Is Catholicism now deemed to be old-fashioned, irrational, and unacceptable? Brendan Hoban asks in his weekly Western People column.

When the Mayo footballers ran out on Croke Park last Sunday for the league semifinal, no one expected any of them to bless themselves. We don’t go there anymore. Even though in the English Premiership soccer players regularly bless themselves and even on scoring a goal raise their arms to the heavens to acknowledge their faith in God, a similar gesture by an Irish player would be greeted now with discomfort and embarrassment.
It wasn’t that way. Blessing yourself in public was part of the way we were. The golfer, Christy O’Connor Jr, a decade or so ago, half blessed himself when he holed the putt that won the Ryder Cup for Europe some years ago. In the dark years of Sligo Gaelic football, a footballer used to bless himself before taking frees, leading to a sideline wag suggesting that even if Sligo were to lose the match they were in no danger of losing the faith. But now if Mayo footballers were to bless themselves they would be presented as religious fanatics from the unsophisticated West.
Even the universities, those bastions of institutional respect for difference, are getting queasy about the religion thing. Trinity College in Dublin has updated its crest. Whereas, heretofore, an open bible was prominently displayed now an open book represents a tradition of scholarship ‘which is open to all’. The Bible, it seems, was out of sync with the modern, non-sectarian, inclusive image Trinity College now seeks to portray.
Interestingly Trinity didn’t go the whole hog and jettison its name which represents belief in a three-personed God. Consistency would seem to demand that such a sectarian, non-inclusive term would be dispensed with but it seems Trinity’s need to project what it called ‘a crisp new image’ didn’t extend to losing its market-brand.
A matter of appearances, then. Something that, as the advertising gurus would say, resonates with the burgeoning culture of unbelief. Like those slightly patronising letters that appear regularly in the Irish Times, taking pot-shots at the presence of religion in Irish life and demanding a secular refuge from its malign influence.
A growing politically-correct attitude to religion in Ireland is now part of the weather of our times. It’s being fuelled by an antipathy to Catholicism that is, in many ways, understandable in view of the scandals uncovered in the recent past and the ethos of control and oppression that Catholicism fostered for so long.
The problem is that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In rejecting a version of Catholicism that diminished human freedom, led to outrageous scandal and that in retrospect is now seen to have diminished people and Church, Irish society seems intent on categorising religion and spirituality as unacceptable, irrelevant, even dangerous in a civilised society. So anything that smacks of religion is interpreted as subverting the rights of citizens.
Leaving aside the important dividend of social cohesion that religion has produced, as well as the obvious contributions to education, health, social services etc resulting from the work of individuals and religious congregations, the loss of a spiritual sense will be the more problematic.
While it’s easy to vilify religion – and some of its more vocal adherents actually help that process – a sense of the spiritual is at the very core of who we are and its loss will be incalculable.
Once Irish society refuses to countenance any kind of Catholicism and by extension any version of Christianity, a sense of the spiritual slips from view. Because no matter how we regard organised religion, it is clear that we need religious ritual to sustain a spiritual sense.
Devising some new formula to give substance to thought and feeling while rejecting rituals that have been honed for centuries is a fruitless exercise. To put it plainly, burying the dead, for example, through the rituals of Christian death – in Catholic terms with  a funeral Mass and its associated rubrics – clearly trumps whatever rubric some new-fangled quasi-anti-religious group invents on the hoof – no matter how many doves are released at a graveside. There’s no context, no perspective, no belief to give substance to the words and the actions.
What’s happening at present is that religion and spirituality are gradually, almost imperceptibly being diminished. Because religion, particularly Catholicism, is now deemed by the ‘movers and shakers’ of Irish society to be old-fashioned, irrational, unacceptable. A culture of embarrassment has ensured that few would want to be cast in public as ‘religious’. What Irish sports-person would want to stand out against the flow? Even if he/she was a Catholic and 99.9% of the spectators were Catholic?
What’s happening is that religion is being banished into a private corner, out of sight and out of mind. It’s no longer, as the authorities in Trinity College have discovered, a popular wheeze. Science and sophistication (and the unpopularity of the ‘Catholic’ brand) have conspired to push it to the margins.
So, as a sense of the spiritual and the transcendent diminishes, we lose touch with it. Who besides grandparents now say ‘with God’s help’ or ‘Please, God’? As space for God and the things of God diminishes, who could be surprised that adult children don’t know when to stand up or sit down at their mother’s funeral Mass?
In the new prevailing culture in Ireland, we’ve losing our sense of wonder, our sense of that incomprehensible mystery we call God, a sense that beyond this material world, there is a divine reality that gives depth and richness to the experience of a lived life.
In our brave, new, modern Ireland, we didn’t expect Mayo footballers to give any indication that they might believe in or need God. (Maybe they should).
In our brave new world, it’s instructive that Trinity College forked out €100,000 for a new crest. Anyone standing at a street corner, knowing what way the wind was blowing, would have come up with the idea of replacing the Bible with an open book for the price of a pint. All you have to do is add the dots.

Similar Posts


  1. The loss of real faith is a tragedy where it occurs. Nevertheless, new forms of faith expression are essential. Ireland’s church has been too narrow and stifling, its rituals tedious to many, its preaching trite, its music dreary. It’s been and is a case of “Do it our way or be damned”. It’s only a few years ago that Mary MacAleese was criticised for receiving communion in a Church of Ireland church. How many church leaders supported her? Young footballers who don’t bless themselves were schoolchildren a few years ago. Children are processed through the system of preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation and then spat out. After a relation of mine was ordained years ago he soon adopted a new lingo with frequent reference to “The masses”, the great unwashed. The church has been based on herding large numbers of people into large anonymous congregations and patronising them. People, I would suggest need now to be in places where there is real caring community, a personal touch and real faith rather than ritual. On the matter of sport, a team like Kilkenny gets respect because one can see they are giving it everything. A first class trainer is also a first class leader who is able to develop the player to the maximun of his potential. How many Catholics can say that about their spiritual leaders, if indeed they have spiritual leaders, rather than leaders of ritual? Don’t forget that many Catholic feel unfree in this church. Would Kilkenny be such a great team if there was a climate of sporting oppression in the county? The bishop of Meath wouldn’t have had to ban lay people from speaking in church at funerals if years ago he and his predecessors has given leadership and shown how it should be done. But in those days they were unable to see ahead, a case perhaps of the blind leading the blind.

  2. Only a return to the Traditional Latin Mass offered with great reverence can provide the wonder and awe in God’s presence that we need. That, along with sound, vibrant preaching, and real, authentic religious communities. I say this as a 33 year old in modern Ireland. I also say that for those who do believe in God, none of what the ‘fashionable’ talking heads say matters. The only concern I would have about being too vocal about one’s religion in public is the danger of being barred from promotion or being sacked or whatever.

  3. Jane Anderson says:

    Blessing one’s self is not just an act of reverence, it also sets one’s self apart and, sometimes, above others. When that happens, blessing one’s self signals one’s triumphant position.
    Today, Catholicism needs to take a more humble posture if it is to find its way again. It is no longer seen as a moral compass but a moral failure. It needs to find credible ways of connecting with wider society and even learning from it. But meantime, blessing one’s self should be a quiet act of inner conviction that there is a way forward. Blessing one’s self is to be a sign of hope.

  4. Stephen K says:

    The idea that the Tridentine Mass alone can restore a sense of awe and wonder in God’s presence is a cherished slogan of traditionalists but one with shaky foundations. It must be a source of acute discomfort to its advocates that it was allowed to be jettisoned so easily for so many years. It might be more correctly thought that a sacerdotal liturgy along the old Mass lines would be the fruit of a desire for spiritual connection and reverence than their cause. For the problem remains that the old Mass generally means little or nothing to people and more of it will not change things. No, something was rotten in the state of Denmark (i.e. the Roman Church) and something more radical would be required. I suggest that humble service, not showy piety, is essential. Perhaps the notion of God and Incarnation is changing: no longer will it suffice to simply say ‘here! Believe this!’ or ‘this is how it worked for hundreds of years: just do it!’ At least, that’s how it comes across. For my money, a sincere New Mass beats a pretentious Old Mass any day. (Likewise, of course, a sincere old mass would beat a pretentious New Mass). Liturgy may well lie at the heart of religious experience and sensibility; but it does not solve all the problems.

  5. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Karl Rahner got it exactly right when he said:
    “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” And: “The number one cause of atheism is Christians.”
    How many of our Irish clergy have any grounding in the Christian mystical tradition, which understands that even devotional religion can be more of an ego-driven addiction than founded on true spirituality? Why is it that Buddhists seem far better grounded in their mystical, contemplative tradition than we Irish Catholics are in ours? Richard Rohr’s account of the human journey rings truer with every passing day, and he too is deeply grounded in the Christian mystical tradition – but why have so few of our Irish clergy paid close attention to that?
    Pope Francis’s passages on ‘spiritual worldliness’ in Evangelii Gaudium are an encouraging signal that a pope can see – and say – when apparent piety is really just a ‘holy show’. Any powerful institution can create a context in which careerist hypocrisy can flourish, but when did any Irish bishop ever clearly say that to his people – or that the hunger for ‘signs and wonders’ (e.g. moving suns and statues) is a far more potent source of disbelief than of faith today? Far too often bad religious theatre has been blessed as true religion on this island – where else could the Michael Cleary phenomenon have come from? We all need to pray, really seriously, for the grace of spiritual integrity and discernment.
    As for the insistence that only the Latin Mass can save us, that is simply liturgical fetishism.

  6. Stephen Edward says:

    Is Catholicism now deemed to be old-fashioned, irrational, and unacceptable? I should be very worried if it were not. It is the World against the Truth as always. The trouble with the Irish Church is that it is used to being respected and loved, you were in a bubble, the default is that it is hated and despised. Welcome back to the default.

  7. Sheila Mulcahy says:

    It lifts my heart to see athletes make the sign of the cross as they run onto the field of play. Likewise, I have seen in my travels non-Christians unashamedly displaying their faith in public and have admired them for it. We used to be like that: I remember in times past busloads of people in Cork city blessing themselves as the bus passed a church. It was a salutation to the house of God. For those who believe, isn’t it natural to invoke the Trinity in times of distress, or joy, or gratitude? If I habitually bless myself before grace at mealtimes in my own home, why not do so in a restaurant? The only reason I can think of is cowardice. So I summon my courage, close my eyes and make the sign of the cross. If those around disapprove, whose problem is it?

