free movement on Tokyo streets and subways and in full cafes is troubling, despite the all-day ban on alcohol (not universally observed) and the closure of premises at 8 pm. Even the fully vaccinated must practice fear and caution.

    On the safety of the Covid vaccine, let’s believe responsible authorities, not rumours:

    Also note:

  19. Jim Stack says:

    One bishop said, very sensibly, that he had a duty to consider people’s physical health, and he had a duty to consider their spiritual health too. He was one of those who decided to go ahead with First Holy Communion and Confirmation in his diocese. Other bishops decided not to. All decided as individuals, as far as I could see. Even by ACP standards, the portrayal of those bishops who opted for postponement, as brave souls swimming against a tide of episcopal sabre-rattling, is ridiculous. They all followed their own consciences, full stop.

    All this talk of “science” needs a bit of perspective. In Ireland, we are not systematically collecting data on adverse reactions to the vaccines, but we have plenty of anecdotal evidence, word of mouth stuff from people who have had prolonged and serious reactions. Without proper data, however, balancing the risks of taking vaccines with the risks of not taking them, is problematic. There is mounting evidence also that the vaccines have nowhere near the 90% efficacy rates claimed for them after clinical trials, presumably because of emerging new strains of the virus. Other countries have banned some vaccines for some subgroups of citizens. Very few of them have closed churches for as long as we closed them in Ireland.

    The scientific evidence, in short, is nowhere near as clearcut as the ACP makes out. If it were, we would have all countries following the same guidelines, but there are wide disparities.

    There was no reference to science when the churches were closed the second time around, no data to show that they were sources of infection. All available evidence showed, on the contrary, that the precautions put in place in the churches had the desired effect. Nevertheless, the state insisted on closing down the churches again, and clearly regarded this as a matter of no consequence. That was the background to the recent disagreement about First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. Some bishops clearly had had enough. That would have been an irresponsible position if there had been, in fact, any scientific evidence of real risk of infection spread, but in the absence of such evidence some bishops saw no reason for further postponement and others took a better-safe-than-sorry approach. What is it about the ACP that they cannot calmly assess these situations and recognise that other people may be acting in good conscience too?

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    Overkill in that the consensus of serious organizations discredits the views of the fake one. I am rushing through an open door.

    But it is good to hear the indignant voices of those most painfully affected. I mean lgbt folk and their families and advocates. The links are worth reading in this respect.

  21. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Joe@22. An element of overkill here surely. Death by a thousand links.

  22. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Joe – you continue to astound me with your level of output! I don’t have your stamina or expertise in research or in sourcing material.
    But this has digressed a long way from the point of Brendan’s article. My point was to say that it is important to listen to what people have to say – there should be no “cancel culture” denying people a voice. What we do with that then is our decision.

    It was not I, but you, who brought the matter of the American College of Pediatricians into this discussion. Whatever your opinion or mine of them or their “disputed status” has little which is relevant to what Brendan wanted to say. I pointed to the disputed status of some medical research, raised by medical professionals, to underline the importance of asking questions, which has not always been done as it should in medical circles.
    I will say no more on this. You may have the last word if you wish. Peace be with you.

  23. Joe O'Leary says:

    The ACPed do not deny that they advocate conversion therapy, merely protesting that they do not use electroshock therapy, which no one claimed.

    It’s a sure thing that this group would dash off their amicus briefs to fight legislation like what the Oireachtas has discussed:

    Southern Poverty Law Center allows the ACPed to condemn itsef out of its own mouth:

    Mind you, they could easily have compiled a florilegium of homophobic utterances from us Irish Catholic clergy, and a larger album of criminal silences.

    They are not the only critics of this group:

    ACPed are a small activist group who have deceived many into confusing them with similarly named respectable organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (66,000 member to the ACPed’s 600).

    It is highly irresponsible to cite this group as a bona fide authority without alerting people to their disputed status.

    Its nice to see that Pete Buttigieg, born to my Notre Dame colleague Joe Buttigieg during my sojourn there in 1981-82, and hopefully the Dem candidate for POTUS in 2024, is now presenting a model not only of gay marriage but of gay adoptive parenting.

