Brendan Hoban on the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes

Last Sunday morning on Faith Alive on Midwest Radio, Fr Brendan Hoban presented the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. 
His analysis, in conversation with Monica Morley, includes an assessment of what happened, why it happened and where we need to go from here.
‘Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed.
It means the damage no longer controls our lives’.
Carolyn Harrington

Link to audio:

Similar Posts


  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Amazingly lucid and enlightening, Brendan. You have your finger on the pulse of Ireland past and present.

  2. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    Yesterday (Jan 20th), Galway Ind Deputy Catherine Connolly returned to the Mother and Baby Homes Report in the Dáil, sitting in the Convention Centre. Text below from Dáil record on Dáil debates:

    Catherine Connolly said:
    Seo an dara deis atá tar éis a bheith agam bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo agus ní mór dom a rá nach bhfuil maolú ar bith ar mo chuid feirge nó mo chuid díomá. Tá rudaí níos measa ná mar a cheap mé mar tá i bhfad níos mó den tuarascáil léite agam. Tá sé damanta amach agus amach go bhfuil sé ráite ag an gcoimisiún go bhfuil an chuid den fhianaise ó na daoine a bhí sna haonaid máithreacha seo truaillithe. Breathnaigh ar an bhfocal sin – “truaillithe”. Níor chuala mé riamh an focal sin úsáidte mar sin maidir le fianaise.

    “This is my second time to take part in this debate. My anger has increased, as has my sense of despondency. Once again, I will take courage in my hand, with my privileged position and decent salary, and speak up. If the Minister wants to put the survivors – I hate that word, but I will use it because they have used it themselves – to the fore, he might explain how there was a leak. He has had time to investigate.

    He might explain why the survivors have not got copies of the full report yet. He might explain why Deputies did not have copies of the executive summary last week when they spoke in the Dáil. Does he think he could do that? These explanations were not included in his speech.

    He might confirm that those who had the courage to go before the commission and the confidential committee will be given copies of their full testimonies. Could he do that? It would be a start. He might publish the report of the collaborative forum, which he mentioned in his speech. God help us, but he also mentioned that he would set up a new interdepartmental committee. Lord protect us from interdepartmental committees. He will also engage with the collaborative forum. Its recommendations were published in April 2019 but not its report.

    Perhaps he might balance the power between an interdepartmental committee with no representation by a collaborative forum or survivors and the collaborative forum and the people on the ground. He might confirm that he will make full copies of the commission’s report available to all of us who want them, beginning with the survivors. He might explain how half of the €23 million that was allocated was used last October, although not to print a single copy. He might say that the Government made a mistake in having a webinar without giving out the report in the first place.

    Enough on that for the moment and I will now turn to the report. The report refers to all of society. For a change, I will quote a philosopher rather than a poet. When one attributes blame in that manner, one has no responsibility. I touched on this point last week. I will cite Dr. Hannah Arendt, who was speaking in a different context but whose words are equally applicable to this report. According to her, the person who says that we are all guilty, as was the case in Germany, is unknowingly covering up for the ones who did it.

    That is why we should not generalise guilt because doing so would be to cover up for the guilty. I do not believe that this finding has been laid out in the report unknowingly. I will bow down to anyone who has read its 3,000 pages – it is not possible. I have spent hours spending 500 to 600 pages. I have read the whole executive summary and what I was given by the Department.

    I have read the chapter on Tuam, the statistical analysis of Tuam, the chapter on discrimination and the chapter on vaccines, to which I hope I will have time to return. I glanced at a few other chapters. All of this has taken hours and hours.

    The Minister gave his speech, some of which I welcome in terms of the specifics for urgent legislation and access to records, including birth certificates, which is a basic human right. We did not need a report to tell us that, but I welcome it anyway.

    However, when the Minister follows other recommendations without even listening to the people on the ground who have not had a chance to read the report, then he is doing exactly what was done to these mothers and children before, in that he is patronising them and carrying on a patriarchal mode.

    Let us halt that for a minute and do what the Government should do, that is, legislate and provide access to records. It should set up an archive and so on, but bear in mind that the National Archives have been under-resourced for years. Is the Minister now making a distinction between the 18 institutions in question and the other institutions where mothers and babies were kept?

    The report tells us that it is unrepresentative because it has only taken a sample. That is good. This point should have guided the conclusions, but the commission seems not to have followed it. As such, we have an unrepresentative sample and the report makes strong conclusions that are at odds with witness testimony.

    The report then adds insult to injury on page 12, which shows a beautiful picture in autumnal colours, but all colour disappears quickly when one reads the witness testimony. That testimony jumps off the page – sexual abuse, rape, babies taken and an absence of any sense of understanding of the bond between mother and child.

    This testimony should be preserved and acted upon, but the conclusions were that there was no evidence of forced adoption – I could not possibly accept this – and no evidence of pressure to put people into mother and baby homes.

    [Fianna Fáil] Deputy Jim O’Callaghan reinforced the myth that society was responsible. It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church. I am not here to scapegoat nuns because the nuns reported to the bishop, who reported to the archbishop, who reported to Rome. What did our Governments do? They bowed down in deference. The Minister mentioned what our local authorities did. The county managers played a powerful role.

    All of this has been set out in the report, but we are then told that the evidence from some of those who came forward – only residents, mind you – is “contaminated”. Sin an bhfocal – “truaillithe”. Imagine telling people who had the courage to come forward that some gave evidence that was contaminated. How many is “some”? In what way was their evidence contaminated?

    Equally, was the same measuring stick used for the professionals that came before the commission? I refer to the doctors, priests, nuns, social workers and the witnesses from the county councils? The reason it was contaminated was because the former residents spoke to each other. Presumably, the nuns and the county managers did also, but their evidence was not contaminated.

