Prompted by the Tuam babies controversy there were more and more harrowing personal stories, testifying to times that were less compassionate and often more cruel than today. Referring to the culture of the times helps our understanding but doesn’t provide justification – Church-run institutions should have been counter-cultural, should have set a much higher standard.
Much of the discussion on the media was not marked by understanding, but by prejudice, aggression and even hatred towards the Catholic Church, as tragedies of the past were used to vent the prejudices of the present. This was particularly true of text reaction on many of the discussion programmes.
I was critical of Pat Kenny last week, so I’ll give credit this week, as he hosted two of the more nuanced and reasonable treatments of the issue. On The Pat Kenny Show last Thursday, he interviewed Brendan O’Neill of Spiked-Online, following an article of his in that morning’s Irish Times.
O’Neill was no apologist for the Catholic Church, was an atheist in fact, but was critical of the “media moralising…virtue signalling… mawkishness…narcissism”. He performed a useful service by injecting moderation, balance and perspective into the debate, but thought it was difficult to have a rational discussion, and thought it better to look at facts as we currently have them rather than “dark imaginations about things we think might have happened”.
On the same show last Friday morning, there was a rational discussion. MEP Brian Hayes (Fine Gael) thought there was no evidence of any criminal offence, and was even magnanimous towards Fianna Fáil politicians of the past!
Homelessness campaigner Alice Leahy was upset by the sad stories from Tuam but sought understanding. Ironically it was David Quinn of the Iona Institute (and this parish) who was most critical of the Church of the past, with its overemphasis on sexual sins and tendency to be “throwing stones with gusto”. Kenny’s chairing was level headed and fair. At one stage he said he wouldn’t describe the burial area in Tuam as a ‘septic tank’ as we didn’t know whether it was ever used for that purpose.
That afternoon’s Liveline (Radio One) was an uneasy affair. Two women, one a religious sister and one a former nun tried to offer some balance – for example criticising families and boyfriends of the women who ended up in baby homes, but their efforts didn’t go down too well with some listeners.
One angry caller rightly wanted the dead babies to be given dignified burials but then threw in lazy generalisations, along with Nazi and Gulag comparisons and called for deceased nuns to be put in the sewer. Stand-in presenter Damien O’Reilly broke all records for understatement, suggesting that this idea might be “a bit unfair”.
Some of the reaction continued to be over the top. Chris Donoghue on Newstalk Drive spoke (on the Tuesday) of “bodies all over the place” in Tuam; Ray D’Arcy (also Tuesday) connected the controversy even to the Angelus on RTÉ; on Wednesday’s Morning Ireland Bríd Smith TD spoke of the Bon Secours “private health empire” built “on the bones of these dead babies” – and yet the same day she was, in my opinion, trivialising the deaths of other babies by wanting to reduce the penalty for abortion to a token €1.
We got a similarly breath-taking inconsistency from Ruth Coppinger TD, on last weekend’s Saturday With Claire Byrne, when she was critical of babies being taken from their mothers in Tuam, but supporting easier access to abortion by repeal of the 8th Amendment!
Anyway, with such downbeat stories in the news some fictional drama was welcome. Broadchurch has returned for a third season (TV3 and UTV, Monday nights) and while it’s not as good as the first season, I still enjoy the prickly chemistry between Detectives Miller (Olivia Colman) and Hardy (David Tennant – it’s a great double act.
The story is slow moving so far, centring on a sexual assault case. The story writers, and the fictional cops, handle the crime sensitively, but there’s lot of graphic descriptions, and a sense that we are being subtly preached at as to how such cases should be handled - preaching does not mix well with fiction.
Last week there was a touching scene with the local clergyman agonising over his role in the parish, while other characters from the earlier series are blended in quite well.
Pick of the week
Late Late Movie: The Tree of Life
RTÉ1 Saturday (night), March 18, midnight
(2011) Brad Pitt, Sean Penn. Director: Terrence Malick. The story of a family in Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents’ conflicting teachings.
Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge
RTÉ1, Wednesday, March 22, 9.35pm
Cutting Edge returns for a new season with Al Porter, Fidelma Healy Eames and Eithne Shortall.
Channel 4, Thursday, March 23, 10pm
The story of the tens of thousands who’ve been disappeared by the Assad regime into clandestine detention centres.