Thursday, 4 January 2018

My father, the Catholic priest who doesn't want to know me




By Sarah McDermott BBC World Service - 3 January 2018

Sarah Thomas was brought up by her mother in a housing association flat with a flower-filled balcony on an estate in south-east London. Although they were hard-up, Sarah remembers it as a happy childhood, punctuated by birthdays, Christmasses and church on Sundays.
But as she grew older Sarah began to notice that her family was different. Everyone else she knew spent time with their fathers even if their parents were divorced, so why didn't she? She didn't even know who her father was.
Her mother eventually told Sarah that he was a university lecturer.
"But I just had a feeling that there was something I wasn't being told. Why was it all such a big secret?" Sarah says.
In 1990, when Sarah was 12, her mother finally told her the truth. Her father wasn't a lecturer - he was a Roman Catholic priest, living and working in London.
"I just said, 'That's fantastic! I'm sure he'd like to meet me,'" Sarah says.
Her mother wasn't so sure.
Sarah's parents met while they were both mature students in 1970s London. They had been together for about two years when, at the age of 34, Sarah's mother fell pregnant.
"She was definitely in love with him and she thought he loved her," Sarah says.
Her mother hoped that her lover would give up his studies and marry her. She was living in a student flat with two friends who were also dating trainee priests, and at least one of the men had decided love took priority over the priesthood.
But Sarah's father was horrified when he found out about the pregnancy. He ended the relationship that day and never spoke to Sarah's mother again on his own - only in the presence of another representative of the church.
A senior priest suggested to Sarah's mother that she go away to stay by the sea until the baby arrived and then give it up for adoption, but Sarah's mother refused.
Media captionSarah Thomas spoke to Heart and Soul on the BBC World Service
"So this priest decided that my father could carry on and become a priest," Sarah says, "as long as my mother and the child - me - were in cahoots with their plan of secrecy."
This is why Sarah was told nothing about her father as she was growing up. Later Sarah learned that he had occasionally sent her mother money.
"But the money was often accompanied by letters reinforcing the need for secrecy, saying things like, 'If you ever talk about this or identify him as the father then the money will stop.'"
Once Sarah had expressed a wish to meet her father, though, her mother started writing to him to persuade him to agree. And two years later, he did.
"In my naivety, from watching chat shows where people who haven't ever met run towards each other and start crying and then they're friends forever and ever - that's how my friends and I had thought it would be," Sarah remembers.
She was excited about the meeting and wore her favourite turquoise and white tie-dye jeans from Camden Market.
"I will always remember them," she says, "I felt so awkward, I spent a lot of time in the meeting just looking at my knees."
Her father had brought a Catholic counsellor with him and Sarah, who was by now 14, was accompanied by the husband of one of her school teachers, an arrangement that completely failed to put her at ease.
"I'd grown up without a father-figure in my life so I wasn't that comfortable with men and I didn't really know how to react to them," Sarah says. "I could hardly speak due to nerves, all the questions I'd been planning to ask evaporated."
She remembers her father's eyes, which remained fixed on her throughout the meeting, his casual clothes which didn't look at all priestly, his short grey hair.
"I went in there thinking we were going to be best friends, but he was very aloof and cold," she remembers.
The last thing Sarah's father said to her that day was that he wouldn't be able to see her again for four years.
"Before we'd met I'd thought, 'Well, of course, he'll love me,'" she says. "So when he did meet me and the outcome was that we still weren't going to have any kind of relationship, that really hurt.


Looking back, Sarah sees that first meeting with her father as a turning point in her life.
She stopped trying hard at school and remembers bursting into tears at inappropriate moments.
Her diary entries from the time are angry and unhappy.
"There was always something at the back of my mind, telling me I was worthless," she says.
I just never felt good, I never felt loved and I never felt like I understood the situation, Sarah Thomas
After the sixth form, Sarah enrolled on a foundation course at art college, moving into a shared house in south London with a group of friends.
She threw herself into partying, in the hope of making herself feel good and compensating for her low self-esteem. She lived in the moment and was unable to make plans for the future. Her clothes became baggy because she was eating so little.
Sarah saw her father a couple of times over the following years. He always insisted on meeting in a bar or hotel, far away from where he lived, while she tried hard to provoke a paternal reaction in him.
"I gave him books about family relationships," she says. "I even gave him an album of photos of me from when I was a baby until that age trying to say: 'Look! I'm your daughter, look at these pictures, they're cute.'"
But Sarah didn't get the response she craved.
"I just never felt good, I never felt loved and I never felt like I understood the situation," she says.
In early 1998, after a few particularly heavy days of clubbing, Sarah and a friend decided to use their student loans to fly to Tenerife on holiday.
2002
"By this point, I was very, very thin, I'd stopped looking after myself to such an extent that I just didn't eat anything during that holiday," she says.
One morning while trying to get back to their hotel after a night out, Sarah slipped from the edge of a mountain road and fell a long way before landing on concrete.
She remembers the sirens, the stretcher being pushed under her body, something being fitted around her neck. But surprisingly she wasn't in any pain.
Instead, she felt completely at peace, blissfully happy, uplifted.
"I was alive but away from my body," she says. "It was amazing, I couldn't ever remember feeling better."
She remembers feeling as though she was being drawn upwards out of her body and towards a soothing, bright light, but the experience was suddenly cut short when a doctor started shouting her name and hitting her hand.
"I tried to ignore her," Sarah says. "I knew I was dying and she was trying to bring me back."
The light disappeared, the wonderful feelings began to slip away and the pain kicked in. Sarah couldn't move most of her body and one of her arms was bending the wrong way.
The doctors telephoned Sarah's mother in London and told her to come as quickly as she could.
"Mum then phoned my father and said, 'Sarah might die, come over,'" Sarah says. "But he just said no."
The broken arm was the least of Sarah's injuries. She had three skull fractures, internal bleeding in her head, a collapsed lung and liver trauma.
After two weeks in hospital in the Canary Islands, she was transferred to a hospital in London.