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    Michael Cleary was quite possibly the best Irish priest — his late night phone-in radio programmes were goldmines of spiritual and human insight. He had his flaws, but who does not? Rahner’s vague dictum has been recycled ad nauseam. Mysticism is not a panacea — and mystics commonly have dreadful flaws. Begins in mist, centers on I, ends in schism!

  9. Tom Andre says:

    Great observations Sean O’Conaill.
    I find it irksome that traditionalists blame the decline in Mass attendance, vocations, etc. on the changes introduced after Vatican II. – as if there were no other major sociological and cultural changes at the same time.
    While I am saddened that some have left the church and religious practice, I don’t miss some public displays of “religiousity” by athletes. I think petitioning God to help you score a goal, or otherwise beat your opponent is closer to Voodoo than it is to following Jesus.
    Focusing solely on rituals – Latin or otherwise. – without seeking a relationship, a mystical encounter with God seems to be the same mistake made by the Pharisees.

  10. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Joe O’Leary #8
    Mysticism “Begins in mist, centers on I, ends in schism!”
    Pantomime stuff, Joe. As you well know Jesus of Nazareth was, above all other human attributes, a mystic – someone who communed with and believed in the omnipresence of a realm beyond what comes to observation. So were Augustine, Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Therese of Lisieux – and the Buddha
    No-one can pray sincerely without being a mystic. The Kingdom of God is above all a mystical concept, something real yet usually lying beyond observation.
    As for schismatics, they are driven primarily not by mysticism but by ego – something the true mystic discerns as that part of himself that has to die. The only true mystic involved in schism that comes to mind with me is Martin Luther – and, as John XXIII told us, responsibilty for that particular schism was not his alone. It sprang from a serious dearth of mysticism at the very centre of the church of his time – and has had profoundly beneficial as well as negative consequences. (Monoliths tend towards self-corruption – and that is often the root of schism.)
    You are a mystic too, Joe – when you avoid facile verbal tricks and give a subject the attention it deserves.
    As for poor Michael Cleary, could he have led a double life had he been ready to die to the false self, that media persona that needed to maintain an illusion about his private life? His problem was surely not mystical depth but the lack of it.

  11. Sheila Mulcahy says:

    On the question of blessing oneself in public, how could I have forgotten to mention Ronnie Delaney’s action after he had won the 1500m final in the 1956 Olympics? I’ve just revisited it on line, and felt the thrill and the pride all over again. Religiosity? Hypocrisy? No,sir! Do check it out.

  12. Tom Andre @9, you misrepresent me. Liturgical changes are a factor in the demise of the faith. Even Cardinal Ratzinger would agree with me!

    “I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us.
    “But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance?,” he asked.
    Too often, Ratzinger lamented, “the community is only celebrating itself without its being worthwhile to do so.”
    — Cardinal Ratzinger

  13. Paddy Ferry says:

    Once again our thanks to Brendan for another excellent piece, deeply sad but true. How come we never hear English, Scottish or Welsh priests reflect on the causes of our demise the way that Irish priests do?
    An equally excellent post by Sean –“….devotional religion can be more of an ego-driven addition than that founded on true spirituality” How very true. And ” … insistence that only the Latin mass can save us, that is simply liturgical fetishism”.
    I have often thought that myself, Sean.
    And Joe, I agree with you, despite the obvious failings of the man, Michael Clery was a great priest.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    If every Tom, Dick, and Harry is a mystic, the term has really no meaning! Luther was not a mystic but a man of faith, I would say. Luther’s wife complained to him, “We used to pray much more when we were in our convents” (though my source for this is the jaundiced Grisar). Mystics and schism is not just a verbal but a historical connection — the alumbrados (, the Franciscan Spirituals, Molinos, the Quietists, and so on. Of course one admires the great mystics, or even theologians like Augustine and Aquinas who had a contemplative disposition and some mystical moments. But it is very much a specialized vocation, not for everyone. Rahner may have been misled by rarefied philosophizing here. Meanwhile, Michael Cleary may have been a deeply humble man of faith, merely using the media persona for the good of souls — why should it not be so?

  15. Shaun@12, the liturgical changes we have experienced in the last couple of years have certainly been a factor in the demise in the practice of our faith.

  16. Con Devree says:

    One reaction to this article is “So What?” To which there are two answers. One: Be grateful for one’s own Catholicism. The others are unaware of what they are missing. It is not a numbers game. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient. Everybody is charged with the duty of evangelization.

    Citizens have adopted the current culture of their own free will. Recent history would suggest that Mayo footballers have more to worry about in Croke Park than the attitude to Catholicism that pervades in the Hogan Stand.

    A recent wedding I attended, (a very enjoyable affair) demonstrated the cultural condition of Catholicism. The priest’s demeanour suggested that for him Catholicism is a gift to be prized. It was quite apparent however that the bulk of the guests had little insight into or experience of what was happening at the Mass. As always on these occasions, I am tempted to believe it better to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle for the duration. The cultural pressure is to ignore the Real Presence and engage in audible conversation is great.

    For the priest Christ was central. Irrespective of what the singers were performing, he was praying, but was always part of proceedings. At times he guided the congregation in the proper responses. But he was serving a mostly unevangelised congregation.

    Blaming the scandals uncovered in the recent past and any other postulated previous ethos has by now well passed its sell-by date as a way forward. Both theories are indeed open to dispute. Equally futile is making comparisons between recent popes.

    The bulk of the guests at the above wedding seem content to work through life without recourse to Catholicism. Why dilute Church teaching so that it reinforces the nature of the culture the article bemoans and reflects less and less of the opportunities God provides through the teaching for meaningful living? Why not copy the said priest in focusing on the essence of the Eucharist and offering the appropriate witness and guidance? As it says on the coat of arms of Pope Saint John XXIII: “Obedience and Peace.”

  17. Nuala O Driscoll says:

    @ 8 and @ 13.
    A great Irish priest maybe but what about a dad and a husband?

  18. Paddy Ferry says:

    Nuala @17,there is no evidence, as far as I know, that he was not a good dad to his son and a good husband to the woman who was ,in the reality of their lives, his wife. Does the fact that he did not publicly acknowledge them– which would have been impossible for him to do and continue his ministry — cancel everything else out?

  19. Con @ a6, some of the saddest occasions I have attended have been weddings and First Holy Communions. It is so sad to see Our Lord ignored in the Blessed Sacrament as people laugh and chatter, oblivious to the presence of the King of Kings in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Don’t get me started on the immodest fashions the ladies wear in the church. This is so very sad. I feel sad. I think Jesus is sad too, so sad that He is ignored. Didn’t He say as much in the revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque?

    “Behold this Heart, Which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love; and in return I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt which they show Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus…” — Jesus, to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    I have heard it claimed that his wife is the one who made him such a good priest.

  21. Con Devree says:

    Shaun 19.
    Christ had already expressed the sentiments cited from St Margaret Mary in Paray le Monial in Gethsemane – “Could you not watch one hour with me?”

    One of the points of emphasis in your quotation refers to the lack of gratitude. Again Christ referred to that in the case of the ten lepers. St Ignatius of Loyola declared it as a sine qua non to thank God daily for his gifts. Unless one is aware of Gods gifts to one it can be difficult of appreciate His love, and to appreciate Him.

    Prior to the Preface in the Mass the priest invites us to thank the Lord. In the old translation we responded “it is right to give him thanks and praise.” The new translation retains this – “It is right.” But in keeping with the original Latin (Dignum et justum est) it adds “And just.” This is a stronger response. Justice demands that we give God thanks. This is followed in the Preface by “… it is our duty and salvation always and everywhere to give You thanks.”

    I think that if people were reminded more about the nature of the Real Presence many would at least give their demeanour “a second thought.” But if the Ignatian way of cultivating the notion of the goodness of God in his gifts and giving thanks for same were advocated more often, and practised with the laity, it would help create a greater sense of God and of respect for the Real Presence and a greater sense of oneself.

    As it is after–Mass-time in some churches is not a time of prayer due to the behaviour and noise within. It is not unknown for priests to participate in it. Indeed I have seen some priests walk about the sanctuary showing scant awareness of the Real Presence. It is just one example of the current deficit in evangelisation.

  22. Dr Margaret Kennedy says:

    It is alarming to read Michael Cleary as somehow a ‘great priest’. In the worst possible way he manipulated and seduced a vulnerable woman who was in a psychiatric hospital as a patient, and then as a care-worker, into believing that he could conduct a ‘marriage’ with her around the kitchen table. Thereafter leading her to believe she was his wife and then she became his housekeeper, an open secret, all but in name his sexual partner who he treated with contempt. My doctoral thesis ‘The well from which we drink is poisoned – Clergy Sexual Exploitation of Adult women’ examined the case of Michael Cleary, and other clergy who without conscience encouraged vulnerable women into sexual activity. The majority of whom were either child abuse survivors, or had experiences of great trauma. To even suggest Michael Cleary was an exemplary priest is quite loathsome and does not respect the woman he targeted for his selfish sexual ends.