    I am not sure if the Minister read it. I am openly telling him that I have not read the report’s 3,000 pages. Our former President [Mary McAleese] tells us that she read it, and as a result of reading it she tells us it is scholarly and profound.

    With the greatest of respect, I fundamentally disagree that this is scholarly and profound. If somebody has read 3,000 pages then he or she must have had the report before the Minister published it.

    We will again look at the conclusions. There is a conclusion regarding vaccine trials. [Fine Gael] Deputy Naughten went through this forensically today. I have read that chapter. There is a paragraph in the summary that tells us that the trials did not comply with the regulations or the law at the time but, magically, there were no ill effects.

    If one reads the chapter on the vaccine trials, one sees children getting sick with diarrhoea, convulsions and so on, not to mention the 10,000 deaths at a minimum, yet this commission of three people tell us there were no side effects.

    They do not even pose a question on whether there could have been side effects or if more money changed hands. It was pointed out that it went to the doctors. Did more money change hands? What about the other trials? We only looked at seven institutions. Were there trials in other institutions? Does the Minister think the commissioners might have raised a question in regard to that?

    Will the Minister indicate whether any of the three commissioners sat and listened to the 500 or so residents who came before the confidential committee? I know there was a tiny overlap of fewer than 100 between some residents who went to both. Did the commissioners sit in? This reminds me of paint-by-numbers pictures. Does the Minister remember that? One was allowed a little discretion in what colour one put into the number, but the picture was predetermined.

    The picture was predetermined here because on page 2 the commissioners tell us that it might disappoint somebody that they are going against the prevailing narrative. That is to add insult on top of injury because they confirm the prevailing narrative of the powerful, which is that all of society was to blame.

    They add insult to injury by even twisting language. The Minister has a golden opportunity to lead and to bring about transformative action and language. I will back him every step of the way, but he has got to lead. He must break away from the four and a half pages that he delivered here today, which is more of the same.”

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    Thank you Liamy @2 for making the effort to read a large part of the report and giving us this informative comment’

    “It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church”

    Yes! and the reality of this power to-day within the church is manifest by
    ‘privileged’ laity colluded with the elite, in what could be described as a Church within a Church which appears to be held together by a ..V.. which I believe signifies ‘one’ of the five points of the Pentagram. This given ..V.. transforms itself into a Circle of Worldly Power. All circles of worldly power rely on secrecy, this gives an advantage based on deception and serves the Evil One. He cannot be beaten at his own game, the early Christians used signs and gestures, but these can be duplicated, then we have duplicity and confusion at play; for those on the outside, like me, friend or foe you no longer know.

    It was put to me many years ago, “it’s a bit like the game of tag, you pass the lurgy (British slang) to someone else” Conclusion you then become part of Groupthink (The herd). While also been told jovially “the new holder of the lurgy always has the option to get rid of his load (Worldly troubles) by passing it on”

    We need as a Church to confront this modern-day myth; ” no one has to die for the faith, in the West today” As this is untrue, as there is constant silent persecution taking place within the Church, many Christians have suffered, in tortured silence, unto death and continue to do so, while so many others have been ensnared, as our emptying Churches can testify.

    Ephesians 6:12. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…

    In the West, we talk about our democracy, but the reality is that many “Leaders” in all walks of life serve themselves, as they have their own hidden agendas and appease their own worldly Circle of Influence ..V..; these Circles survive through fear and self-interest. To step outside of the group, takes courage and integrity, as you run the risk of becoming a victim.

    The unseen innocent within the flock, have paid the price, as it could be said, self-protection is what the Church/leadership/elite sort, dereliction is what it has bought.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Liamy for sharing this. What a great woman Catherine Connolly is!

    This must be difficult reading for those who continue to try to mitigate the horror of it all.

    There is so much in what Catherine had to say but exposing the myth, as she quite rightly calls it, is especially important, I have to say.

    “[Fianna Fáil] Deputy Jim O’Callaghan reinforced the myth that society was responsible. It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church.”

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Paddy, am I correct in thinking that “those who continue to try to mitigate the horror of it all” include the authors of the Report, which is being attacked as a whitewash just as the McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries was? The chapter on Bessborough, to my surprise, seems to heap praise on the sisters and on Bishop Lucey, seeing them as urging more acceptance for the young mothers by their families and society. Given that the situation of all the single mothers in a society dominated by the ideal of Respectability was one inherently bound to produce much unhappiness, the complaints the report quotes seem surprisingly limited in number and scope.

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    No, Joe, I actually wasn’t thinking about the authors of the Report.

    However, there does seem to be a problem. Despite Mary McAleese telling us that the Report was scholarly and profound — and much as I am reluctant to believe that Mary could get this so wrong — I may have to accept that maybe, on this occasion, she has.

    A major sore for many with this Report seems to be this idea that somehow the whole of society was responsible for the “horror” and “living nightmare”, as Brendan Hoban in his excellent interview on Radio MidWest described the suffering inflicted on the unfortunate girls and young women and their children in those awful institutions. “Homes” does not seem an appropriate term in this instance.

    Archbishop Martin of Armagh also blamed society — “that helpful amalgam of everybody-and-nobody” as Miriam O’Callaghan aptly described the use of the concept of society in this instance, in the piece I am sharing below — in his interview on RTE.

    Of all the commentary and articles I have read over the last week or so, I think Miriam’s in last Sunday’s Sunday Independent was perhaps the most powerful.

    “…. sliced them in an episiotomy, repaired them without anaesthetic; ripped babies from their breast, leaving them bursting with milk and madness” makes you wonder was there the intention to punish present as well.

    I was present at the birth of my three children and I fully understand the stress and trauma involved, though Fiona, my wife, always finds it amusing when I say that. It does not bear thinking of how it must have been for the girls and young women having this experience in a cruel, unsympathetic atmosphere and environment.