  24. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #20: Joe:
    I checked the website ( about this. They say:
    “Does the ACPeds support “conversion therapy”? ACPeds by no means supports and is opposed to any coercive, shaming, and physically harmful practices such as electroshock therapy. These are not forms of ethical psychotherapy. ACPeds endorses ethical talk therapy and counseling techniques in order to identify and address issues that may underlie the undesired attractions and behaviors.“

    The subject of gender dysphoria and transgender is far too complex and emotive to discuss here. “Conversion therapy” is often used to refer to methods which seem to me to be criminal abuse. Psychotherapy as described by the American College of Pediatricians does not seem to me to deserve the description of criminal abuse. As you say, vigilant discernment is required.
    The “Southern Poverty Law Center” in the USA describes them as an extremist hate group. This tells us more about the SPLC than about the ACPeds.

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    To say that an organization promoting the criminal abuse known as conversion therapy is just as valid as mainstream therapeutic organizations is a bit like saying the KKK is just as valid as the mainstream political parties. Not of course that mainstream parties cannot subtly shift to evil, as history amply attests. Vigilant discernment is required.

  26. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #16: Paddy:
    Yes, we have to trust the science – as long as we also recognise that science at any stage has limitations and continues to develop, and that this is assisted by being open to question and challenge.
    #17 & 18: Joe:
    We don’t disagree on vaccination. Yes, it is important that it is made available as widely as possible as quickly as possible.
    “Bishops who say we should go ahead with crowded communion and confirmation ceremonies and partying …”: I have not heard any Irish bishop say this. Perhaps some have elsewhere.
    “Fake pediatric association”: Thanks for the link to their website.
    It says: “Founded in 2002, the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a growing medical association of more than 600 physicians and other healthcare professionals from across the nation (47 states) who are dedicated to the well-being of children. The vast majority of the ACPeds members are board-certified pediatricians in active practice.”
    In USA, there are also the (largest) American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Federation of Pediatric Organizations (FOPO), the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), the American Pediatric Society (APS), and the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties (CoPS). Each, presumably, has its own purposes which distinguishes it from the others.
    The ACPeds to which you refer, with over 600 members, would seem just as valid as the other associations, and not a “fake pediatric association.”

  27. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pádraig, the sort of sophisticated scientific epistemology you are now talking about is exactly the sort of thing that Dr Fauci et al. have factored into their thinking and that has shaped their continual ongoing nuancing of their recommendations.

    Yet the constant upshot of their analyses is the urgency of universal vaccination.

    Anti-mask and anti-vax movements are signally not based on such nuanced reflection, nor have the bishops who say we should go ahead with crowded communion and confirmation ceremonies and partying joined the medical community at this level of sophistication.

    Cherry-picking professional literature (as I recall a fake pediatric association you drew on a few years ago also did) is not a professional thing to do.

  28. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan Hoban: Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices.


    “External factors may also influence what action is taken. Fr Fergal O’Connor OP died in 2005. He was our tutor in Political Philosophy in UCD in the early 1960s: a lively and inspiring man. There was a debate at the time about fluoridation of drinking water to improve dental health. Fergal was strongly opposed to it as “mass medication” of the population. Was he right?”

    No, Pádraig, he was definitely wrong.

    And, please believe me too, Pádraig when I say we have to trust the science.

  29. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    It seems from some responses that I did not communicate clearly above when I said that “there are no wrong voices.” Please permit me to clarify further.

    Science, including medical science, has brought amazing achievements for which we are grateful. All science is also a human enterprise, and advances by continual corrections. Errors may occur either within the scientific process, or as a result of external factors.
    External factors may also influence what action is taken. Fr Fergal O’Connor OP died in 2005. He was our tutor in Political Philosophy in UCD in the early 1960s: a lively and inspiring man. There was a debate at the time about fluoridation of drinking water to improve dental health. Fergal was strongly opposed to it as “mass medication” of the population. Was he right?

    We know that the medical profession, as individuals or as a group, can be involved in very questionable practices. An example is from the first half of the last century, when eugenics was popular, when the USA and many other countries, on grounds of the public good, passed legislation for mandatory sterilisation of those considered not fit to be parents.