  23. Con Hayes says:

    Brendan’s article begs an obvious question – Which of the many varieties of Catholicism currently on offer (apparently under the same umbrella) is he speaking about?
    Tony Flannery, a member of the ACP and whose CDF interdict of silence has not been lifted, believes that the Irish Church is in need of radical change as apparently does Brendan Hoban. Whatever about ‘irrational’ and ‘old-fashioned’ Tony must think some aspects of Church governance or practice are unacceptable.
    He regularly cites; (1) Governance (2) Careerism and (3) Clericalism as stumbling blocks to a worldwide church renewal.
    He actually goes much further in his book ‘A Question of Conscience’ where, for example, he devotes a whole chapter (15) to ‘Misogyny in the Catholic Tradition’. It is decidedly disappointing then that Brendan’s opening comments can do no better than refer to the Mayo footballers and English soccer players and whether or not they bless themselves! I, for one, am very glad the Mayo footballers don’t go there – it would be just as objectionable as asking the Archbishops to throw the ball in again or listening to Barrack Obama with his ‘God bless America’ while his remotely operated drones and covert CIA operatives regularly blow innocent women and children to smithereens in many parts of the globe.
    There are lots of places Brendan could have gone though. Here are a few within the Church (1) why has the practice of confession (or penance or reconciliation) practically disappeared from Church practice?
    (2) How is the practice of First Confession and First Communion at seven years of age in any way justified? – this norm was only introduced by Pius X at the beginning of the twentieth century as was a return to a claimed ‘more disciplined’ Tridentine approach to priestly formation in Seminaries with specific bans on contact with half the human race in the form of women. In my view, these two decisions laid the foundation for the global tsunami of clerical sexual abuse throughout the twentieth century, although such abuse has always been a problem.
    (3) What about a root-and-branch revision of Sexual Ethics as a good starting point – until the advent of Vatican II in the early sixties, the standard diet on ‘Moral Theology’ courses left a lot to be desired! (if you will pardon the pun). The obsession with sexual sin was unrelenting – in the sexual arena it was a mortal sin, worthy of eternal damnation, to derive the slightest conscious pleasure not only from words, thoughts and deeds involving the illicit exercise of the sexual act but also from words, thoughts or deeds that might lead to such ‘pleasures’. Of course, Masturbation and Homosexuality were top of the anathema list. The problem is that this stuff has not gone away or been repudiated – quite the contrary, every so subtly I grant, it is regularly trotted out in relation to homosexuality which was still being described by Pope Benedict XVI as ‘ a disordered state’ – straight out of the Ligourian Moral Theology textbooks.
    (4) How come the Church has bookended the twentieth century by making saints of two Popes; Pius X who laid the foundations for the clerical sexual abuse tsunami and John Paul II who relentlessly covered it up?
    Organised Religion, as a product of human culture, like any other human endeavour will always be with us. However when such Organised Religion (of whatever hue) attains powerful secular authority and cultural prominence in any society it must be held to account just like Business and Political power must be so held. Let’s not forget that when Lord Acton made that famous comment ‘Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely’ he was talking about the Roman Catholic Church.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    “It is alarming to read Michael Cleary as somehow a ‘great priest’”
    Yet many were helped by him, more than by those you might consider ”
    “In the worst possible way he manipulated and seduced a vulnerable woman who was in a psychiatric hospital as a patient, and then as a care-worker,”
    You have researched this and have no doubt lots of info, but I hope you are not suggesting that just because a woman has had psychiatric treatment she can no longer be regarded as capable of making free adult choices.
    ” into believing that he could conduct a ‘marriage’ with her around the kitchen table”
    I doubt if he tried to persuade her that the marriage would be recognized in law or by the church — or that the woman was so stupid as to believe that. There is a rather murky question here. Often in history people vowed marriage to one another in private and regarded the church or state blessing as a mere public recognition thereof. The church sees the sacrament of marriage as administered by the couple alone, the priest serving only as witness. If the two people wanted to see their relationship as a marriage, that is their choice, which you should respect.
    “Thereafter leading her to believe she was his wife and then she became his housekeeper, an open secret, all but in name his sexual partner whom he treated with contempt.”
    What is the evidence of his “contempt”? You could look at almost any marriage and claim contempt; but how is one privy to how the couple relate?
    “My doctoral thesis ‘The well from which we drink is poisoned – Clergy Sexual Exploitation of Adult women’”
    A rather strange title for a doctoral thesis, blazing with anger and ideological presuppositions.
    ” examined the case of Michael Cleary, and other clergy who without conscience encouraged vulnerable women into sexual activity.”
    You suggest that the sexual activity was traumatic and unfree — what is the evidence that it was not free and good? what is the evidence that the woman could not have ended it at any time?
    ” The majority of whom were either child abuse survivors, or had experiences of great trauma.”
    How did you pick your sample? It looks like you have constructed this subcategory and then used it as an identikit. No matter how valid your observations of a pattern, you cannot just fit two people into the pattern automatically.
    “To even suggest Michael Cleary was an exemplary priest is quite loathsome and does not respect the woman he targeted for his selfish sexual ends.”
    Did Phyllis Hamilton say anything like this or are you speaking on her behalf?

  25. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Prior to the Preface in the Mass the priest invites us to thank the Lord. In the old translation we responded “it is right to give him thanks and praise.” The new translation retains this – “It is right.” But in keeping with the original Latin (Dignum et justum est) it adds “And just.” This is a stronger response. Justice demands that we give God thanks.”
    I asked a Latinist, Professor Andrew Laird, about this and he agreed with me that modern English “just” is a bad translation of “justum” — it is closer in meaning to “meet or fitting”, as in French “juste” (“cela est juste et bon”). Now to hear the excellent “it is good to give him thanks and praise” we have to go to Anglican churches.

  26. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #24 Joe O’Leary, writing on Phyllis Hamilton, asks implicitly on what grounds it could be determined that in forming a relationship with Michael Cleary she was not capable of making free adult choices.
    Read the account that Phyllis Hamilton’s psychiatrist, Ivor Browne, later gave of his understanding of the forming of that relationship (‘Music and Madness’, Atrium, Cork, 2008 – pp 116-117).
    From this and other sources it appears that Phyllis Hamilton was still a teenager when this relationship began with Michael Cleary, then in his thirties. Given the absence of strong family support for Phyllis, her history, and this disparity in age, I find it difficult to understand how Cleary’s behaviour could possibly be excused – totally irrespective of Phyllis’s feelings for him – even if one minimises his obvious obligation as an ordained minister to avoid any entangling relationship of this kind. At best he was in breach of more than one serious adult-to-teenager obligation, entering into an intimate relationship with a vulnerable teenager that was bound to impact greatly on her life from then on. His failure ever to acknowledge the relationship, and to provide for Phyllis and his son before his death, points to deep ongoing injustice.
    What obligations should have governed Cleary’s behaviour when he first met Phyllis Hamilton in her teens – this man who later often counselled many teenagers on their own intimate behaviour? I would be very interested to hear Joe O’Leary answer this. Whether or not Phyllis Hamilton came truly to love Michael Cleary seems to me to be entirely beside the point. Forgetting altogether for a moment that he was a cleric who had taken a vow of celibacy, merely as a Christian male adult Cleary surely had a primary duty of care for isolated teenager Phyllis Hamilton, so can it truly be maintained that he discharged it?

  27. Joe O'Leary says:

    As my reference to Graham Greene should indicate, I am not “excusing” anything, but merely pointing out that non-exemplary priests and non-exemplary relationships sometimes have unexpected salutary spinoffs.

  28. Dr Margaret Kennedy says:

    My thesis title Joe O’Leary says is quote ‘blazing with anger and ideological presuppositions’ unquote. I believe it relates fully to ministry abused. Priests/clergy of all Christian denominations (as well as leaders of all faiths) are perceived as ‘fountains of succour and refreshment’ particularly in times of trauma and vulnerability. Jesus said to the woman at the well that the WATER of life would keep her nourished. (himself). It is a poisoned well if those professing to offer the WATER of life abuse and misuse their powerful status and position. Phyllis Hamilton was 17 years old when she first met Michael Cleary and had called on him to seek him to hear her confession. This being so a)she was a ‘client’ (for want of a better word) b) seeking counsel and sacraments. In other words Cleary was acting as a ‘professional’ in his ROLE as a clergyman. He broke all ethical boundaries to safeguard those who seek out pastoral care, to have a duty of care and to not harm. Whether Phyllis Hamilton was ‘in love’ with him is immaterial. she was seeking her way in the world after a lengthy time in a psychiatric institution and abuse in childhood. Cleary had a duty NOT to exploit her further. In my thesis I show how such clergy groom adult women who seek pastoral care. I only included in my sample for research those who sought pastoral care, not those who might have met clergy in a social equal setting. I was concerned with professional accountability as clergy. My sample comprised 63 women. 25 exploited by Catholic Priests, 25 by Church of England Clergy and the rest by other clergy/ministers eg Baptist, Methodist URC, Unitarian. However 200 woman made themselves known to me. My sample largely came from the UK but a small percentage were Irish resident in Ireland. Nearly all women said they know other women the clergyman had also exploited or were in tandem having sexual contact with several women at the same time. It may be unpalatable to read of clergy using women (and some men)’s vulnerability for sexual gratification. abuse does not stop when a person reaches age 18. sexual offences span all age groups. I posit a clergyman using his role as a clergyman to engage a woman seeking pastoral care for sexual gain is an exploiter and abuser. My 10 year extensive research taught me this.

  29. Joe O'Leary says:

    On the “marriage” between Michael Cleary and Phyllis Hamilton, in other jurisdictions she would be categorized as his common law wife.
    For a 34 year old to fall in love with a 17 year old and live with her, whether married or not, is by no means a criminal offense. So the issue turns around celibacy much more centrally than Sean suggests. The couple were wrong-footed by canon law.
    To suggest that a man would live with a woman for 25 years merely for sexual gratification and that the woman’s love for him is merely a Stockholm syndrome response to his ongoing exploitation is to make a claim that would be difficult to verify.
    Many priests have lived with their housekeepers aka common law wives with the full or partial acceptance of the community. Such situations are more common in Europe, Latin America, or Africa than in English-speaking countries.
    The Irish people are very prone to Pharisaic scandal, and both Bp Casey and Ml Cleary fell foul of this, acerbated by a media frenzy.
    The hypocritical todo about “vows” of celibacy and the like seems to be just worship at the shrine of the very canon law that caused the problem in the first case.
    As to the deontological question of Ml Cleary’s role when he met the young women, this is not an open and shut matter. Many clergy marry their parishioners and no one bats an eyelid. More than that, a clergyman can continue to be source of the water of life to his wife-parishioner, and she can be the water of life to him. Despite the stress of secrecy in the Cleary household, I think it is not impossible that some of this blessed experience of clerical marriage was also experienced there.
    A confused, muddled, painful, non-exemplary situation, to be sure, but let’s not simplify things for our own canonical, ideological tidiness by demonizing human beings and their relationships.