    I remember a friend at home telling me of her experience of labour at the hands of a nun in Dungloe District Hospital. The hospital in those days was run by the Sisters of Charity, I think. During the course of her labour and delivery she was making certain vocal sounds as women in childbirth do. The particular nun who was present then slapped my friend across her face, told her to shut her mouth as “it is nature, you know”.

    And, of course, she got off with that abuse scot free. Religious orders were all powerful in those days and nobody would have dared reprimand or challenge them. So, Archbishop Martin in that RTÉ interview telling us that these institutions were subject to inspection and oversight by the State — local County Council officials, I suppose — was, quite frankly, laughable.

    I wish I could share all of Miriam’s piece with you. I have the paper copy here as I write but it is one of those Premium pieces and you need to subscribe to the digital link before you are able to access the complete article digitally. If anyone else can share the link, please do.

    So, no Joe, I wasn’t primarily thinking of the authors of the report when I wrote about “those who continue to try and mitigate the horrors of it all”.

    I was, of course, thinking about you and Pádraig who continue to be the main voice of that tendency on this site, always quick to circle the wagons at the first sign of danger. I am genuinely sad to have to say that. And, of course, Joe, at this stage in the game that is a totally pointless strategy.

    Pádraig recently shared a link to our first conversation on this site in 2015 when Catherine Corless — what a hero she has proven to be — first brought the Tuam Mother and Baby Home scandal to our attention and I am grateful to Pádraig for sharing that link with us all. Pádraig has been referring to the influence of the Enlightenment and social Darwinism, among other things, to try and mitigate the horrors which have been described in this Report. I don’t (think) the survivors, mothers and their children who suffered so grieviously in those hell holes, would give two hoots about any of that.

    And, I don’t think many reasonable people could disagree with Fintan O’Toole’s “spiritual terrorism”.

    What I said to Pádraig in our conversation in 2015 is still my position today which was that:

    “I cannot accept any attempt at justification or rationalization that is based on the premise that this kind of thing happened in other counties too — in fact probably was much worse in other countries. Nor does the argument that society as a whole must accept the blame. To a large extent our society was unthinking and uneducated until Donagh O’Malley’s famous stroke of his ministerial pen. Our morals and attitudes were completely moulded by the institutional church and the blame must rest squarely with that institution.”

    On every other issue we have discussed on this site I would be at one with you, Joe and, probably, Pádraig as well. I admire you both greatly as I sincerely think you are two great men who have contributed enormously to the discourse on this site and certainly to my own education.

    But on this one issue, the crimes of the institutional church, you both seem have a serious blind spot.

    Originally, and for years, I used think that if Seán Ó Conaill and I did not engage on our ACP site there would be nobody to challenge you and Pádraig, Joe, but I think that is changing now.

    I was speaking to a friend over here recently, a very intelligent man, a university academic and a practising Catholic. Despite his undoubted erudition he has, until recently, been reluctant, wary almost, to discuss the church and its teachings with me. However, recently, that has changed.

    So, I have telling him about the ACP which he had never heard of and the great scholar priests which we have in Ireland, which he did know about.

    I was telling him about our ACP site and, though I am not a priest, that I get so much from the discourse we have here.

    However, I told him that I am puzzled that even among the good guys there is this tendency to try and deny the undeniable when it comes to the crimes of the institutional church.

    He immediately replied, “Ah! a lingering clericalism”! Is that the answer, Joe?

    I have been reading Tony Flannery’s great new book, From the Outside and in chap. 7, The Roots of the Problem he explains clearly the genesis of clericalism. So, I fully understand how difficult it must be to rid oneself of it completely.
    Good night and God bless you, Joe — whoever He, She or It may be.

    An apology – and an excuse

    Miriam O’Callaghan

    Society – reeling from abject poverty and Catholicism – was not to blame for incarcerating women, writes Miriam O’Callaghan.

    Who could have imagined? That despite the grip of the Modh Coinníollach on our psyche, it was the Briathar Saor would do for us in the end.

    Because what ‘happened by itself’ to the girls and women incarcerated, terrorised, dehumanised, tortured in labour, their children separated from them, starved, stolen, trafficked, ‘happened by itself’ all over again, when the State, reported ‘what was done to them’ instead of ‘what it did to them’. It took 2,865 pages to find that society – that helpful amalgam of everybody-and-nobody – was at fault. According to survivors, the finding belongs in 1921 more than 2021.

    Officially then, it was society that committed 796 tiny bodies to a cesspit. Society defenestrated the woman in Bessborough, society forged mothers’ signatures, sliced them in an episiotomy, repaired them without anaesthetic; ripped babies from their breast, leaving them bursting with milk and madness. Mothers know it, feel it: the basalt and bullets of engorgement, veins like magma.

  7. Sean O’Conaill says:

    A Tyranny of Monologue – that is still what grips us in a vice. Archbishop Eamon Martin’s response on the ICBC site is just one voice of many. He calls for church leaders to read the Mother and Baby Homes Report, but to what end? There is no mention of any institutional obligation to reach a conclusion on the failure of Irish Catholic compassion in that era, so it seems we will be content to find that in the end ‘society’ was indeed to blame.

    No repetition, then, of Bishop Noel Treanor’s 2009 call for a ‘multi-disciplinary inquiry’ into the failure of the residential institutions studied in the Ryan report. That came in the immediate wake of that report, but received no echo in the very next meeting of the Irish Bishops Conference.

    Probably the reason is that any finding of radical institutional failure would call for radical institutional reform, and a dialogical process for implementing that – i.e. true communion. Horror of horrors!

    How small must Irish diocesan communities become before Irish bishops lose their fear of convening them for open discussion? Heaven knows, but obviously we are not there yet. We are in diaspora mode still, the era of perpetual alienation.

    The institution that died of shame, strangled by the tyranny of monologue. That may be the epitaph of our church in this era.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    Paddy, I don’t think I’m beholden to either clericalism or anticlericalism, though both are convenient put-downs.

