The Irish Famine in Theological Perspective by Oliver Rafferty, SJ

An in-depth historical look at the “Providentialist theology” that influenced government and church decisions at the time of the Irish holocaust in 1845-1850.

“The failure of government robustly to rise to the challenge of the Great Hunger because of an ideology underpinned with theological considerations caused many in Ireland to believe that ‘a British Protestant state has allowed massive starvation as a means of reducing the Irish Catholic population and strengthening its control over the country.’ I don’t think myself that it’s true, but never-the-less it was an opinion prominent in Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the famine.”—Oliver Rafferty, SJ

Violence, Politics, and Catholicism in Ireland by Oliver Rafferty

The Catholic Church and the Easter Rising 1919

‘Was there an Irish liberation theology?’ by Oliver Rafferty at St. Mary’s University College, Belfast (August 2014)

Joan Chittister: The Blessing of Not Being Perfect

“This is the very perfection of a person, to find out our own imperfections.” –Saint Augustine

Humanity is a mixture of blunders. That’s what makes it so charming, so interesting to be around. Because none of us is complete, we all need one another. It’s only when we convince ourselves that we are the fullness of all that is, that we become spiritually poor.

The nice thing about being human is that you get to fail a lot. Value that; it’s priceless. It gives us such respect for everybody else. The reason clowns and slapstick comedians are so popular is that, if truth were known, we all see in them the parts of ourselves we try too hard to hide. When we take ourselves too seriously, we forget that the only thing we know for sure that’s eternal is God.

Making mistakes is part of the growth process. We must learn to be much gentler about this with other people. We must also learn to be gentler with ourselves. Otherwise what we expect of ourselves, we will expect of everybody else. And that can be tragic. For all of us.

Never be afraid to admit that you “don’t know” or “can’t find” or “couldn’t do” something. Our imperfections and inabilities are the only thing we have that give us the right to the support of the rest of the human race.

The gift of knowing what we lack is the gift we have to give to the abilities of others. As the Irish proverb says, “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Aspects of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications).

Vatican Undercut Irish Bishops’ Bold Child Abuse Policies, 1997 Letter Reveals

N. 808/97
Dublin, 31 January 1997
Strictly Confidential

Your Excellency,

The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse : Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee.

The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.

The text, however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems.  If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them.  At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.

To: the Members of the Irish Episcopal Conference – their Dioceses.

For these reasons and because the above mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.

Asking you to kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my cordial regard, I am [sic]

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Luciano Storero
Apostolic Nuncio

Investigative journalist Mick Peelo, from the Irish TV show Would You Believe?, this week revealed a 1997 letter (see above) from the Vatican warning Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Apparently, Peelo received it from an Irish bishop.

“Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them,” writes AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik. “A key argument employed by the Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in the United States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress evidence of crimes.”

In 1996 the Irish bishops responded to the massive number of allegations regarding child sexual abuse by adopting very bold policies (see “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response”) that, as Bishop Michael Smith put it, finally “put the child at the center.” In 1997, this new letter reveals, the Vatican immediately sought to undermine the approach taken by the Irish bishops.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik explains further the importance of the letter:

In the January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, the Vatican’s diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church’s year-old policy of “mandatory” reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church’s policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was “merely a study document.” He said canon law — which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church — “must be meticulously followed.”

Without elaborating Storero, who died in 2000, wrote that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

He warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest’s suspected crimes to police ran the risk of having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

Last March, when Pope Benedict wrote his “pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland” condemning pedophiles within the church, he blamed Irish bishops for failing to follow canon law, however he made no acknowledgment of the Vatican’s own role in secretly blocking the Irish bishop’s efforts to improve child protection and bring abuser priests to justice.

Would You Believe?’s 40-minute video “Unspeakable Crimes” is a fair and thorough examination of the culture of secrecy around sexual abuse cases that Pope Benedict is both trying to change and completely caught up in. Extensive interviews with members of Voice of the Faithful in Ireland, canon lawyers, bishops, priests, psychologists, and Vatican reporters.