  30. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #27 Joe O’Leary: “non-exemplary priests and non-exemplary relationships sometimes have unexpected salutary spinoffs”.
    Do you count the non-salutary spinoffs, Joe – such as, in your case, the possible inference that you would risk such an exploitative relationship for the sake of the ‘unexpected salutary spinoff’?
    My own faith is deeply challenged by the position you take on this, but supported by the certain knowledge that most Catholic priests could not share it. I deeply believe that Michael Cleary did far more to advance the cause of anti-Catholic secularism in Ireland than Richard Dawkins ever could. To live by a code that contradicts one’s own professed principles is to leave a far stronger legacy of cynicism than of edification.

  31. Con Devree says:

    25 re 21
    Thanks to Fr Joe O’Leary for his comment. I respect the point made re translation and his personal preference on the issue.

    I prefer the new translation.

    Is there a case in this instance for distinguishing between “Dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence” in translation? The former expresses the essential thought expressed in the source- text, if necessary at the expense of literality. The new translation is the interpretation, the outcome of a team effort. It is associated with one of the absolutely central and unique opportunities the Mass provides – the only act of gratitude which is totally pleasing to The Father. Divine expressions of desire for such gratitude abound directly in Scripture and in apparitions to such as St Margaret Mary and St Faustina. The Church makes a number of such expressions in the Missal.

    In this regard most of the new Prefaces begin with the words “it is truly right and just our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks” (or “acclaim you”). There is a continuity of the notion of it being “just.” This evokes the enriched thought of people being capacitated to act justly in the most complete sense towards Divine Justice itself. This linking in the new translation of prayers of gratitude to acts of justice highlights The Trinity’s absolute wish for such prayers.

    Could I suggest that actively encouraging and training people in the practice of the prayer of gratitude is a very practical, simple and approachable way of inviting the laity to engage in prayer. As one Jesuit commentator on the Ignatian Examen Prayer has said: “One will always have something to pray about.” Such practice, eventually, among other things, cultivates the reverence adverted to by Shaun.

  32. Margaret@22and 28, I think this is a classic case of someone — in this case me — offering an opinion about something they know very little about. I always liked Michael Clery, thought he was a good priest and, given that I have always thought that to impose compulsory celibacy on young men wanting to pursue their priestly vocation was completely crazy, I did not recoil in horror when the story broke. However, you obviously know much more about this than I do and I certainly bow to your superior knowledge. I also note what Seán @26 has said and I would always respect Seán’s views.
    So, Margaret, if my high opinion of Fr. Clery has offended you or anybody else, I can only offer you my apologies which I hope you can accept.

  33. Darlene Starrs says:

    Jesus Christ is the Son of God….this was and is, the Good News that needs always, to be “preached” by word and action. Yes, in Ireland and around the globe, the Christian message appears to be disappearing. It is alarming, however, to find this phenomenon in Ireland. Yet, I believe, there remains, in Ireland the presence of the obviousness of God, and a real faith among the people. I still believe, that, it will be Ireland, where the greatest renewal of the Church will occur. Yes, the Church is mystical and full of mystics. As long as, believers have dwelling in them, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are mystics and mystical. Naturally, the degree to which one is mystical, depends on a number of things. However, as long as the Trinity dwells in Catholic Christians, and Christians, the Church is very much alive…but, the structure of the Church and how it is organized… and it is always being newly shaped.
    We have only to look to see what Pope Francis is doing and saying…As well, he is always directing the Church and the world…to Jesus Christ…and proclaiming by his words and actions…that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

  34. Joe O'Leary says:

    I agree that faith and the reality of the indwelling Trinity are vital principles that find expression in spiritual awareness, such as that shown by Francis in his homily on Sunday: “In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.”
    Francis has a deep Ignatian spirituality based on identification with Christ crucified. He “takes on himself” the guilt of the child abuse scandal (explicitly in an unprepared remark on April 11). “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for our sakes” (2 Cor 5;11). That is probably what Rahner meant by “mystical”.
    But when Darlene says that “the degree to which one is mystical depends on a number of things” I would add that mysticism in the strict sense is a rare privilege or grace, a distinctive charism within the community and for the community. To claim without further definition that one Christian is a mystic and another is not, further adding that the latter is culpable for not being a mystic, is a formula for unhelpful confusion.

  35. Joe O'Leary says:

    Was Michael Cleary a mystic? — yes, in the sense that like every Christian who says the Morning Offering or practices prayer of petition, meditation or devotion he shared in the mystical life of the church. The Buddhist exercises of putting forth the energies of compassion, benevolence, sympathetic joy, and equanimity were not foreign to his way of being present to people. Sean says that if he had mystical gifts he would not have become involved in an “exploitative” relationship. But the entire history of Buddhism and Christianity tells us that mystical gifts can be dangerous — from Carpocrates and Basilides down to Fr Maciel abusers have strutted on the Christian stage under the sobriquet of mystics. But let’s be as careful about tossing the title “abuser” around as we are with the title “mystic”.
    “To live by a code that contradicts one’s own professed principles” — here again Sean is referring to celibacy. I suggest that Cleary may have lived, or rather tried to live, by a Christian code that matched his professed Christian principles. Some would say that he showed more evidence of a lively Christianity than many outwardly exemplary priests.
    Sean is right that most priests abhor exploitative relationships. So do I. But celibacy can contribute to the multiplication of irregular relationships, such as Ivor Browne had to deal with in his years of counseling Michael Cleary and Phyllis Hamilton. Living with contradiction is not necessarily the same as exploitation. Sean warns of the damage of scandal — a grave consideration indeed. But I believe that most of the scandal generated around Bp Casey (whom I liked very much) and Fr Cleary (whom I did not know or particularly like) was pharisaic scandal.

  36. Joe O'Leary says:

    “He detested falsity and believed in individual freedom more thoroughly than any man I have ever known. There are people – and they are the majority who outvote us – whose aim in life is to attain stability and security by travelling along the tramlines of reason and experience to the terminus where they get off. […] The interest that my brother always retained in the philosophy of the Catholic church sprang from the fact that he considered Catholic philosophy to be the most coherent attempt to establish such a intellectual and material stability. In his own case, however, freedom was a necessity: it was the guiding theme of his life. He accepted its gifts and its perils as he accepted his own personality, as he accepted the life that had produced him. His revolt was a defence of that personality against a system whose encroachments on the plea of obedience ended, like modern totalitarian systems which have copied it, only with the complete cancellation of character… While still a freshman at University College, he declared his intention of making his allotted span an experiment in living. He was determined to be the same in action as he was in his fixed desire; and, though he progressed from merciless dogmatism to merciful scepticism, he was temperamentally capable of absolute devotion to a mission to which he felt called by the accident of having been born with talent, even if, as he foresaw from the beginning, that mission should make him an outcast. He understood better than those who were wont to quote the text how inexorably an inner necessity can turn son against father and against mother, too; and yet it was inspiring to live with one so young and purposeful. His faith in life sustained him with the joyous certainty that in spite of the squalor that surrounded him, life had some not ignoble meaning.” (Stanislaus Joyce)

  37. I will attempt to clear some confusion about mysticism and catholic Christians, since, that is our context. The root of being mystic for a Christian and in this case a Catholic Christian, stems from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us….that treasure…in a clay jar!…For us to come into what some of the great mystics encountered with Christ, is first of all, a calling from Christ, and he empowers that person with the charism. However, the fact, that the ordinary person is a mystic, might come through a person’s gifts such as writing music, poetry, or singing like the angels. A person’s mystical grace might come through someone who compassionately visits with the elderly or the sick.
    There are a number of ways that people are often mystics without really thinking about it. The mysticism of the Carmelites, like Therese of Liseux, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross is very sophisticated and specialized, dealing with matters of the soul. No, most of us won’t be that well developed mystically, but, the key is allowing ourselves to belong to Christ totally. Teresa of Avila’s mystical genius was her understanding of how the soul attains perfect union with Christ. Perfect Union with Christ is the destination of all us. However, most of us, will hopefully come into that union once we have left this world. Mystics, fundamentally, are people who are in relationship with God, and who continue to grow in that relationship for a lifetime hopefully becoming ever more in union with Christ. I hope that is more clear. Tomorrow, as a matter of fact, is the feast day of Saint Marie of the Incarnation…considered the mother of the Canadian Church….and a great mystic!

  38. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #35 Joe O’Leary: “But I believe that most of the scandal generated around Bp Casey (whom I liked very much) and Fr Cleary (whom I did not know or particularly like) was pharisaic scandal.”
    By ‘pharisaic scandal’ I presume Joe means the (often bogus) shock-horror (of those who seek respectability) at the moral failings, especially the sexual failings, of others.
    The true meaning of ‘scandalise’ is of course to behave in such a way as to lead others into grievous error.
    I wonder if Joe can truly, as a cleric himself, measure the full scandalous impact – in the second sense – of the revelation that two of the highest profile clergy in the Irish church in the twentieth century – men especially prominent in the church’s media campaign to win acceptance of its stringent sexual code – had been guilty of the most outrageous flouting of that same code?
    It was not any sexual leading-astray that caused the greatest scandal (in the true sense of the word), but the flagrant inconsistency of behaviour of two of the highest profile front-men for the Irish Catholic magisterium. To insist, over decades, that you believe X, and then to be outed (by others) as having done Y, is to raise the most serious questions not only as to whether you ever believed X, but as to whether you ever believed any other letters of the faith alphabet either.
    And that in turn discredits all of those other faith principles. Does Joe have any notion of the number of people in Ireland who look back now on the era up to 1992, shake their heads, lower their pints and say to one another: “Weren’t we right eejits to believe all of that anyway?”
    “Wasn’t it all just total theatre, that ‘believing’ stuff that the clergy went on about? If so much of what we saw was just a facade, should we believe any of it at all?” Just as the dedication and integrity of e.g. Peter McVerry and Sister Consilio Fitzgerald will reaffirm faith, the flagrant inconsistency of other clerics will necessarily undermine it.
    It gets even worse when we remember that Galway trio of John Paul II, Michael Cleary, Eamon Casey – and then add in Marcel Maciel, and then poor Phyllis Hamilton and Annie Murphy.
    Doing that, how on earth can you separate the chasm of disbelief that now separates Ireland in this era from Ireland in, say, 1991? And how can you possibly discount the reality that the moral inconsistency of high-profile, even model, Irish Catholic clerics will necessarily lead many, many people not so much into sexual error, as into total disbelief in the entire faith edifice of the church?
    Does the burgeoning of secularist disbelief in Ireland today really have nothing to do with these events, Joe? Was there really no catastrophic ‘leading into disbelief’ attached to these scandals? Are you too distant from the locale to measure the real depth of the real scandal? Or could it be that the extent of the damage is too much for you to accept?