    Truth, moderation, and reason are not served by over-heated angry rhetoric. For instance, all the journalists keep saying the babies’ bodies were dumped in a cesspit or septic tank. In fact, they were buried in a mass grave, with rites and death certificates. A similar mass grave is found in Glasnevin Cemetery. The partial former use of the space as a septic tank is misleadingly invoked. (That’s my understanding, but if I got it wrong please correct me.)

    The horrible incidents you and Miriam O’Callaghan refer to — are they in the Report? If so, doesn’t that tell against its dismissal as whitewash? What seems to be the bone of contention is that the report is not just a litany of such incidents but gives positive aspects as well.

    “Criminals” seems to be the only category journalists have for describing the sisters who ran these institutions and the sinister clergy in the background. In fact they were fulfilling their duty within the structure of Irish society at the time, so that if they were all criminals then Irish society was thoroughly criminal (somewhat as Nazi society was).

    It’s very easy to go down that path, or to present the Church as a fundamentally evil institution, with Bishop Pat Buckley, but I suggest we need not follow him. Let’s draw wisdom from Spinoza: “Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.”

    Here is what Buckley wrote when the Report came out (without reading it of course):



    We know that there was the involvement of a turn a blind eye population, government, police, medics, social workers etc.

    BUT only the bishops, priests, nuns and “Christian” Brothers did what they did IN THE NAME OF GOD and as GOD’S REPRESENTATIVES ON EARTH!!!

    And that means that the CRIMES of these bishops, priests, nuns and Christian Brothers were also SACRILEGES and BLASPHEMIES.




    In the Northern Ireland Troubles from 1969 to 1999, 3,500 were killed and 46,000 injured.

    The mother and baby home enquiry tells us that there were 113,000 victims – more than twice as many victims of the Troubles.

    So the Roman Catholic Church in its mother and baby homes created more than twice the victims of the Troubles.

    The IRA was a proscribed and illegal organisation for its activities.

    Is there any real reason why the Roman Catholic Church should not be a proscribed organisation in Ireland?

    When illegal criminal gangs are caught the government and police seize their assets as “proceeds of crime”.

    Many of the very valuable Roman Catholic properties we see, their vast lands and their million euro bank accounts are the “proceeds of crimes committed in mother and baby homes”.

    Why is the criminal assets bureau not seizing these properties, lands and bank accounts?

    The reason is this.

    In our society there are two types of criminals.

    1. Illegal criminals we see processed by the police and courts.

    2. Legal criminals – like the Catholic Church, banks etc.

    The “Establishment” – politicians, judges, lawyers, medics, the Garda etc will not take on bishops, priests, nuns and brothers.

    They are all part of the “Establishment” together.

    The say God’s justice is good – but is awfully slow.

    It’s up to the Irish People to administer justice to the Roman Catholic Church and its representatives and operatives.

    Of course this must be done absolutely peacefully and within the law.

    Here are some suggestions:

    1. Never enter a building owned or run by the RCC.

    2. Never contribute as much as a penny to the RCC or any of its associated organisations.

    3. Tell every bishop, priest, nun and brother you meet that they personally are guilty of heinous crimes against the mothers, children and people of Ireland as long as they remain associated with the RCC.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Attempting to track down the original text of the Spinoza quote is a challenge, as is so often the case with these unreferenced internet quotes (including the hundreds of fake ones attributed to St Augustine and St Teresa). It seems to be this: “sedulo curavi, humanas actiones non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere. (I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate, but to understand human actions)” (Tractatus Politicus 1.4).

    The multi-disciplinary inquiry Bp Noel Treanor called for must draw on the discipline of literature, and on the Spinozan calm of our great writers at their best, such writers as George Moore, Yeats, Joyce, O’Casey, Mary Lavin, Frank O’Connor, Sean O Faolain, Beckett, Heaney, Tom Murphy, Brian Friel, and many others.

  10. Kevin Walters says:

    In my post @3 I am attempting to say that signs and gestures are often used to communicate covertly by one group within the Church. I do not think ‘all’ of those within this circle of secrecy see themselves as evil or serving the Evil One as it has been implied on another site that it is a form of self-protection for the fellowship of established churchgoers. (Which from the outside looks to be elitist)

    While the V (Two finger sign often used covertly) is used widely within society which often promotes advantage or the expectation of advantage in commerce, education, healthcare, etc, and all organized community activities including those within the religious sphere which enables corruption to flourish.

    I personally have witnessed the use of this V by some of the laity within the church often in collusion with the hierarchy and this creates a hidden (occult) church within church one which enables all types of injustice to flourish while mirroring the reality of the corruption in society at large.

    From my post @10 given via the link below

    “The question I ask myself is how can the Church (all of us) proceed in our fallen nature and ensure that sinful situations (Abuses of power) are confront in the present moment”

    Which I have attempted to answer in my final sentence

    “It is the action of Truth that sets mankind free but this can only be achieved when In Unity of Purpose we bend our knee”

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  11. Ann Keevans says:

    Catherine Corless and Catherine Connelly are two heroic women who have spoken from their hearts with passion and sincerity. All of society was not responsible for the way the women, some of them mere children were treated, it was the powerful in society, the best educated, led by Church who set the whole rotten system up. Women in general were treated as second class citizens during that era. Any rights were hard won. Prior to 1976 a woman had no right to the family home, the Marriage Bar for women working in Civil Service was only abolished in 1973, the unmarried Mothers allowance only commenced in 1973. Martial Rape only became a crime in 1990. Due to the ban on contraception families were large. Many women I know spent most of their entire reproductive years pregnant.
    The unfortunate women, underage girls and their lost children deserve better than this Report. How long more do they have to suffer at the hands of the Establishment? I was brought up in a town where I lived very close to a County Home. As a child I saw the women at Mass as the local people were allowed to attend there. I saw them on their knees scrubbing long corridors. I used to hear their babies crying on my way to school. I was too young to know why they were living there. That was in the 1950’s. I often think about them.