The video is an excellent tool for Catholics who want to reflect together on the ongoing revelations around sexual abuse and how best to advance protection from abusive priests and the culture of clericalism that fosters secrecy and abuse.

The Irish church is currently in the midst of a “visitation” by Cardinal O’Malley regarding the sexual abuse scandal. But, as one person interviewed said, “It’s still not getting to the issue. This is a big problem that’s institutional. It’s bigger than the Irish church.”

Sources:
Would You Believe? “Unspeakable Crimes” (January 17, 2011) VIDEO
Voice of the Faithful Ireland
Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse By Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press (17 Jan 2011)
Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response (1996) adopted by the Irish Catholic church
Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland from Pope Benedict XVI (March 20, 2010)

Video: Theo Dorgan reads “Visitors”

I’m reading the new collection of poems by Irish poet Theo Dorgan. It’s titled Greek (Daedelus Press, 2010). I heard Theo read some of his Greek pieces when I was in Ireland in 2008. Stunning! Here’s a video of Theo reading “Visitors.” I’m not sure where this is shot, but it probably somewhere outside Dublin. This collection is a great one for reading aloud around the dinner table or while doing the dishes.

Claire Keegan: Ireland’s Leading Short Story Writer

claire keeganI was lucky enough to attend a seminar a few years ago with the amazing Irish short story writer Claire Keegan. While I was studying in Ireland, she gave our group a crash course on “timing” in short story writing. It was the most brilliant and concise teaching I’ve ever received.

When we concluded the day, she left us with a great encouragement. “Meet all kinds of people,” she said. “It really does have a civilizing effect because people will tell you things about yourself from their perspective. It’s an act of love, really.”

Claire, author of the collections Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields, has a short story in the most recent New Yorker. “Foster” won the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. Read a slice of it below:

Early on a Sunday, after first Mass in Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford toward the coast, where my mother’s people came from. It is a hot August day, bright, with patches of shade and greenish sudden light along the road. We pass through the village of Shillelagh, where my father lost our red shorthorn in a game of forty-five, and on past the mart in Carnew, where the man who won her sold her not long afterward. My father throws his hat on the passenger seat, winds down the window, and smokes. I shake the plaits out of my hair and lie flat on the back seat, looking up through the rear window. I wonder what it will be like, this place belonging to the Kinsellas. I see a tall woman standing over me, making me drink milk still hot from the cow. I see another, less likely version of her, in an apron, pouring pancake batter into a frying pan, asking would I like another, the way my mother sometimes does when she is in good humor. The man will be her size. He will take me to town on the tractor and buy me red lemonade and crisps. Or he’ll make me clean out sheds and pick stones and pull ragweed and docks out of the fields. I wonder if they live in an old farmhouse or a new bungalow, whether they will have an outhouse or an indoor bathroom, with a toilet and running water.

An age, it seems, passes before the car slows and turns in to a tarred, narrow lane, then slams over the metal bars of a cattle grid. On either side, thick hedges are trimmed square. At the end of the lane, there’s a white house with trees whose limbs are trailing the ground.

“Da,” I say. “The trees.”

“What about them?”

“They’re sick,” I say.

“They’re weeping willows,” he says, and clears his throat.

Read Foster by Claire Keegan (The New Yorker, 15 February 2010)

“Detail” by Eamon Grennan

grennanorigI went to hear Irish poet Eamon Grennan last night at the Folger Theater at the Library of Congress. His newest book is Matter of Fact.

It was a wonderful rangy reading that included his favorite poems as well as his own work.

He read the section from Macbeth when Macduff learns that his family is all murdered, “Chaucer” by Longfellow, “The Stolen Boat” by Wordsworth, “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens, and many more.

Grennan concluded with his own poem “Detail.”

Detail
by Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch—the smaller
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase—when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.