I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Mission to Unite

A Mission to Unite

Patricia Craig
Here’s the Story, by Mary McAleese, Penguin/Sandycove, 402 pp, £20, ISBN 978-1844889704 Mary McAleese is greatly to be admired. She has risen to tremendous heights in her chosen professions, exercised a level-headed judgement in matters of public concern and shown considerable initiative in all her undertakings. She has served two terms as president of Ireland with confidence and aplomb. She has worked hard and incessantly on behalf of an anti-sectarian ideal. She would like to take both parts of Ireland, “in all its diversity”, by the ears and shake them into accord. Her role as president gave her a platform from which to promote the building of bridges, and breaking down of barriers, between all denominations (and none) in Ireland, and she goes on upholding that laudable objective. She never falters in her unimpeachable attitude towards absolutely everything. So what is wrong with Here’s the Story? Well, it is awash in Catholicism, to an extent rarely encountered since the time when The Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart was required reading in every holy home. Priests, cardinals, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, even a pope or two, throng its pages. (Representatives of other denominations get a look-in too, to be sure, but it’s the Catholic contingent that overwhelms.) Not all are of the highest moral character, but many are. The author makes no bones about differentiating between the truly devout and the damnable, indeed, and she never hesitates to criticise priestly behaviour when it falls short of the loftiest Catholic standards. She frequently enters into disputes with hidebound churchmen, and gets the better of them. But the sheer abundance of clerics and their doings does not make for compelling reading. At times you feel you are sitting out an endless and excruciating ecclesiastical committee meeting. There are more inspiriting elements to the story, it’s true, and among them is the author’s liberal, feminist and inclusive stance. Mary McAleese has campaigned for church reform, most notably in the areas of same-sex marriage, women priests, reproductive rights and so on. She takes a thoroughly ecumenical approach to the church’s position in the modern world. Indeed, at times she seems so much in favour of giving the faith a good shake-up that you’d have to wonder why she remains so ardent an advocate of Catholic doctrine and ritual. Especially in the wake of the sex and child abuse scandals, and with everyone now aware of the cruelty, cupidity…

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