  39. Paddy Ferry @32.
    Your apology appears to be generous and wholehearted but I can’t help feeling that if the two highly qualified academics Sean O’Connaill and Dr Margaret Kennedy had not voiced the facts so clearly and knowledgeably the rest of us ‘anybody else’s’ would not have received an apology at all. In your comment @18 you said ‘Does the fact that he did not publicly acknowledge them – which would have been impossible to do and continue in his ministry – cancel everything else out?’You seem hold that doing good deeds and holding on to his priestly status was more important than acknowledging the existence of his hidden family. This is not true. His whole priestly life, from the time he took his vow of celibacy, was a lie. For me as a wife and mother, the damage done to his family by his hypocrisy overshadows all the other aspects of his life, priest, entertainer, and good deeds. And not only overshadows them but actively damaged the credibility of the church at the time along with the revelations of the scandal of Bishop Eamonn Casey.

  40. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #39 Nuala O’Driscoll ‘highly qualified academic’ SOC?
    Thanks, Nuala, but honesty and the need for a level field here forbid that should stand. Due to health issues at third level, and a tendency to follow a variety of interests simultaneously, I have just a UCD General Arts BA, 1966. Plus a Dip Ed UUC c. 1983. Teaching experience 30 years at Secondary Level, to ‘A’ level (History). Those children taught me to write, and most of the history I know.
    It’s our infinite and equal dignity as children of God, plus life experience, that qualifies us all here. I am a ‘generalist’ rather than a ‘specialist’ – with a particular interest in the ongoing dual Christian and secular crisis. I am also just as prone to error and ignorance as everyone else.

  41. Joe O'Leary says:

    We keep hearing that Bp Casey and Ml Cleary were ardent advocates of the church’s “stringent sexual code” — is this really so? In their youth they may have been, but I had the impression that they were more on the liberal flank on these issues.
    I first heard the phrase “pharisaic scandal” on the lips of a grand old Belgian Jesuit, Maurice Bairy, in connection with the brouhaha over Bp Casey. I also heard that the Vatican wanted Casey to stay in Galway, face the music, and continue his ministry.
    “The most outrageous flouting of that same code” — hmm, a prolonged quasi-marital relationship involving the responsibilities of parenthood is not, to my mind, a particularly flagrant breach of the sexual ideals of Scripture and tradition.
    When Bp Casey was arrested for drunken driving there was a great outpouring of sympathy from the humane and udnerstanding people of Ireland. At the time I asked if the people would have been as sympathetic in the case of a sexual irregularity. I believe that the answer is in fact yes, at least to a substantial degree, and that the Irish people were quite understanding of the situation, but this was overridden by the media frenzy based entirely on the principle of pharisaic scandal.
    Sean dates the crisis of Irish faith from the revelations about Bp Casey’s love life. I would date it from much, much earlier. During the 1979 papal visit many people were talking about the “last hurrah” — one great Irish bishop talked to me then of the crisis of faith. It is just media caricature that makes the crisis of Catholicism turn on the private life of one bishop.
    Now Sean and Margaret are being acclaimed as “highly qualified academics” before whose moralizing we must fall silent. Knowing intimately the fallibility of hundreds of highly qualified academics, indeed famous and eminent ones, I am unimpressed by this effort to build an argument from authority.
    “His whole priestly life from the time he took his vow of celibacy was a lie” — this is a rather absurd statement. He would have made the promise (not vow) of celibacy two years before ordination. Perhaps the vow was a lie, but not because he then did not believe in it (he spoke positively of celibacy in the 1960s) but because of an objective mendacity in the routine application of the celibacy tradition when it was past its sell-by date. Sean and Nuala come across as zealous defenders of celibacy — which to my mind comes close to idol-worship.
    Priests with common law wives are a dime a dozen in Latin America and even in continental Europe, and are tacitly accepted by the faithful. Ml Cleary perhaps believed the could enjoy the same tolerance in Ireland, and to some extent he did enjoy it. Even today, I wonder how many Irish Catholics would be really eager to cast the first stones at the clandestine couple, as if their own lives were immaculately free of any irregularities or contradictions.

  42. Con Devree says:

    The impact of scandal is impossible to measure. One reason is that people of varying degrees of faith are exposed to any one instance of scandal.

    If one believes solely because one confuses an imagined magisterium (some future emergent scandal giver) with the real Magisterium then the effect of the scandal is probably serious. On the other hand faith is not merely a function of what others believe or of tenets, but far more importantly a function of one’s relationship with God. Throughout history many have responded to scandal by seeking to deepen their faith. This is still the case throughout the Catholic world.

    The effect of scandal is also a function of variables such as one’s age, disposition, and the nature of one’s relationship with the alleged scandal giver. Which is all the more reason for separating the person from the act. Guilt by association is also a trap easy to fall into.

    Some have been far more scandalised by dissenting theologians than by the two people cited in this discussion.

    Some of the labelling that is going on here is itself a potential scandal. It must also be remembered that it is an enduring aspect of human nature to believe unequivocally in some doctrine or philosophy and still act intermittently in direct contravention of it.

    In the late 1960s cultural development in Ireland began to be influenced by secular factors whose influence on the dilution of Catholic faith did not necessitate major scandal. By the mid 1970s faith in Ireland was already well in decline. During that period many of us were grateful for the two people being discussed here – they were in fact beacons of hope for some of us. Disappointment followed. The lesson of course is never to place one’s bets on individuals however holy or attractive, but to accept their leadership and inspiration in good faith, and insofar as it coheres with the Magisterium.

  43. Sean O’Connaill @40.
    Thanks for pointing out the need for a level playing field here, it has given me the confidence to reply to Joe O’Leary @ 41.
    Joe O’Leary @ 41.
    As you can see Sean has pointed out my error in describing him as a highly qualified academic. But it is not my description of him or Dr Margaret Kennedy as highly qualified academics that is important but the facts contained in their comments. I do not believe my statement, ‘His whole priestly life from the time he took his vow of celibacy was a lie’ is absurd. It is the truth. I cannot decipher your next statement, ‘Perhaps the vow was a lie, but not because he then did not believe in it (he spoke positively of celibacy in the 1960s)but because of an objective mendacity in the routine application of the celibacy tradition when it was past its sell-by date’.
    My marriage vow is as valid now as it was thirty five years ago. If I had an on-going extramarital affair lasting twenty-six of those thirty-five years and had children from that affair then my marriage vow would be a lie and a charade.
    I do not agree with celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood. It is unnatural.
    I think your whole comment @41 is an education in deflection. It is a caricature of a serious domestic situation involving vulnerable people. I do not think you grasp the enormity of the emotional damage caused to the women and children in secret clerical relationships.
    I also would like to hear your answer to Sean O’Connail’s question ‘what obligations should have governed Cleary’s behavior when he first met Phyllis Hamilton in her teens?’

  44. Joe O'Leary says:

    “I do not agree with celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood. It is unnatural.”
    So you would say that Fr Michael Cleary’s path was clear and obvious. Once HE realized that, he should simply have left the ministry? Just as someone caught in a bad marriage should divorce and start anew?
    I think about half of the priests of his generation did in fact take that course. Many of those who remained — perhaps as many as half again — found some other accommodation with the need of intimate companionship, for instance in discreet or not so discreet affairs with a woman or women, or, increasingly, with a man or men. You talk of “the enormity of the emotional damage” of the people involved in these “secret clerical relationships” — but I would not apply this automatically to all the relationships.
    Watching the movie “Priest” I doubt if many viewers were scandalized by the older priest with his housekeeper or common-law wife, or by the carry-on of the younger priest. It seems to be a tenet of the new Irish religion that Ml Cleary was a hypocrite and a fraud — but had he been luckier both he and Bishop Casey might have been understood and loved as the priests in that movie are understood and loved by most viewers (and by emblematic members of faithful in the movie). I saw no review of the movie in which the reviewer waxed apoplectic about either priest.
    “What obligations should have governed his behavior when he first met her in her teens?” — the same obligations as govern anyone’s behavior — 34 year old men meet 17 year old girls every day and very many of such meetings result in great relationships.
    Of course what you and Sean mean is the obligation of celibacy — the idea that he should have told her “as a priest I cannot marry you, so better look elsewhere.” This was the snake in the grass, and the two people decided to live with it, whether rightly or wrongly. That was their decision, their life, and it does not strike me as unutterably monstrous.
    You and Margaret may think that the young girl of the time was under some Stockholm syndrome spell and that her love for the older man was a lie, a sham, a charade. Sean would say that whether she loved him is immaterial. But I think the utterly negative terms in which people all over Ireland decided to jeer and mock at this “serious domestic situation involving vulnerable people” was far worse than caricature. It was cruel, uncharitable, lacking in human understanding, and in the view of Ross Hamilton contributed to the death of his mother.

  45. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #41 Joe O’Leary: “Sean and Nuala come across as zealous defenders of celibacy — which to my mind comes close to idol-worship.”
    My first mention of Michael Cleary in this discussion was as follows:
    “Far too often bad religious theatre has been blessed as true religion on this island – where else could the Michael Cleary phenomenon have come from? We all need to pray, really seriously, for the grace of spiritual integrity and discernment.”
    It’s clear from this, and from everything else I have written here, that my primary concern is NOT the issue of celibacy but the issue of integrity.
    In fact I am totally opposed to the mandatory celibacy requirement for Catholic priests. I see it as the root source of the administrative dysfunction that covered up clerical child sex abuse throughout the Catholic world and delayed the safeguarding of children until secularising forces made that no longer possible.
    Joe O’Leary’s transparent evasions climax with this: “Even today, I wonder how many Irish Catholics would be really eager to cast the first stones at the clandestine couple.” No one here has done that. He writes this, obviously, to avoid having to address the question I asked him earlier: “What obligations should have governed Cleary’s behavior when he first met Phyllis Hamilton in her teens?”.
    My concern is still the issue of integrity, Joe. I live in hope that you will eventually address that particular challenge, and forsake the tactic of clouding the issue. Your tactic of depicting Phyllis Hamilton’s life as one of unremitting domestic bliss is both transparent and disgraceful.