But although she came close to death and spent months recovering from her injuries, Sarah says the accident was the best thing that could have happened to her.
It was another turning point.
"I've got a before-life and an after-life, and I realized I didn't have to play this game with my father anymore," she says. "It was his decision to not be part of my life, but I didn't want to feel that sense of rejection on a daily basis."
Sarah threw herself into studying, travel, and work. She went on to marry and now, at the age of 40, has three children aged 11, nine and four. She's trying to be as open as possible with them about their grandfather.
"I've told them he's a priest, he works in London, he's not a family person and he puts his work first," she says.
In 2015 Sarah stumbled across the website of Coping International, a self-help organization for the children of Catholic priests and their parents.
"It was like being hit by a thunderbolt, I literally thought I was the only priest child in the world," she says.
She's now doing a Ph.D. on the subject at the Open University.
"I'm doing this to highlight that there are thousands of children of priests around the world and no-one knows about them," she says. "They are powerless and they're at the mercy of this institution and that's just not right."
Through her mentoring work with Coping International and her Ph.D. research, Sarah now knows about 100 people who have been fathered by priests, from countries all over the world, but believes there are thousands more out there. She says it's striking that there are so many common features to their experiences.
"Secrecy always comes up - lots of people talk about being encouraged to lie to keep their fathers a secret," Sarah says. "Lack of identity is common too, and the confidentiality agreements - whether official or verbal - are quite common too, and the payments."
Having been brought up a Catholic, Sarah has struggled to understand why it's acceptable for her father, a man who preaches about the importance of family and loving your neighbour, to behave in a completely opposite way in his private life.
"If a group of teachers decided to reject their children because they said they had a calling from God, or just because they wanted to do more work, that wouldn't be OK - so it's not OK that this is being allowed," she says.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales says: "In such circumstances, which are so personal and particular, every bishop in England and Wales would want to discern the best ways in which it is possible for the father of a child, who is a priest, to fulfil his responsibilities... Every bishop in England and Wales is willing to meet anyone in their diocese whose father is a priest."
Sarah believes the Catholic church - which forbids priests to marry or have sex - should make clerical celibacy optional.
"Children will continue to suffer and priests will continue to hide their children until it's made optional," Sarah says. "If it was optional it would probably help lots of future priests' children to have much happier relationships with their fathers, and for the men to have less guilt and shame about having relationships with their own children."
Sarah's father is in his 70s now. They no longer meet. Sarah writes to him occasionally and he sends money for her children's birthdays but she doesn't hold out any hope that the situation between them will improve.
"When someone consistently puts their own needs before yours - their child - you're always wondering if you're going to get hurt again."
But coming close to death gave Sarah a new perspective on her relationship with her father.
"Being conscious and very much alert and awake away from my body after my accident confirmed to me that we do go on," Sarah says.

"I'm not religious, but maybe one day, after we both die, maybe then we'll be closer. Who knows?"

65 comments:

  1. How desperately sad!

    I dread to think, the kind of priest this man was and is - to behave so coldly towards his child.

    I wonder what other emotional, spiritual and psychological devastation he has wrought in lives?

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  2. What a monumental, self-serving excuse for a human being that priest is! He personifies the moral rot that is the *****, institutional Roman Catholicism.

    How much better a Church it would be were it not for the putefrying moral canker of human priesthood!😆

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    1. Another drunken, ignorant outburst from the rag bag, Magna at 1.11. Notice the hour - 1.11 - up late again and not praying - boozing. Your comment does nothing for intelligent debate. Yes, the priests in question did not behave responsibly or with compassion.

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    2. Huh, 14:33?😕 You character-assinate me, and then agree with me about this priest?😲

      When your head's stopped turning (and provided it's where it should be...to the front), perhaps we can have an intelligent chat one day.

      Meantime think on this: if it weren't for the unjustifiably high regard in which Roman Catholic theology holds human priests, this kind of cowardly, self-serving and selfish behaviour would be less likely...because there would be no ontologically distingquishing teaching to uphold it.

