THE Pope’s recent visit to Ireland produced conflicting images of adoring crowds with people still angry about years of abuse carried out beneath the shroud of the church.
It wasn’t just the abuse of vulnerable children, mostly boys, by Catholic priests. The ‘old’ church’s harsh ideology saw thousands of young Irish mothers forcefully separated from their infants.
The women and girls faced uncertain fates. Many went home to ‘normality’ – if a life of shame and despair about a lost child can be called normal.
Most of the children found adoptive new lives. Many didn’t. At the Bon Secours care home in Galway, some 800 ended up in mass graves in its sewers.
Those convents were not neo-natal units and those nuns were not obstetricians.
Pope Francis seems to me a good man, humbly repentant for the sins of the Catholic church’s past. You would like to think the abuses couldn’t happen today.
I don’t think it’s in the Pope’s gift to apologise for Ireland’s centuries of violence, fought under the banners of Catholic and Protestant. Hopefully, those years are behind us too.
I was born and raised Catholic, of mostly Irish descent, and I still practise, though not as frequently as I’m sure Canon John Aveyard of St Paulinus would prefer.
He’s leaving the parish for pastures new so good luck with your mission, Father.
These days I’m as likely to be found (infrequently) in the pews at a nearby village church, which is Church of England – modern services are very similar and the spiritual message is identical.
Often, as when I visit the beautiful churches in York itself, it’s just for a spell of quiet, personal contemplation. Good for the soul.
It’s also a beautiful building dating back to the 12th century. We had only one Christian faith back then, albeit one crusading, warring faith, with Richard the Lionheart battling Saladin’s Sunni Muslims for control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
As the philosopher George Santanya said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I think you can see the evidence of that all around the world.
But I think it is far less about the religion, and everything about ourselves.
I don’t think the Bible has changed much since the gospels were completed, or the Koran since Mohammed died in AD 632 – five years after the Roman missionary Paulinus founded Dewsbury’s Minster church and baptised locals in the River Calder.
Anyone being baptised in the refreshed waters of today’s Calder would probably survive; back when my church was the long-defunct St Anne’s in Thornhill Lees, dip your head in the Calder and you’d end up like a Novichok victim.
There may be places in the world where Old Testament ideas like “an eye for an eye” are still preached.
But generally, Christianity has evolved in how it interprets ancient scriptures. Its universal message is of kindness and peace, despite understandably struggling to accommodate some modern social complexities into its teachings.
I’m reading the Koran at the moment, alongside a fascinating academic interpretation of it.
It’s clear that different strains of Islam have diverged hugely in how they interpret their holy book.
They are all conservative anyway, but some seem – are – determined to adhere strictly, literally, to teachings that are 1,386 years old.
Considered in that light, it is no wonder there are problems of community cohesion.
And as for assimilation and integration? That exists purely in the fanciful imaginations of soft-headed liberals.
And that’s not criticism of any one or any faith by the way – other than the head-in-sand merchants who can’t handle reality.
In terms of having a grown-up conversation about these matters, I’d say this: I’m not personally insulted or affronted by anyone criticising or even howling outright abuse at the Catholic church for the sins of either its past or present.
I think it would be incredibly helpful if adherents of other faiths could adopt a similar attitude.
YOU get this glamorous idea of life in telly-celeb-land, don’t you? Personal assistant scuttling after you, anticipating your every whim.
A limo waiting on double yellows for you to emerge, donning your sunglasses and slipping smoothly inside (chauffeur, peaked cap, holding door open) before cruising off, the traffic lights all turning green in sync as your motor approaches, heading for the next 5 star hotel.
Here’s how my Tuesday went, appearing on Politics Live, which is filmed at the BBC’s Westminster studio at 12.15pm, across the road from the Houses of Parliament.
11.14 – Arrive King’s Cross only five minutes late. Only 20 minutes by tube, plenty time for 11.45 meet.
11.25 – Sardine-style on tube, problems on Victoria Line, train going nowhere. Get off and run like billy-oh for taxi.
11.37 – Taxi has gone 800 yards in 10 minutes and now at a standstill. ETA? ‘About half-twelve guvnor’, says Black Cab bandit, happily watching meter whir round. Throw him a tenner, jump out.
11.39 – Another cab; ‘city’s at a standstill guvnor’ he says, equally cheerily.
11.42 – Pay him, jump out at Russell Square by rank of Boris Bikes. When you’re desperate for a ride, there’s always Boris (ahem)! Pedal like a madman, through red lights (not really officer) on pavements (exaggerating) wrong way down one-way streets (kidding), overtake buses on outside – really – and arrive at 4 Millbank at 12.04. Beg security guard to park bike in nearest rank (it hasn’t been seen since).
12.07 – Through security, into make-up. Make-up? I’m sweating like Billy Bunter after running a half-marathon wrapped in Bacofoil and the make-up is sliding off me like I’ve been lathered in baby oil.
12.12 – I’m still having head dabbed with paper towels, floor manager’s ready to roll – and at this point I’m informed that of the subjects we’d been briefed on, they’ve all changed except one about young men committing suicide. I’m a long way past young, but on this one I really can relate.
12.15 – And ... action. And the next 45 minutes of debate? I haven’t a Scooby Doo. Might as well have been debating in Mandarin for all the sense I probably made.
Afterwards I walk sedately up to Charing Cross, report the bike missing and meet a friend at St Pancras for a bite of lunch. Mine was appalling, so I sent it back.
Big-time Charlies? City slickers? Life in the fast lane (lthough me and the bike had some of that at least)?
You can keep it. I’m retiring from public life. Leave it to the professionals.
APPARENTLY experts can tell what Tutenkhamun had for his last breakfast 3,300 years ago, based on a tiny sample of his DNA. Meanwhile, the Keystone – sorry, Kirklees – Kops would struggle if they’d laid his breakfast table yesterday.
I was walking through London when I got a message to call Kirklees CID – would I mind finding a London police station and volunteering a DNA sample? I was ‘a person of interest’, as they say.
Erm, no thanks, a bit busy.
Okay, they would come to my home to get a sample.
I spoke to my solicitor. No again, unless they explained what it was about.
In that case they said they’d arrest me and demand a sample, with the only explanation that it was regarding “two hate crimes in Dewsbury in August”.
“But you’ve got my DNA from an incident in 2013, check that,” said I.
“We have and can’t get a match, we need another sample.”
Wow – it seems DNA degrades inside five years in Kirklees.
My conscience is absolutely clear, but you do get to wondering what’s going on.
And then a thought occurred.
On Monday I got a call from a concerned parishioner of St Paulinus. The Parochial Hall on High Street has closed its bar and a local gent from a ‘different faith community’ has inquired about buying the building and its half-acre of land. It’s not for sale.
Suddenly there have been problems with vandalism and graffiti including a break-in which police classified as a racist incident.
At least that’s what I was told by my caller, because you wouldn’t know it from our Keystones – not unless it was a hate crime against a ‘different’ religion, at which point the Superintendent would have the BBC and ITV cameras round for tea and biscuits. You get my drift.
So on Monday I went up to the ‘Paroch’ and had a nosey round. There wasn’t much to see different from my youth club days there back in 1973. My car was parked out front though and I noticed one neighbour having a good gander, to see what I was up to.
You don’t suppose the Keystones think I’m attacking my own church to cast aspersions on a ‘different’ faith community, do you?
It wouldn’t surprise me with this lot. Nothing would.