  46. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #44 JO’L
    In response to the question of what obligations should have governed Fr Michael Cleary’s behaviour in relation to the 17 year-old Phyllis Hamilton (seeking Confession in the aftermath of psychiatric care for childhood abuse) JOL responded as follows:
    “What obligations should have governed his behavior when he first met her in her teens?” — the same obligations as govern anyone’s behavior — 34 year old men meet 17 year old girls every day and very many of such meetings result in great relationships.”
    There was then a minor reference to the complications posed by Cleary’s officially celibate status, but this did not lessen for me the impact of the above paragraph. It implied to me that no differential boundaries, determined specifically by their ordained status, need to be observed by Catholic clergy in relation to young people seeking spiritual care.
    As this was the only response from a cleric on this issue to arrive at time of writing, I have decided not to waste further time attempting to change JO’L’s mind, and to ask the ACP itself to comment officially, so that we can all get some kind of grip on the boundaries we can generally expect to see respected by Catholic clergy in such circumstances. I have made that request formally in another email to the ACP leadership.

  47. Joe O’Leary @ 44.
    I do not know anything about you Joe O’Leary except that you have been addressed as ‘Father’ by some people on this forum. As a parent of teenage children I find your response to the question posed by Sean O’Connaill both alarming and unsettling. I wonder is your response typical of what other priests believe?

  48. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, I already addressed this allegation of seducing someone seeking spiritual care: “As to the deontological question of Ml Cleary’s role when he met the young women, this is not an open and shut matter. Many clergy marry their parishioners and no one bats an eyelid. More than that, a clergyman can continue to be source of the water of life to his wife-parishioner, and she can be the water of life to him.”
    The ONLY verified allegation against Fr Cleary is that he engaged in an affair with an adult woman, amounting to a common law marriage that lasted 25 years. Fr Cleary obviously did more good as a priest than I have done, and probably less evil, so who am I to judge? Fretting about a canonical irregularity is all very well, but it does not entitle us to judge and condemn individuals. “Neither do I condemn thee” — “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone” — “Judge not, that you be not judged” etc. OF COURSE I agree that it is a deontological no-no to seduce a person in a pastoral situation, but I think you are jumping to the uncharitable conclusion that that is what Fr Cleary did (as people jumped to the same conclusion in regard to Bishop Casey). Perhaps you and Nuala do not understand the gravity I intended to convey by the word deontological.

  49. Reading some of the comments on this thread it’s just as well young people left, are leaving and God willing will stay the hell away.
    Nuala you might not be an ‘academic’ but you are a mother with a mother’s instinct. Good for you.
    If they want to be ‘professional’ priests – then they need to act professionally. Or get the hell out and get some serious professional help.

  50. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe O’Leary #48

    I don’t want to participate in this argument.- This is not a rhetorical question.

    Regarding paragraph one in #48:
    Why would I be in error to say that the reasoning changes from the deontological to the consequential rather quickly?

  51. Sean O'Conaill says:

    My sole concern here, Joe, is not to point any moralistic finger at anyone but to point to the awful consequences of any serious chasm between appearance and reality when it comes to our mutual obligations, and especially the obligations of those who take on a role that needs to be exemplary if it is to edify, nourish and heal.
    I don’t believe you have fully measured the deep tragedy that befell not only the individuals concerned in that particular story, but the whole Irish church, when that particular chasm between appearance and reality began. That story goes to the heart of the whole issue of trust between the people of God and their pastors, raising the critical issue of ‘what can we any longer truly believe?’ Nothing is more deeply destructive of true faith than the maintenance of stark untruth around the lives of those elevated by the church as moral guides and exemplars.
    Knowing personally as I do a number of individuals who have suffered frightfully from the non-observance of boundaries that need to be strictly observed if vulnerable people are to be helped and healed, I see this discussion now as a growth opportunity for all of us in our understanding of church, and in our understanding of our mutual obligations.
    If something very close to the ethical boundaries imposed by professional bodies on their members cannot be understood to apply also to Catholic clergy (in their relations with those who approach them seeking spiritual care), the breach of trust that has already occurred in Ireland between clergy and people will become irreparable and the victory of a hostile media complete. Your position on this issue stands at one pole, but seems to me to be a formula for endless uncertainty and distrust.
    So why shouldn’t the ACP break new ground now in this particular vineyard?

  52. Paddy Ferry says:

    I really think we all have to calm down. I now so regret ever having said that I thought Michael Cleary was a great priest. Sean, I don’t think there is any need to ask the ACP to make an official statement on this. Surely we can have an adult, mature conversation on this site — as we always have done — without involving the ACP leadership and asking for an official comment.

  53. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thanks, Con, for getting me to clarify potential ambiguity. I was thinking of an Anglican vicar who married his parishioner. The fact that he could have been her confessor before he married her (or even during? I don’t know Anglican discipline) or that he could have met her first in a pastoral counseling situation would not lead anyone to denounce his marriage as a breach of deontology. Now the fact the Fr Cleary may have met Phyllis first in a counseling situation does not of itself prove that he breached his deontological obligation within that situation. He might have done — I am not privy to what went on between those two people in 1968 — but I don’t think anyone else here is either. An analogy that makes things clear is that of the relations between a professor and a student. For a professor to seduce a student is considered unprofessional and unethical and parents are rightly angry. But many professors end up marrying their former students, and no one objects to that, as far as I know. The misunderstanding I especially want to clear up is that a consequential happy ending would not retrospectively justify a deontological breach. I never wished to suggest such an ethics (though it is true that God can write with crooked lines, but this was not what I had in mind either). Rather, I am rejecting the logic that because a young person was a counselee of an older one she can never later be regarded as his licit partner.
    Now it is very true that celibacy, when widely not observed, creates the “awful chasm” of which Sean speaks. But what of the case of clergy who observe the celibacy discipline outwardly but see in it no spiritual merit? What of clergy who recall past sexual affairs with delight or regret, not with the repentance that the celibacy ideology would prescribe? From a Jesuanic point of view the “chasm” here would be just as “awful”. Personally, I am in sympathy with priests who frankly live with a lover, male or female, and share that with their friends or even with parishioners — at least three such are known to me, and they are very good men and deep priests. Maybe Michael Cleary was similar — I don’t see the need to demonize him. I would add that the non-celibate relationship of these three priests seems to have been beneficial to the human flourishing of both parties and may have made the clerical one a happier and more effective priest.
    I would not call these irregular situations “stark untruth”. And even if I did accept that description, I would not conflate them with “boundary violations”, a phrase used of molestation, abuse, seduction, etc., not of two adults who chose to share their lives in mutual support. People do “suffer frightfully” from gross boundary violations, but they rarely, surely, then choose to marry the violator? Being in contradiction with canon law is not the same thing as being in an abusive and exploitative relationship with your partner (not at least in the three cases I am personally aware of).
    Sean, your last paragraph exemplifies the quiproquo running through our whole exchange, and which I think is due to your SNAP-style hermeneutic that interprets everything in the blackest light and also to the substitution of a facile target of indignation for a human wrestling with the pervasive ethical difficulties the celibate regime generates. OF COURSE clergy are obliged to the same deontological rigor as other professional and EVEN MORE SO. But the obligation of celibacy is something other than that. A priest who casts off that obligation and lives with a contradiction between official expectation and his human life — and there are many, many such priests — is not necessarily to be condemned as an abuser and exploiter.
    I am sorry that Paddy has withdrawn his encomium of Fr Cleary — what little I saw and heard of him suggested that he was a profoundly human and compassionate man, a really good priest to the many he helped. Indeed it was a leading Irish theologian who described him to me after his death as “the best priest in Ireland”.

  54. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “Priests need to stand up for themselves,” Brendan said in a neighbouring thread. And, I would add, “and for one another”.
    So much of the heavy lifting is left to Joe O’Leary in practically every discussion on this priests’ website for several years now – but I think I may have said that before. Lucky, Joe has fairly broad shoulders.
    I have no doubt that the great good done by an Eamon Casey or a Michael Cleary in their day is not entirely erased by their well publicised weaknesses. But Paddy has already made that point and it cuts no ice with those whose minds are already well made up. It’s convenient for some that we still have the triptych visuals of Casey, Wojtyla and Cleary wowing Ireland’s Youth at Ballybrit racecourse. All gone (well no, Eamon isn’t) the way of that other Galway trio of Mahon, Purcell and Stockwell who didn’t mind blessing themselves in public if it kept Mayo in their place. But we’ll not have any of that superstitious nonsense when the mystical females and non-celibate men of the future take over the priesthood. This website will be, undoubtedly, a changed place. May I live to see it!

  55. Fergus P Egan says:

    There is much written here that my head is spinning.
    What happened to Truth and Love? And where is God –is God not Love?
    Perhaps God, who ‘dwells in the hearts of the just’, is more present here than in pharisaic obedience.
    If Michael Cleary’s relationship with Phyllis Hamilton was a loving relationship was it not ‘good’? On the other hand, if it was one of advantage/disadavantage, then it was abusive. But to give the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it was a normal relationship (with some unusual circumstances), and it likely had the ups and downs that most of us experience – not perfect, but favourable and loving. A lot of the evil we are accused of stems from our deviation from the rules. Obedience, regarded as a virtue, is double-edged; it is also a licence for accusations of wrong-doing. The sin of disobedience is frequently overtaken by the sin obedience.
    Fergus P Egan

  56. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #53 Joe O’Leary goes on:
    “OF COURSE clergy are obliged to the same deontological rigor as other professional and EVEN MORE SO. But the obligation of celibacy is something other than that. A priest who casts off that obligation and lives with a contradiction between official expectation and his human life — and there are many, many such priests — is not necessarily to be condemned as an abuser and exploiter.”
    As I see it any ‘casting off’ of the celibate obligation necessarily involves a casting off also of the obligation of ‘deontological rigour’ if it happens in any relationship begun by any young person with the purpose of availing of the spiritual services of the priest who ‘casts off’. I simply cannot accept that any seventeen-year-old can be responsibly considered by any adult to be capable of giving safe adult consent to such a relationship, with all of the complex existential dissonance that it will necessarily entail. Any priest who ‘casts off’ his celibacy in those circumstances is indeed, in my considered view, guilty of the grossest abuse, self-indulgence and exploitation – a complete flouting of ‘deontological rigour’.
    It is above all the fact that I have a daughter and three tiny female grandchildren that leads me to this ‘hermeneutic’. Also the acquaintance of people still suffering the consequences of clerical ‘casting off’ of the celibate obligation, guided not at all by ‘deontological rigour’ but by the apparent inability of some clerics ever to develop a true sense of adult responsibility for the dutiful care of people less powerful than themselves.
    Could it not be, Joe, that your own ‘hermeneutic’ is seriously impaired? Have you ever set yourself to learn more about this issue from survivors of such an experience? You snipe endlessly at SNAP, but show never a whit of compassion for the pain that fuels the deep and justified indignation of so many still-suffering people – so I wonder what exactly it is that qualifies you to be so sure of your position.
    As it happens I have today learned that the NBSCCC is in the process of developing safeguarding guidelines for Irish Catholic clergy to cover precisely the situation we are discussing. It is therefore entirely appropriate and timely for the ACP to be considering its own policy on the issue, so I will let my request for that stand.
    To Paddy Ferry: no sweat whatsoever, Paddy! The ACP has provided here the only Irish Catholic platform on which this issue could be publicly aired, and deserves great credit for that. We were bound to get to it sometime, so why not now? This is not a question of ‘calling in the Ref’ but of bringing clarity and mature consensus to a very grey area that has until now not been given the concentrated attention it direly needs.

