independent

Monday 14 October 2019

Taoiseach, you should say what you mean

Opinion

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

I have read the fallout from Leo Varadkar's silly comment about priests. I heard about it at the end of a hard day at work. My first comment to myself was, 'what a clown'.

The apology the next day was silly too. When I heard that my immediate thought was that it was PR spin stuff. What actually does Leo believe, that priests are sinning behind altars or that they are wonderful men?

In the Dáil he said that Micheál Martin reminded him of one of those parish priests, who tells us 'how to avoid sin while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin'.

Most political journalists are noticing how tetchy the relationship has become between the two leaders. No doubt the local elections have given Leo a fright and he's worried about the gains Fianna Fáil are making. Power is the name of the game. It must be a funny sort of relationship as Leo knows that he depends on Micheál to survive and yet he is his main opponent in Dáil Éireann.

Imagine had Leo made the derogatory comment about rabbis, mullahs or imams. Or indeed, had he said it about Church of Ireland clergy. What if he had said it about a spokesperson for Atheist Ireland? No, he specifically mentioned parish priests and that is a title exclusively used of priests within the Catholic Church.

Discrimination is an interesting phenomenon. These days it's part of the vocabulary of the politically correct classes to denounce all forms of discrimination. But that usually means the types of discrimination that are not currently fashionable.

It's interesting to note who sets the agenda. Fifty or 60 years ago it would have been an unwise taoiseach who would have insulted parish priests. He simply would not have done it because back then parish priests still had status, they still had clout.

There has been much in the media about the comment. The usual suspects have been outraged and there have been those who feel that he insulted the Fianna Fáil leader by likening him to a priest.

But we all discriminate, indeed, it seems part of our nature to do so. One dictionary definition of the word is to make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age. You can add many other categories to that definition, you can add religion, looks, physical appearance, the way we speak, our status. The categories are endless.

Priests right now in Ireland are not necessarily the flavour of the month. Personally I think that is something positive as priests are above all expected to be prophetic and holy people. And you can't be a prophet and embedded within the status quo at the same time.

Leo's comment has made me give some thought to how we all behave and are governed by our underlying prejudices.

For instance, I am interested in accents and there are certain accents to which I am drawn. People's appearance influences me and how often I have got it wrong about the person because I've judged her or him on how they look or speak.

Leo, you should say what you mean. After all you have Dáil privilege and can say straight out what you want to say. If you want to tell Micheál Martin he's a hypocrite, then tell him.

Priests are not the only professionals who are sometimes hypocritical.

Hypocrisy is a major Shakespearean theme.

Wexford People

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