  12. Seán O'Conaill says:

    Enough already with that ‘Spinozan calm’, Joe. The unlikelihood of Spinoza knowing much either about pregnancy or the inside of an Irish 20th century Mother and Baby Home is too stark.

    As for ‘our greatest writers’, none of them may ever have uttered ‘the horror, the horror’ in relation to those homes, but were they ever truly ‘calm’ in their reflections on ‘the church’ in general?

    Joyce’s sermon on Hell (by a Jesuit) in ‘Portrait of the Artist’ is surely the stuff of nightmares.

    As for ‘multi-disciplinary’, mustn’t ‘pastoral theology’ be one of those disciplines – and therefore the part played by Maynooth – by omission and commission – in the absence of the ‘caring’ that ‘pastoral’ implies – one of the Great Irish Theological Mysteries?

    Is not Hypocrisy the outstanding charge of Irish literature against the Irish Catholic clerical establishment? If that arose for you out of ‘Spinozan calm’ are you yourself going in for fantasy fiction these times?

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    I don’t know much about Spinoza, but as a doubly persecuted Jew he had to win the calm that comes from trusting reason when emotion seems the natural response. Joyce certainly attains Spinozan calm in Ulysses, but even Portrait has it too. The chapter with the Sermon on Hell, an ironically presented objet trouvé, ends with moving presentations of Confession and Communion, both staged with the Spinozan calm of the artist hidden “like the God of the creation”. The same is true of the Christmas dinner quarrel in chapter I: the characters are full of rage but the artist has attained a more comprehensive understanding.

    The very young Joyce critiqued Synge’s play “Riders to the Sea” on Aristotelian grounds (the illogic of its ending, where the last son is killed not by the sea but by falling from his horse). Synge responded, “Joyce, you have a mind like Spinoza’s!”

    Joyce had done medical studies and devotes one chapter of Ulysses to labour pains and a difficult childbirth.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    Fond memory prompts a postscript: many years ago I chatted with Fr Peter Connolly, Brendan’s teacher and mine, whose influence on us ran deep, about Joyce. He said that Joyce ended up obsessed with his writing, yet was a man of deep compassion. His friends in Trieste (see John McCourt’s gripping chronicle, The Years of Bloom) meeting him in later years said that he was no longer the same man. High octane empathy percolates in his early works, despite their formal discipline and ironic distancing, at least up to the middle of Ulysses. Did he lose it in the desert of Finnegans Wake, or is that too animated by empathy with his hospitalized daughter and her language?

  15. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Another perspective on addressing the situation of non-marital pregnancy and birth is given by Melanie McDonagh in the Irish Times on Saturday 23 January. It is worth reading.
    It begins@ “My father was handed over a shop counter by his aunt when he was a day old.”
    The article concludes: “My father was not a wanted child – that is, by his family – but he did at least get to be born. He might not now.”

    In the coverage of the Report on Mother and Baby Homes, we hear many stories of those who have just cause for complaint, but little of those who, despite the circumstances of Ireland at the time, have reason for gratitude. One does not cancel out the other.

    A common mistake is to expect that the way society, in Ireland or elsewhere, addressed such problems, is to assume that their thinking should be like ours: orphanages and industrial schools and mother and baby homes should be first of all for the purpose of providing a loving and caring setting for those in difficulty. It is right that we want this; but a primary purpose of such “solutions” in the society in times past was for the protection of society and the reform of those who embodied the problems.

  16. Paddy Ferry says:

    Joe, thanks for sharing that link to Declan Kibert’s essay. What an interesting read!

    There is so much in it that we could spend weeks or months discussing. I’m sure Seán and Eddie will have interesting things to say about it. And, Séamus too. This line below really stopped me in my tracts.

    “In much the same way, what is dying in the spiritual life of the people is not so much religion as a rule-bound ecclesiocracy”

    So, that’s what our Catholic faith has been. Ecclesiocracy is a new word on me.

    And the young Vietnamese girl who came first in the country in Irish in her Leaving Cert. Wonderful !

    I only got a B myself in Honours Irish and I from the breac Gaeltacht. Shameful!

    Aranmore Island, Ranafast and Loughanure too, I think, — all just a stone’s throw from where I am from — are still classed as fíor Gaeltacht and young people from all over Ireland still come to learn Irish during the summer. My Granny was a fluent Irish speaker and I remember as a child listening to her converse with her friends in ár teanga dúchais.

    And, by the way, Joe I would never try a convenient put down with you — or anyone else, I hope. I have far too mush respect for you for that. I am just trying to understand.

    I hadn’t heard of Pat Buckley for ages.

    Of all the stats I have read in the various pieces on the Report — I can’t remember where now — the one that really touched me most was that there were 1673 illegal adoptions/exportation of children from those so called homes. That means there were another 1672 Philomena Lees and her wee boy. That was the most harrowing, heartbreaking scene — the child leaving and Philomena so distressed, I am vexed again just writing this — in the film which I only recently watched for the first time.

  17. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Paddy Ferry #6:
    “Pádraig has been referring to the influence of the Enlightenment and social Darwinism, among other things, to try and mitigate the horrors which have been described in this Report.”
    This is not what I was trying to do.
    It is important to try to understand the reasons why people acted as they did. If we do not do so, we are in danger of “anachronism” – judging people’s actions in the past by the standards we expect today. We have the benefit, we hope, of more loving standards and better resources.