  57. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The only Irish Catholic platform on which the issue could be publicly aired” — but only on SNAP terms it seems — certainly no cleric is going to speak openly when subjected to the SNAP method of sinking distinctions. An effort to address honestly the sexual life of the clergy — even in the rather mild form I have attempted here — instantly galvanizes the SNAP folk with their tried and tested adversarial tactics, and their memes and stereotypes applied with boilerplate relentlessness. Thank God Gerard Slevin hasn’t stayed around, because when American lawyers get onto this topic it is the end of any humane discussion!
    “As I see it any ‘casting off’ of the celibate obligation necessarily involves a casting off also of the obligation of ‘deontological rigour’”
    This statement is what I questioned. I referred to three priests who have broken with celibacy without any loss of deontological rigor.
    But Sean adds an if-clause: “if it happens in any relationship begun by any young person with the purpose of availing of the spiritual services of the priest who ‘casts off’”. This is tailor-made to cover Ml Cleary, but only the Ml Cleary of an historical reconstruction of events in 1968. Now there is an ambiguity here in the word “begun”. One can “begin” a relationship with a person as a professional relationship and continue it as a personal relationship. To begin a specifically sexual relationship with a person coming to one in a spiritual or pastoral or confessional capacity is wrong, but to being such a relationship later, outside that initial context is not necessarily wrong — as in the case of Anglican clergymen who marry women they first came to know in a pastoral context. Would Sean accept this observation in the case of Anglican clergy?
    The snake in the grass here is the Roman legal obligation of celibacy. Ml Cleary may have behaved in a manner that would be perfectly unexceptionable if he were not a professed celibate — Sean is absolutely certain that he did not, but I think we cannot be sure of that without very precise investigations.
    Supposing I concede to Sean that Ml Cleary began the relationship in the most immoral way he would postulate, as a reckless seducer (or at least as a muddled and immature guy who got his lines crossed, straying into unmapped territory), would it then be correct to rule his entire subsequent relationship to Phyllis Hamilton as marked by “inability ever to develop a true sense of adult responsibility for the dutiful care of people less powerful than themselves”? If Sean is applying that to Ml Cleary it seems to me horrendously judgemental. The Irish people knew that Ml Cleary was very caring to the weak and less powerful in society (even if it is all too true that “the good is oft interred with their bones”). Ml Cleary’s treatment of his common-law wife and son over 25 years is something I would hesitate to condemn as purely irresponsible. Never having taken on such responsibilities at all, I do not feel entitled to judge.
    “I simply cannot accept that any seventeen-year-old can be responsibly considered by any adult to be capable of giving safe adult consent to such a relationship, with all of the complex existential dissonance that it will necessarily entail.”
    The issue, as Sean now almost concedes, is celibacy. “Such a relationship” here means “a relationship with a celibate priest”; it cannot mean “a sexual relationship” or “a marriage” since 34 yo men marry 17 yo women quite often with society’s blessing. “Any priest who ‘casts off’ his celibacy in those circumstances is indeed, in my considered view, guilty of the grossest abuse, self-indulgence and exploitation – a complete flouting of ‘deontological rigour’”. The loophole phrase “in those circumstances” refers here to the age-gap or else to the unproven allegation of deontological breach. Personally, I see nothing scandalous in the age gap. If the circumstances were the same but Phyllis was 25 and Michael 26 would Sean be more understanding and less prompt to judge?
    I suggest that Sean might take a leaf from Archbishop Joe Cassidy’s response when asked what he thought of Pat Staunton’s novel later filmed as “The Priest’s Story” (and in a second post-Casey edition as “The Bishop’s Story”). He said something to the effect that “Fr Staunton is studying human situations”. We cannot study human situations humanely if we are constantly reaching for the triggers of moral panic, holy horror, and pound-of-flesh entrapment.
    Men are sexual animals; clerics are men; in 1968 celibacy was being trashed, for priests reacted to Paul VI’s celibacy encyclical just as married couples reacted to the contraception encyclical. It was the high point of the sexual revolution, the summer of love, and many a priest lost his head and behaved immaturely. Count Ml Cleary among them if you wish, but don’t trash his ministry and his common-law marriage, applying a Manichean all-or-nothing rhetoric that you would be loth to apply to yourselves!

  58. Fergus P. Egan @55.
    Something does not make sense to me here. The Catholic Church excludes lay people from table-fellowship for many different reasons. In my case I was excluded because I used artificial contraception during my marriage (even though I had seven kids!) What about separated, divorced and remarried couples, are they not also excluded? What about LGBT’s in relationships whom the Church deems to be intrinsically evil? All of these are excluded from table-fellowship is their love for each other lesser than a priest’s in a clandestine relationship? Michael Cleary was in such a relationship for years. I have no doubt there was much love involved. For me in this discussion it is the double standards in the Church that is at issue. Not only was Michael Cleary not excluded from table-fellowship, he was the one who stood on the alter every morning saying Mass giving out communion to thousands of people many of whom were aware of his hidden family. Not only was he not excluded but he and his friend Tony Walsh with whom performed on stage were both protected by the Catholic Church. I haven’t been to Mass in years because in conscience I couldn’t live a double life. Am I wrong to be angry?

  59. Con Devree says:

    The conversations here have been carried on outside the parameters of Catholicism. The conversations display what obtains in the absence of the Magisterium or a proper hierarchy. There is common agreement on the dispensability of celibacy among the participants (> 2). There seems to be a common philosophical approach. But differing genuine convictions and basic assumptions (including those pertaining to celibacy) show little prospect of generating a resolution. It is more a vibrant, engaging, indeed helpful philosophical/sociological/psychological discussion rather than a Catholic theological exploration.

    It illustrates in microcosm the conditions that underlie the splintering that has occurred in the separated ecclesial communities over the last 400 years.

    A case in point are the extremes in current interactions within the Anglican community regarding homosexuality. On the one hand there are the political manoeuvrings to ratify gay marriage in the “western” countries. In some African countries on the other hand there is the tacit acceptance by bishops of unjust laws against people of same sex attraction. The middle ground has its own divisions.

    It’s helpful to consider that Catholicism is an invitation to objective truth.

  60. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    Nuala @58
    If you are wrong to be angry, then let me join you. Although perhaps my feelings are more “Am I the most naive, gullible eejit on the planet?” rather than anger. I’ve been following this thread with great interest since the talk of priests non-celibate lifestyles (for want of a better description) began. And I’m really grateful to both Joe and Sean, as well as the rest of you who are pitching in, for talking about it. What has slapped me in the face is the seeming acceptance that “Of COURSE priests aren’t celibate! Sure we all KNOW they have their intimate relationships. We just don’t go public on it.” Or am I reading it all wrong?
    There’s so much more I could say about how all of this has impacted on me, but right now, I want to add my voice to Nuala’s. It is the double standard that bothers me terribly.

