Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Churchmen rewrite history to claim what is not theirs

Handover: Cardinal Sean Brady and Monsignor Eamon Martin

Some people try to drag religion into everything. Morality, Christmas, even Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture - nothing's sacred.

It was revealed on Monday that the four main churches have gotten together to distribute 40,000 copies of St Luke's Gospel around the city - their contribution to the dizzying cultural extravaganza which has become the awe of the world.

On my reckoning, that's a gospel for every Derry household, plus a couple of thousand extra to be handed out to heathens on the outskirts.

Monsignor Eamon Martin (Catholic), Bishop Ken Good (Church of Ireland), the Rev Peter Murray (Methodist) and the Rev Stewart Jones (Presbyterian) stood shoulder-to-shoulder to unveil the "free gift for all".

Fair enough, I suppose. But the tone of the proceedings was by no means uplifted by a spokesperson for the churchmen announcing that, "it was important to remind Derry that its roots and origins were in Christian culture".

Well, no. That's not the case at all. If Derry is to spend the rest of the year celebrating its cultural heritage, we might as well get the history right.

Derry's roots and origins long pre-date Christianity. Drop into the Ulster Museum sometime and feast your mind on one of its great prizes, a Celtic bronze disc with a sort of triple whorl design - there's probably a technical term for it - found at Longban Island, Derry.

You may marvel at the richness and sophistication of the culture which gave rise to a thing of such intricate beauty long before Columba is said to have built himself a hut in the vicinity. There will have been no attempt by the churchmen to mislead. It will not have occurred to them to check their statement for accuracy.

They have been doing this sort of thing for so long they do it now without a blink of the eye - laying claim to any ritual, or myth, they come across which they instinctively understand might burnish the plausibility of their accounts of their own past. Looting other people's culture has become second nature.

Media attention at the launch was focused on Mgr Martin, to the extent that his three colleagues scarcely had a look-in.

The monsignor had been on the news over the weekend on account of having just been introduced as successor designate to Cardinal Sean Brady. There was an implicit disregard for historical truth in that event, as well.

Cardinal Brady and the Monsignor appeared together on the steps of St Patrick's, Armagh, six days ago to inform the faithful of the planned change-over.

The new man's first statement was: "One of the greatest challenges facing our Church is to acknowledge, live with and learn from the past, including the terrible trauma caused by abuse." I wonder what went through Sean Brady's mind as these words fell on his ears.

The role of the Cardinal in suppressing information about the rampage of child-rape by Fr Brendan Smyth has been exposed in dreadful detail by journalist Chris Moore.

The Brady cover-up allowed Smyth to go on to abuse perhaps as many as a hundred other children.

But, last May, the Cardinal, to the distress of many in the Church, including within the priesthood, had, with the backing of the Vatican, refused to resign. It has been suggested in some reports that last week's announcement was belated acknowledgment of his own and the Church's culpability and even contrition. But this cannot be true.

Church officials made clear at St Patrick's that, although bishops ordinarily retire at 75, Cardinal Brady is likely to carry on until 2015, when he will be 76.

It thumbs its nose at its critics, while making an announcement which slyly suggests that it has taken the criticism onboard.

The editor of the Irish Catholic, Michael Kelly, suggested that Mgr Martin will be the man to "draw a line under the Church's 'toxic past'". We'll see how that one works out.

And perhaps we will discover what recipients of the Gospel make of Luke 18:16: "Suffer little children to come unto me... for such is the kingdom of God."

And maybe - at a time when worthy audiences which look like Val Doonican fans are pictured jitterbugging (I bet the word was even used) to what they fondly imagine is rock and roll - perhaps some will pay heed to a verse from the gospel of the divine Chrissie Hynde:

"When we watch the children play/ Remember how the priviliged classes grew/ And from this day, we set out/ To undo what won't undo/ Looking for the grand in the minute/ Every breath justifies/ Every step that we take to remove what the powers that be can't prove/ The children will understand why."

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