    Czech writer Milan Kundera reflected on how he was initially a supporter of the Communist government. He wrote in Chapter 8 of Testaments Betrayed (1993):
    “Knowing neither the meaning nor the future course of history, knowing not even the objective meaning of their own actions (by which they ‘involuntarily’ participate in events whose meaning is ‘concealed from them’), they proceed through their lives as one proceeds in the fog. I say fog, not darkness. In the darkness, we see nothing, we are blind, we are defenceless, we are not free. In the fog, we are free but it is the freedom of a person in fog: he sees fifty yards ahead of him, he can clearly make out the features of his interlocutor, can take pleasure in the beauty of the trees that line the path and can even observe what is happening close by and react.
    ‘Man proceeds in the fog. But when he looks back to judge people of the past, he sees no fog on their path. From his present, which was their faraway future, their path looks perfectly clear to him, good visibility all the way. Looking back, he sees the path, he sees the people proceeding, he sees their mistakes but not the fog. And yet all of them – Heidegger, Mayakovsky, Aragon, Ezra Pound, Gorky, Gottfried Benn, St John Perse, Giono – all were walking in fog and one might wonder: who is more blind? Mayakovsky, who as he wrote his poem on Lenin did not know where Leninism would lead? Or we, who judge him decades later and do not see the fog that enveloped him?”

    How can we begin to understand what people did in times past if we do not recognise the “fog” in which they lived and worked? How will people in the future understand many of the practices we today think are right, if they do not recognise the “fog” in which we work and live? Who is more blind?

  18. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Paddy@18 et passim ubique!
    Since it seems that Report-Reading by Proxy is all the rage (and your various comments do not refer to any sections of the original Report, though you welcomed its posting on this forum on Day One) please, please skip the Sunday Independent’s Unholy Writ for today and with Pádraig’s note of ‘anachronism’ ringing in your mind read Conor McGuire’s Western People column linked to by Liamy@20. Best analysis I’ve seen of where we were throughout Ireland’s 62,000+ townlands as late as the 1940s & 1950s. Of course Nuns were never in Holy Orders in the clerical sense, but we know what McGuire’s headline means. His analysis applies equally to the male of the species, but those in the regular Maynooth Regiment of 500+, at least from the mid-1950s onwards could “up-and-go” more readily. We never used fancy words such as ‘discernment’ back then, but discern a goodly number of us did and upped and went. If Paddy sees us as still victims of a certain lingering clericalism, so be it. Up till now he has only accused me of the sin or crime of something called ‘erudition’ – I swear I wouldn’t even begin to know how to put myself in danger of committing that strange delict.

    But seriously, Paddy, Kevin Walters’ declaration that he doesn’t need to read the Report so long as he can “look into my own heart” is far too De valeraish for my liking. Vascular Oracularity, I think, is how Tim Pat Coogan labelled that approach to speaking for the Irish People of those 62,000+ rural townlands, not to mention those villages, towns, cities, convents, so-called ‘Mother & Baby Homes’, monasteries, seminaries etc of the 1920s,’30s, ’40s, 50s. So look Paddy, read the Report and stop chivvying and chastising the rest of us who may have other things to do besides reading the Sunday Independent, America, etc. I think you may also be unfair to your great hero Mary McAleese who qualified her initial welcome of a scholarly report a week later once she’d read most of it. So, Read that Report, and give young Jim O’Callaghan TD at least as much credence as his older sister Miriam in her over-heated rhetorical Indo persona, which she could never get away with on Prime Time or on Sunday with Miriam. My Granduncle Arthur, God be good to him, was a great fan of the old Independent but I’m sure he would agree with me that the Independent of recent decades contaminates anyone who writes for it and anyone who reads it.

  19. Paddy Ferry says:

    “…that the Independent of recent decades contaminates anyone who writes for it and anyone who reads it.”

    Eddie, what an outburst!! What has the Sunday Independent ever done to you?

    It’s a great newspaper. I look forward to it every week. I get it here on a Tuesday, sent from somewhere in England or, at least, that’s where I send my annual cheque. It’s great to have an Irish newspaper in your hand. I then pass it onto my Irish mother-in-law from Nenagh when I finish with it. She has some stories to tell about the nuns.

    My only regret is that I cannot access the articles digitally to share them here. My subscription to the Tablet and Time magazine allows me online access too. In fact, I have never enquired about online access to the Independent so I really must do that now.

    Eddie, I am a working person, dental practice is still open in this new lockdown though with restrictions. So, spending hours, days even, reading all of the 2865 pages of the Report would not be a sensible use of my time.
    Especially as there has been so much excellent commentary on RTÉ.ie, the Irish Times , the Irish and Sunday Independents, NCR, America, the Tablet etc, etc. Catherine Connolly — what a great woman she is — told us she had spent days reading 500 pages so she questioned how Mary McAleese could have read it to the extent that she found it “scholarly and profound”. Thank you, Eddie, for letting me know that Mary has had a wee rethink. I would hate to think of Mary being out of step with the universally accepted consensus.

    I agree that Conor McGuire’s article excellent. Imagine, only 122 nuns in Ireland in 1800 and 8031 in 1901.

    I had been hoping for a erudite — well, lets call it learned — review of Declan Kiberd’s excellent essay that Joe shared with us this morning.

    You know I don’t think the word erudition is out of place where you are concerned, Eddie and not just because of your recent Shakespearioid sonnet which was remarkable. Over the years your writing has always been brilliant. I remember early on on this site you were being so erudite that some poor fella had to admit he didn’t understand what you were saying.

    It’s great that we have had the Report published on this site and then to have this ongoing discussion. But, you know it really doesn’t matter what any of us has to say on here. The people of Ireland and beyond have, sadly, made up their minds about our once revered Catholic Church a long time ago.

    Eddie, I have now checked and I get the Sunday Independent via OCS Media in Berkshire. I can send you the contact details if you wish.

    Good night, Eddie and please do keep writing.


    PS, Eddie, re your years in Maynooth, I must say I did often wonder about your position when we have had discussions on here about the sins of the institutional church.