  61. Paddy Ferry says:

    Nuala, it seems like a long time ago since posts 17 and 18 when we first conversed on the topic of Fr. Michael Cleary’s priesthood. I felt very uneasy yesterday when I thought things were getting seriously out of hand. I have differed with Joe too on one very important issue in the past but I absolutely admire his knowledge and his sincerity and his intellect and, like Seán, Joe continues to make a wonderful contribution to this site. Eddie@54 is correct to say that Joe has done “so much of the heavy lifting” and while he certainly does not need me to stand up for him, I didn’t like the way he was being treated yesterday.
    I hope, Nuala, what I am about to say does not detract in any way from my apology — which was genuine–to you and Margaret for offending you both , and perhaps Seán too, by my description of Michael Cleary as ” a great priest”. I would never want to offend anyone with my comments on this site. You are correct to say that it was Margaret and Seán’s detailed knowledge that made me rethink my position. You must realise that you provided no information when you first challenged me, you simply posted ” A great Irish priest maybe but what about a dad and husband.” I genuinely thought he was a good dad and husband. Though it is a long time ago and my memory is a bit hazy, I always understood that Phyllis went public not because of any angst towards Fr. Michael but because of difficulties she was having with his family. Now, I stand to be corrected on that.
    I also watched the television documentary on Ross’s life since his father’s death which was broadcast last year or perhaps the year before. I think it was on Channel 4 over here though they perhaps took it from RTE. A woman journalist spent time with Ross and revisited some of the scenes of his childhood including the parish where he grew up with his mum and dad. I don’t think there was much or, indeed, any negativity from Ross towards his dad. Infact, when they visited the parish they met parishioners who were still very positive to-wards their late PP. Now, perhaps these parishioners were hand-picked for the program but there certainly didn’t seem to be much criticism of Fr. Michael — as far as I can remember. I now wish I had paid more detailed attention to this whole story in the past. The saddest part of that program for me was the fact that the Cleary family never accepted or recognised Ross.
    However, when Margaret, who has spent 10 years researching the topic of women involved with clergymen for her Ph.D, and that included Phyllis Hamilton, explained that Michael Cleary had treated Phyllis “with contempt” then I realised that I was out of my depth. I am presuming that she has sound evidence for that comment. She also found any description of Fr. Cleary as a great priest as “loathsome”. Margaret’s contribution and that of Seán made me realise I had to rethink my own position and apologise for any offence I had caused.
    However, Nuala, I think the question of whether the indiscretions in a person’s life cancels out all the good they have done is still valid. Take, for example, the case of Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader in the US who did so much for the oppressed black people and usually referring to sacred scripture as he made his case for basic civil rights for his people. We now know that Dr. King was an adulterer. Does that cancel out all the good he did for his people?
    JFK, whom we Irish loved, was responsible for drafting the civil rights legislation that LBJ finally guided through Congress after the assassination. Now we all know the indiscretions– to put it mildly — of President Kennedy’s life. Do they cancel out all the good he did as president?
    In an earlier period of history, David Lloyd George was a great Liberal reforming Prime Minister in London. Now we know he had a mistress for most of his married life. Does that negate all the good he was responsible for in his political career?
    Very recently one of the most respected figures of our age, Nelson Mandela passed away. His iconic status was well deserved because of his long battle and suffering for freedom for his oppressed people and then, his amazing magnanimity towards his former enemies when he got power. Yet, we know that Nelson was no angel in some aspects of his life. Does that cancel out all the good he did in his life?
    Nuala, I think the answer to all those question must be no, their failings do not cancel out all the good they have done. There has to be a certain balancing involved between the good and the bad. Now, perhaps priests are a breed apart for whom this balancing is not appropriate, but I don’t think so.
    There is one final example of this balancing process that I would like to share with you and it involves 2 priests — 2 popes in fact. The first is Pope Pius X, Giuseppe Sarto, a devout, holy and pious man. He loved his mother dearly and when he became Patriarch of Venice he went back to his home in Riese to show her — bedridden and in her 80s — his new cardinalate outfit. Then on the death of Leo XIII he became pope. I am sure his private life remained totally impeccable but as pope he turned into an absolute tyrant with his anti- modernist purges. I suppose the injustice we Irish are most familiar with was the appalling treatment of the Dublin Jesuit, Fr.George Tyrrell. Of course, as well as being a monster, Pius X is also a saint, probably the last papal saint before last weekend’s canonisations.
    The other pope in this comparison, is Paul III. Now, by no stretch of the imagination could you call him a good and virtuous man. He was elected pope in 1534 having sired three sons and a daughter when a cardinal. He carved the Duchy of Parma out of the papal states for one of his sons and he made his grandsons cardinals when they were only boys. Yet, he was a good pope. He is remembered by humanity as the first pope — probably the first public figure, infact – to condemn slavery; he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgement and, most important of all, he called together the reforming Council of Trent.
    This has been quite a long post, Nuala, to try and convince you that you simply cannot delete all the positives because of the negatives or, in the case of Pius X, vice versa.
    While I believe that compulsory celibacy for men wanting to be priests is totally crazy, I do believe that once you make the promise you should try and keep it, just as we who are married must keep our promise of fidelity. You said, Nuala, that you are a wife and mother. Well, I am a husband and father so we both understand the intensity of parental love. A few years ago I was shocked reading Richard Sipe, a former priest himself, who has done a lot or research into clerical sexuality, when he made the comment that less than 50% of priests, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, actually live celibate lives. Then I read Marie Keenan’s excellent book which I have mentioned here a few times — you may have read it and I expect Margaret and Seán will have too. I had to read it to try and understand why priests sexually abused children. For so many of us it was so difficult to understand and accept. In Chap. 10. Marie explains that there are 3 types of Celibate Clerical Masculinity; 1. Perfect Celibate Clerical Masculinity, 2. Compassionate Celibate Clerical Masculinity and, finally, 3. Incongruous Celibate Clerical Masculinity. I think Michael Cleary adopted a compassionate celibate clerical masculinity. In the last paragraph of p. 244 of her book this is how Marie Kennan describes Compassionate Celibate Clerical Masculinity;
    “Those clerics who adopt a Compassionate Celibate Clerical Masculinity experience themselves as emotional and sexual as well as spiritual beings that embody their maleness as part of their lives, even if awareness of body brings “trouble” in the face of the celibate commitment. These men seek out emotional and at times sexual relationships with other adults, women and men, which they understand as part of the project of their humanity. Although they experience guilt and conflict because of their breaches of Church discipline, they are able to forgive themselves for their transgressions, without shame and severe damage to self-esteem and respect. Although these men experience guilt, they do not live with shame-based identities. They have friends of both sexes and they “do their best” in their approach to their work, often working too hard, which is rarely motivated by a need to compensate for private shame.”
    Having read this book I certainly became a lot less judgemental and less shocked by Richard Sipe’s stats.

  62. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #57 Joe O’Leary
    You are quite correct, Joe, to invite me to separate on the one hand the particular issue of Michael Cleary’s relationship with Phyllis Hamilton and on the other the generic issue of safeguarding principles and guidelines for priests in their relationships with young adults. It is on the latter only that I can expect the ACP to offer comment and policy, as the former involves both ongoing sensitivities and a variety of indeterminables and unknowables that the deceased principals in the case obviously cannot answer to.
    So let us now focus on the generic seventeen-year-old girl – let us call her Genesa17 – and cease to speak of Phyllis. And let us speak only of the generic ordained priest, aged anywhere from 26 to 90, Odoric.
    Let us agree also that Odoric has been first addressed by Genesa as ‘Father’ and that she is in quest of spiritual services, and that Odoric has discovered what he sincerely believes to be the injustice of his celibate obligation, and feels attracted to Genesa17.
    If Odoric feels morally obligated and justified in seeking a sexual partnership with anyone, can he ever be justified in broaching this possibility to Genesa17? I would argue not, but I would not on the other hand rule out the possibility of an ethical broaching of such a possibility at a later stage to Genesa22, 24 or 27, dependent wholly upon Odoric’s determination of certain strict conditions, viz.:
    1 Genesa has now no residual youthful dependency upon himself as a surrogate parent and moral guide;
    2 Genesa has no other dependency upon him that might influence her to accept such a relationship for reasons of personal security rather than entirely free choice – e.g. lack of education and of good prospects of personal financial independence if she refused such a relationship ;
    3 Genesa has another mature spiritual confidante and guide entirely familiar with the predicaments that Genesa would experience if she entered upon such a relationship, a confidante who is entirely independent of Odoric’s influence;
    4 Genesa is fully aware of the worst that may happen to her in those circumstances – e.g. the kind of finger-pointing that might accrue;
    5 Genesa is entirely free to leave such a relationship at any stage without serious penalty to herself.
    You will see here, Joe, that I am setting a very high bar – for the sake of both Odoric and Genesa. To assure himself that he has not been manipulative and exploitative – i.e. ethically reckless – Odoric needs to be entirely satisfied that Genesa is fully capable of making an adult choice NOT to enter into such a relationship. His moral dissatisfaction with the obligation of celibacy entitles him only to seek to end it in a relationship with another mature and independent adult who is fully aware of the lifelong complications that are likely to follow. Also the circumstances of his first encounter with Genesa 17 oblige him to bring a complete end to any dependency she may have upon him for spiritual and moral guidance.
    Can he satisfy these conditions if he himself is now to become insecure in his own tenure of priestly office in the event of, say, media exposure?
    It seems to me that the latter circumstance undermines the possibility of a happy outcome to such a relationship, and that this also must weigh in Odoric’s conscientious check-list.
    I am still enclined to favour the unambiguously chivalric decision of Odoric to encourage Genesa not to look to him at all as a prospective sexual partner. There is no doubt there of the supremacy of Odoric’s genuine and deep love of Genesa, and no doubt either that his deeper duty to her soul has been overborn by his libido. Odoric has other options, and must be sure that the adult Genesa does too.
    Am I just an old romantic, imposing tragedy upon true love? Others must judge.

  63. Mary O Vallely says:

    I have been very uncomfortable about strong judgements being made about people who can no longer defend themselves i.e. Fr Michael Cleary and Phyllis Hamilton so I “switched off” a bit but it is hard not to feel the anger, hurt and sense of injustice and bewilderment expressed sincerely by every single person on this thread.
    I think what we need to do is to have a conversation about priesthood, about the impossible ideal of the celibate priesthood -impossible for many, not for all, I might add -and whether we have set the bar too high in asking them to be better than the rest of us.
    Just reading recently about Peaches Geldof and the perhaps impossibly high bar she set herself in wanting to be the ideal mother. None of us is perfect. We are all fallible, weak and needy human beings. I do understand Sean O’Conaill who has done so much to advocate on behalf of survivors but I also feel that Joe is being refreshingly honest about how some priests cope with mandatory celibacy. Paddy has been a beacon of calm and understanding and it is so good to read his considered and compassionate responses. Nuala and Jo, I can see and feel your bewilderment and your anger. What a pity we cannot all have a conversation face-to-face. Perhaps another thread is needed?

  64. Jo O’Sullivan @60.
    Thanks Jo.
    Paddy Ferry @61.
    Thanks Paddy for your long comment much of which I agree with.
    I would like, if I can, to fade out of this whole discussion. I have to question my motive for continuing to login to this website considering I lost my pearl of great price some years back. But I am grateful to the ACP for letting me rant and rave and get things off my chest.

  65. Dr Margaret Kennedy says:

    It is a mistake and completely wrong to interpret Marie Keenan’s Compassionate Celibate Clerical Masculinity as that practiced by Fr Michael Cleary. What Marie Keenan (I hope) is saying that these men are seeking relationships with those who can FULLY CONSENT and are legitimate adults to whom a priest might align his ‘compassionate celibacy’ (sic). When a person seeks to ask for help in crisis , for spiritual direction, for pastoral care, they are not to be seen by any priest as ‘legitimate’ sexual partners. There lies a boundary that is not to be crossed by any professional or clergy who are charged with the ‘duty of care’ to one who seeks help. Phyllis Hamilton was a traumatised vulnerable girl when she first approached Cleary. She was not by any means going for a sexual relationship. Cleary set this up and it had nothing to do with ‘Compassionate Celibate Clerical Masculinity’ we can always read passages of any book to suit our purposes!

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.