    We may presume that medical research today is fully checked and reviewed. But an article in the British Medical Journal in July 2021 is entitled “Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proved otherwise?”
    Also, in The Lancet in April 2015: “What is medicine’s 5-sigma?” (standard of verification): It says: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.”

    We may say that we “Trust the Science”, but this depends on our readiness always to ask questions. I trust my medical professionals in their medical judgments, but I have also on occasion pointed out where there was an error in some assumption or matter of fact. I also have experience of unexpected side-effects of medication. We are not passive subjects in our medical care. Where people voice some objection in a medical matter, we must be prepared to first hear what they have to say. It may be based on a false premise, but we won’t know unless we first listen. We must allow for valid “whistleblowers”.

    In the case of Covid-19 vaccines, it seems to me that widespread use is reasonable. Despite their exceptionally swift development, there has been also exceptional investment and oversight from governments, and any serious problems would be very public. The one test not yet possible is the test of time. We must continue to monitor the effects of both Covid-19 and of the vaccines for at least a generation.
    We must continue to ask questions, and to listen. Without that, “Trust the Science” has a shaky foundation. This is an integral part of vaccination as an act of love and respect for all the people of our planet.

  30. Joe O'Leary says:
  31. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan Hoban: Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices.

    Such a sad, sad, heartbreaking story on the BBC 10.00 o’clock news tonight of a young mother, Samantha Willis from Derry who has died following the birth of her new baby girl. She had not been vaccinated and had contracted coronavirus.
    She had not been able to hold her new born baby and the child was baptised during Samantha’s funeral service.

    Her husband, Josh is now trying to raise vaccination awareness.

    God rest her and may God give Josh and his family strength.

  32. Joe O'Leary says:

    Remember the topic of the thread, the folly and danger of listening to wrong voices when it means putting your own and your neighbours’ health and life at risk. There are now so many repentant contrarians that it takes an extreme form of folly to persist in such behaviour. Those who egged on crowds of denialists are not trying vainly to curb the monster they created, even Trump, who was booed by them when he urged vaccination. Sean Hannity is one such repentant contrarian: √

  33. Ger Hopkins says:

    Joe@9. I wish I could say I didn’t need to refresh my memory from Wikipedia for any of the following.

    The argument of your first paragraph seems to come down to saying that we are under no obligation to listen to hate speech and the like. Because it’s hate speech. The kind of speech that we deem shouldn’t be listened to. Which I think we’d agree is an example of begging the question (petitio principii).

    In my comment @8 I was contrasting your usual arguments questioning the Bishops authority with, for example Paddy@4 above, who was advocating for NPHET based on simple ipse dixit – an argument from authority.

    You respond to my comment in your second paragraph. But for some reason, that answer involves contrasting your rational arguments against the Bishops authority with someone else’s knee jerk rejection of medical authority. A straw man argument? (ignoratio elenchi). Or just a plain non sequitur?

    As for paragraph 3: Can a man undercut or otherwise alter an authority that is truly given by God? I think I’ll go with res ipsa loquitur.

    (Please excuse the lack of warmth and general smartassedness of this post but I couldn’t resist. Mea culpa)

  34. Joe O'Leary says:

    Hmm, the no wrong voices principle surely needs some modification. If some evangelical fanatic were to persuade a relative not to take lifesaving medicine, causing their death, it would be mere common sense to say they had listened to a wrong voice. Audi alteram partem means respect for argument and sane opinion. The same respect cannot be accorded to conspiracy theories, hate speech, or views and behavior dangerous to public health.

    As to the bugbear of authority touted by a pseudonymous poster, he surely knows that there is a difference between rationally grounded objections to authoritative statements and blind ipse dixit thinking on the one hand and hasty kneejerk reactions against authority on the other. In the present case the melior et sanior pars of church authorities are pro-vaccination, pro-masks, and pro-respecting medical expertise. Some bishops have got it wrong, especially in the USA. Dancing on needles about authority and refusing the vaccine as an infringement on one’s liberty is a form of contrarianism that has caused much illness and death in this ongoing crisis.