  20. Kevin Walters says:

    Eddie Finnegan @ 22

    “But seriously, Paddy, Kevin Walters’ declaration that he doesn’t need to read the Report so long as he can “look into my own heart” is far too De valeraish for my liking”

    Which should be understood in conjunction with my overall post
    @ 10 given via the link

    An extract from my Post @10
    “Without vision, the people perish”. I have been reading my own past posts and that of others made over the last five years on this site in relation to the mother and baby home scandal. We all appear to be aware of the injustices that accrued in the past but I for one do not need to read the report and all the sin it contains within it because I can find the reality of that sin within my own heart. We all know that when Sin is confronted honestly it transforms the heart.

    The question I ask myself is how can the Church (all of us) proceed in our fallen nature and ensure that sinful situations are confront in the present moment”

    While I continue this theme in my above post @ 3 demonstrating the reality of a church within a church.

    “Attach bayonets! courage and glory are the cry, do or die
    First over the Parapet
    John leads the Ferocious attack
    While opposing Hans reciprocates the advance to the death dance
    In crater of mud both stood
    Eye meet eye one must die
    But who would hold true to the Christian creed they both knew?
    ‘To be’ the sign of the Cross,
    To ‘give’ without counting the cost
    Abandon bayonet, bowed head, bending knee, faith/love the other did see
    Worldly values gone from the other humility now holding the same song.

    Gentleness is our Lord’s Creed, worldly glory/power He did not need.

    The above poem relates to the ‘hypocrisy’ of the church since the time of the Constantinian church after 312CE to the present day which Sean O’Conaill often cites different types of hypocrisy in articles on the AIC

    It is the ACTION OF Truth that sets mankind free and we do this when in humility we “look into our own divided church/hearts” and bend our knee (Confront the reality of our own self-justification as a group or individual in the present moment’)

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  21. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thanks Paddy. My Northern Republican bias re the I.Independent & Sunday Independent may have revealed itself there. But Granduncle Arthur says he agrees with me. And beware of a too narrow image of Maynooth. Think more of someone like Peter Connolly, mentioned by Joe, or Enda McDonagh rather than some of the more conservative moralists Sean may have had in mind earlier.

    Thanks Kevin. Vascular Oracularity has its place I suppose.

    And many thanks, too, to Tony Flannery who has dispelled or dispersed even more of my fog of confusion. He tells me that Miriam O’Callaghan and Miriam O’Callaghan are two entirely different women. Paddy’s Miriam2 apparently has(had) closer connections with Enda Kenny than with Miriam1’s young FF brother Jim, who actually did speak sensibly about the Report in the Dáil early on – though not as relevantly as Catherine Connolly. But what’s wrong with the O’Callaghan clan: is there a famine of women’s names over there? You’d think with the popularity of Aoifes and Ciaras and Aislings and Saoirses etc that media women would be spoiled for choice.

  22. Paddy Ferry says:

    Pádraig @ 19,thank you for your very considered and interesting response to me.

    However, I do still find it difficult to understand and accept that in different decades people can have a different moral compass in guiding them to judge what is right and what is wrong. Surely, in whatever age we live, we innately know when we do something that is wrong, something that is sinful if you have been brought as we all have, and something that is evil.

    When Kevin Walters wrote of recognising the reality of sin “within my own heart”, I took it to mean what I have just said, that we have an innate awareness of evil.

    And the issues we are discussing here are not, of course, drawn for the Dark Ages or some other distant era. Priests sexually violating young children and religious sisters — and brothers too, of course — perpetrating the most horrific cruelty on the most vulnerable is all from the relatively recent past.

    And these are the very people, priests and nuns, and brothers, whom you would expect to have had the most stringent of moral compasses to guide them.

    Conor McGuire’s excellent article which Liamy shared with us yesterday was very helpful as was Marie Keenan’s marvellous book from 2012 “Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church. Gender, Power and Organisational Culture” which helped me to understand what had been really troubling me.

    Pádraig, the fog thesis immediately brought to mind the late, great historian, A.J.P. Taylor and his book “The Origins of the Second World War”.

    Now, I had studied the period from the Franco-Prussian War to the end of the Second World War for my Leaving Cert so I had a reasonable knowledge of what caused the Second World War, I thought. Then, when I read this book I was shocked because he was able to make a very compelling case for absolving Hitler of guilt for causing the war. It was, he contended, a legacy of the First World War, the unfairness of Versailles, reparations, the humiliation of the German people and so on. It’s a long time since I read the book so I can’t remember if Hitler is absolved of blame for the Holocaust too.

    I have just brought it down off the shelf. On the back cover there is a quote from Michael Foot’s review in Tribune, long before he became leader of the Labour Party. It says “The most readable, sceptical and original of modern historians …..The whole book convinces as much as it startles” — Michael Foot in Tribune.

    The fog thesis can be used elsewhere as well, I think.

    Stalin, when he came to power, felt a great need to fire up the Soviet economy so does that absolve him of — or, at least mitigate — blame for the horrors of the Gulags — the labour camps where so many died — in Siberia.

    Or Mao, the world’s greatest mass murderer, who felt he had to match the economic power of the Western nations which led to his Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s resulting in the deaths, by some accounts, of 45 million Chinese, 20 times the number slaughtered by Pol Pot.

    So, I wonder, Pádraig would we be guilty of anachronism if we were to judge these monsters too harshly?

    I think we should leave the last word to the late, great Agatha Christie. Not only was she the doyen of the ‘who dunnit?’ brigade but she was also capable of deep and prophetic thought. In “Murder at the Vicarage” she said that in times to come no person will be guilty of any crime, it will all be about their biochemistry.

    Good night, Pádraig.


  23. Paddy Ferry says:

    Eddie @24, I had a feeling that was what was at the root of your antipathy towards my favourite Sunday newspaper but I had hoped I was wrong.

