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Trouble in Dublin, and California

29 May 2015

THE single most astonishing fact about the Irish gay-marriage referendum was buried in Paul Vallely's piece for The Independent on Sunday: the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said that he would vote against the measure, but added: "I have, however, no wish to stuff my religious views down other people's throats."

Huh? What is the point of an Archbishop of Dublin if not to stuff his religious views down the throats of other people? You may conceptualise this as the Mother Pelican Church feeding her young with the most precious feathers of her doctrinal plumage; or you may see it as force-feeding with a funnel and a tube. Either way, telling other people what and how to think is what the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has always done, and if it is abandoning even the attempt we have left the 20th century a very long way behind us.

Of all the ways in which the papers at-tempted to measure the revolution in Irish attitudes, that quote was the one that really nailed it.


THIS is certainly not a problem with which the RC Archbishop of San Francisco wrestles. The National Catholic Reporter - not on any account to be confused with the National Catholic Register, a conservative publication whose name was chosen to encourage precisely that confusion - had a wonderful report on Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's struggle with his flock.

"'Bold,' 'brazen,' 'courageous,' 'combative,' 'timely', and 'bombshell' were among descriptions that greeted the 2012 appointment of Salvatore Cordileone, then Bishop of Oakland, California, to the high-profile San Francisco archdiocese. You'd have thought that the Archbishop's fondness for the Latin mass would have endeared him to such a gay-friendly diocese; but he was also one of the drafters of a law - since ruled unconstitutional - which defined marriage as between a man and a woman in California.

He now has a personal bodyguard on his staff. He has also demanded that all teachers in the Roman Catholic high schools he controls "avoid any public statements or actions that contradicted Catholic teaching on issues like abortion, in vitro fertilization, same-sex marriage and contraception".

There has been a revolt among teachers against that, and in April, 100 prominent (for which, read "rich") Bay Area Catholics signed a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to sack their Archbishop.

So far, Cordileone is resisting the pressure. He has, however, turned off the sprinklers that were installed to wash the homeless out of his cathedral doorways.

The situation in California and that in Dublin have obvious differences. Archbishop Cordileone is only attempting to legislate for RCs, whereas the Irish RC Church was notoriously keen to legislate for everyone on the island. But I think it's safe to assume his struggle will end in scandal and humiliation. At that point, we should remember that it was Benedict XVI who promoted him.

"Dear Benedict XVI", as Damian Thompson called him in a blog for The Spectator, which pointed out, almost in passing, the way out of this problem. Since the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise either civil marriages or gay ones as real, why should it get so much more worked up about the one than the other? The only workable compromise is the one it has adopted around contraception: the clergy pretend to preach the doctrine, and the laity pretend to care. This will work so long as no one puts too much effort into their pretensions.


THE Daily Telegraph and The Guardian carried a remarkable video of a young Baptist preacher, the Revd Hayley Young, telling her congregation that she is now HIV positive. She didn't quite do so in person. Instead she played them a video in which she held up her texts handwritten on slabs of cardboard.

"In 2013, after an attack, I was diagnosed with being HIV positive.

"No, I didn't update my Facebook status or my Twitter feed!

"Sometimes I'm tired, I'm in pain, I get sick, I am weak and sometimes I fall over (the beer doesn't help!)

"Having HIV doesn't mean that I can't have the quality of life that Jesus offers."

This seems to have been welcomed by her admiring congregation. I'm still wondering whether a video of this sort works better than old-fashioned preaching would. It allows for a different and more controlled dramatic presentation than speaking from the pulpit.

It would be wrong to demand that anyone who is going to make such a courageous announcement do so in the course of a traditional sermon. I don't think that I would have the nerve to do so.

And yet, and yet, there is still a part of me that thinks that Pope Francis said the most profound and attractive thing of his presidency when he told an interviewer last week that he has not watched television since 1990.

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