    Note that when church authorities issue poor prudential judgements they undercut their own God-given authority. Pope Francis has shown himself an excellent leader in the current situation.

  35. Ger Hopkins says:

    @Paddy and @Joe

    I hope this new found deference to authority doesn’t mean we’ll be hearing less from you on this site.

  36. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #4, #5, #6: “No wrong voices.”
    Yes. No wrong voices. Not in the sense that the views expressed must be believed, but in the sense that no voices should be excluded. I wrote: “Giving a voice to all parties doesn’t mean agreeing with all – that’s often impossible.”
    Paddy: No, I am not “suggesting bishops should be listened just because they are bishops.” Nor should they be excluded because they are bishops. They, like other citizens, have the right to be heard.
    A society, like a family, in which contrary views are classified as “wrong” and to be ignored, is a society which is living dangerously. It generates resentment.
    We need to hear, and acknowledge, the voices of those whose views do not correspond with our own views. Even if we do not agree with what we hear, there is the possibility that we may learn something from listening. To reach a conclusion or to make a decision without listening is to fail in respect and love, including for those who might be seen as our opponents or enemies.
    The principle of “Audi alteram partem” – “Listen to the other side” – is always important.
    I do not think the government handled the situation well. Nor do I think the bishops handled it well. There are many other voices too. What can we learn from this experience.

  37. Joe O'Leary says:

    No wrong voices? The USA, despite huge vaccination capacity, is on its knees because of the conspiracy theorists. Toleration and appreciation of such contrarian voices is an impossible formula. Would one appreciate fundamentalists who counselled a relative not to take life-saving medicine? Or ardent defenders of the right to text or be drunk or spurn seatbelts while driving? Would one lend credibility to religious authorities who backed such people against the experts?

  38. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan Hoban: Irish bishops listened to the wrong voices.

    “They certainly gave the impression that they were not listening to the bishops”.

    Pádraig, why should government ministers listen to bishops on this particular matter? Are there among the bishops individuals with qualifications in immunology and microbiology? If there are then that is news to me. Even if there are, I would still be inclined to accept the advice of those who are everyday practitioners of their expertise.
    I hope you are not suggesting bishops should be listened just because they are bishops.

    And, also “–there are no wrong voices”. Really, Pádraig!!
    I can only assume you have been most inattentive to this ongoing debate.

    There has been so much inaccurate nonsense spouted by the anti-vaxxers, for example, and Tony Flannery quite rightly drew attention in his Examiner piece to the irresponsible attitude of some of our bishops lending credibility to the those who propagate this nonsense.

    Brendan Hoban is absolutely and completely correct in what he says in his article.

  39. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    I don’t think the bishops listened to the wrong voices – there are no “wrong voices.” They should listen to all voices, as should the government. When people feel that they are not being listened to, they get frustrated. Giving a voice to all parties doesn’t mean agreeing with all – that’s often impossible. I know the government has a difficult job, but there are aspects of their handling of the pandemic which I think they handled badly. They certainly gave the impression that they were not listening to the bishops.
    Dermot Farrell of Dublin spoke at a juncture when the government had given no indication that they were listening. He did not back-pedal, furiously or otherwise. When the government then spoke about September, he went along with that.
    I would certainly encourage people to come for the vaccine, but again here it is not handled well. With any medication from a pharmacy, we receive a leaflet with instructions to read it carefully before taking the medication – we are encouraged to be “hesitant” to consider the matter. The evidence so far is very much for taking the vaccine, but the caution we are urged to have with other medications is hardly heard at all with the Covid-19 vaccine. The public pressure to be vaccinated is strong; when reasonable hesitancy is not acknowledged, there is a failure of respect and could be counterproductive.
    Pope Francis and some other bishops have gone on video to encourage people to take the vaccine:
    Here too I think it would have been advisable to acknowledge that some are hesitant, rather than only give attention to the pro-vaccine arguments.
    It is always important to acknowledge the points on the other side. This strengthens the impact of the case for the vaccine.

  40. Joe O'Leary says:

    I’ve never known Brendan to be wrong.

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