  24. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Paddy@28, I fear you make too much of my occasional throwaway line. I can agree almost totally, for example, with Eoghan Harris’s imputation of blame where it belongs, in the two recent ‘Sun Ind’ columns linked to by Joe, yet find in Harris’s need to pick at the scab of his usual coalition of bogeymen-and-women the root cause why your favourite newspaper may be seen as sectarian by many of us. Add to Harris columnists or contributors such as Ruth Dudley Edwards, who also claims to be a historian and daughter of a real historian, and you see what has become of the Indo family in recent decades. I can and do dip into the paper occasionally, but carefully with a long spoon.

  25. Paddy Ferry says:

    Eddie @29, to use the word “sectarian” in the same breath as the Sunday Independent is, really, I think, quite something. I think we should stick to religion when we, in future, share in discussion on this site.

  26. Eddie Finnegan says:

    I offer you the definition of “sectarian” from two standard English Dictionaries:
    “caused by, or feeling very strong support for, the religious or political grouping to which one is attached, in a way or to an extent that can cause problems with other groups.”
    I believe Eoghan Harris or Ruth Dudley Edwards, to whom I referred @29, would know what I mean. But, as I said, I do occasionally read them, as indeed I read other sectarians – very carefully.

  27. George Lynch says:

    I do wonder at times about the value of allowing comments on articles on this site when the ‘debate’, to describe it charitably, so often goes off on inconsequential and unrelated tangents and some form of egoistical jousting.

  28. Joe O'Leary says:

    Welcome, George Lynch. Say your say.

  29. Joe O'Leary says:

    “I do still find it difficult to understand and accept that in different decades people can have a different moral compass in guiding them to judge what is right and what is wrong. Surely, in whatever age we live, we innately know when we do something that is wrong, something that is sinful if you have been brought as we all have, and something that is evil.”

    It’s surely not so simple. The Troubles gave us examples of many people doing “something that is wrong” with no sense of guilt whatever, with many more people supporting them or playing footsie with their outlook. Likewise, the principles and practices we are discussing on the basis of an unread report were not felt to be “something that is evil.”

    In both cases education itself promoted principles that would now (perhaps) be seen as wrong. “If you have been brought up as we all have” is a phrase steeped in irony.

  30. Liamy Mac Nally, Moderator says:

    Thanks to George Lynch for his timely comment @ 32 above.

    The purpose of a website moderator is to, essentially, operate in ‘sleep mode’, supporting a broad brush approach. However, sometimes the alarm goes off!

    Contributors, journalists, columnists, writers and politicians are not ‘fair game’ on these pages. No scuds. This is not a war zone!

    Please keep comments focused on the issue, not the person. Links and references to other sites are a means to informing the debate and broadening the discussion.

    We shall keep it that way, respectfully.

  31. Paddy Ferry says:

    What an excellent article by Fr. Power.

    And, such refreshing honesty. “As an institution the Church must bow its head in shame”

    Thanks for sharing, Liamy.

  32. Kevin Walters says:

    Paddy Ferry @27

    Thank you, Paddy, for conveying your understanding of what I stated “within my own heart” when you said “I took it to mean what I have just said, that we have an innate awareness of evil” I concur with your statement.

    You say ” However, I do still find it difficult to understand and accept that in different decades people can have a different moral compass in guiding them to judge what is right and what is wrong”.

    I agree while understanding that different cultures can hold different values which can impinge on our innate awareness of evil. As an example, Japanese values (Unchristian) relating to honor which was manifest in the treatment of prisoners during the second world war.

    But for us Christians, Jews and Moslems these words should be absorbed

    “Harden not your hearts”

    As the vast majority of us fall short (Resulting from sin imbedded within our hearts) in regards to this teaching.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  33. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thank you, Kevin for pointing out that different cultures can hold different values which can, indeed, affect our innate awareness of evil. A very valid point, Kevin.
    Thank you.

  34. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #37 “As an institution the Church must bow its head in shame.”

    Where would one go to see any ‘institution’ bowing ‘its’ head in shame for anything?

    This a purely rhetorical observation, oblivious of the reality that a failure of any institution is always a failure of individuals, to whom the Gospel speaks always of personal, not institutional, obligations.

    And still, as an institution, our church fails to make that clear – insisting always on the individual’s obligation to let the institution ‘inform’ our conscience in the final analysis (i.e. determine our conscientious decisions).

    Wasn’t it always there that the institution also failed, at root – in never affirming the primacy of the individual conscience? Until it does so how can we believe that those with key individual responsibilities – e.g. nowadays for child safeguarding – will feel free to discharge them?

    The Church is NOT an ‘IT’- separate from us. It IS us.

  35. Joe O'Leary says:

    “#37 “As an institution the Church must bow its head in shame.” Where would one go to see any ‘institution’ bowing ‘its’ head in shame for anything?”

    Actually, we have seen the Church bow its head in shame and repentance over its treatment of the Jews. In the case of the Inquisition, the purification of memory was partly blocked by Card. Ratzinger who phrased the 2000 act of repentance in such guise as to blame individuals rather than the institution.

    “a failure of any institution is always a failure of individuals, to whom the Gospel speaks always of personal, not institutional, obligations.” But Jesus also attacks the “way things are done” in powerful institutions such as the Roman Empire: “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mk 10:42). His critique of the institutions of Israel, Pharisees, Scribes, Priesthood, Temple goes far beyond cases of individual wrongdoing.

  36. Seán Ó Conaill says:

    #41 Bishop Mario Grech’s recent reflection on the impact of clerical ‘institutionalisation’ on the ‘domestic church’ provides perhaps the germ of a ‘hanging of heads’ re the whole gamut of clerical abuse revelations:

    “Theology and the value of pastoral care in the family seen as domestic Church took a negative turn in the fourth century, when the sacralization of priests and bishops took place, to the detriment of the common priesthood of baptism, which was beginning to lose its value. The more the institutionalisation of the Church advanced, the more the nature and charism of the family as a domestic Church diminished.”

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.