      Yes, away with this self-aggrandising and notional concept of human priesthood; it is destroying the Body of Christ. (And you don't need to be drunk to recognise this: just of moderate intelligence.😆)

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    3. Probably lying sozzled somewhere... like many priests and deacons alike.

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  3. That Fr is a terrible father.

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  4. My natural feeling here would be to totally sympathise with the child, but I saw a similar situation at first hand and I would now also have huge sympathy for the priest in question. In some cases, it is an absolute nightmare (more than bearable) for the father to be in contact with the mother of his child and the only way for any normality for everyone concerned is for total separation and for the hope that when the child is 18 that some normality can come about. But by that time the child can be so indoctrinated by the mother that the father has no chance of a normal relationship. This is especially true if the child has a biased mindset through totally believing the mother all along in her condemnation of the father. Some women readily get pregnant to get their man, but when that happens it often changes everything. Can you imagine a priest trying to deal with a crazy who is incapable of anything but of destroying him because he didn't leave and marry her. It would be torture and they should separate. Most likely, the child doesn't realise that her father cannot trust her and that in a way she is, like her mother, always condemning him.

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    1. you have missed a massive point here. The father was not a priest, he was a seminarian. He made a positive choice to abandon his child and get ordained.

      Moreover, it being known to a senior priest - those responsible to speak up about his suitability for ordination made a positive choice not speak up about a real reason why he should not be ordained.

      How better his life would have been if he stood by his partner and child and ministered as a lay chaplain (or similar). Sadly the temptation of a comfortable bachelorhood is what attracted him. The only positive here is that the mother involved was not forced into a laundry or abortion clinic so many others.

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    2. Yep - - - blame the woman... What's new....

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  5. Pat, you didn't go for the easy option. I thought it would have been a blog on Mgr Dermot Farrell becoming bishop of Ossory. The rumour is he will take over from Archbishop Martin after he has turned Ossory around. He has served his time well in a parish setting after many years in academia and administration. This is the first real signal of the ancient regime of educated priests being preferred by Rome under the new Nuncio. And before people comment and say that bishops should be more pastoral: this is only an observation - that it has gone back now to highly educated. The days of unknowns becoming bishops after Charlie brown is no more. The word in the diocese is he's earmarked for the archdiocese of Dublin and Ossory is only a pit stop. He is very well in, in Rome. With Meath after providing men for Kildare and Leighlin and now Ossory, who will fill Meath? The bishop there handed in his resignation a couple of years ago but it has still not been accepted. Most of the bright sparks have been moved to other dioceses. Perhaps Nulty might be brought back if Farrell goes to Dublin?

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    1. I would actually rather see Hugh Connolly be brought back as bishop than see Dermot Farrell appointed bishop.

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    2. Given the time-frames that Rome works in this appointment may represent a final appointment by Brown. You presume that he will turn Ossory around. You presume much. Dermot Farrell is not as clean as people may like him to me. There are skeletons in his cupboard... I know because I was in Maynooth under his charge and he certainly turned a blind eye to the pseudo-psychology, bed-hopping, partying and covering up of abuse. He destroyed people who spoke up. He removed people who knelt down. He promoted the idea of the aloof priest. He demonstrated that he is a most unperson-able person and quite frankly in my eyes personifies misery.

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    3. The poster at 02.27 makes a massive assumption in saying Dermot Farrell will turn Ossory around. He is 62 already so by the time there would be any noticeable changes he would be well into his 70's and it would be daft to give him Dublin. However I also do not think he would be able to turn a Diocese around at any truly deep level.

      I remember him as President of Maynooth. He was aloof. He is often credited with reforms in Maynooth, but what he did was set up a system that further facilitated abuse by deans, bed-hopping by seminarians, partying in St. Mary's, Seminarians being ejected from The Roost, removal of kneeling seminarians and the ordination of a very high rate of people who have already left the priesthood or found themselves involved in scandal.

      Maynooth during his time was not an environment that enabled people to discern. The people he supervised the training of were all too often ill-equipped to last in ministry. Others were disillusioned. Too many suffered psychological damage under the pseudo-psychology that he reigned over. Very few discerned that they were called to the pews (which would be expected of a mature, discerning seminary environment).

      He is a poor choice for Ossory and a poor choice for Bishop. But having accepted the post he has proven that he is ambitious and happy to have stepped on so many to get where he is going.

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    4. Aha.. somebody doesn't like Dermot Farrell..!

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    5. @10.15
      I suppose you get the prize for the most constructive comment of the week.

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    6. Dear 10.15,

      Someone may not like him but they do present clear example of why. Examples that give valid reason for concern that his appointment is another return to the old guard, more of the same and quite honestly a symbol that the Church in Ireland is not open to constructive change.

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    7. Sorry to disappoint you as Monsignor Farrell most likely will not be going to Dublin as Pope Francis has Ireland well on his radar However they need to get this visit over with and then continue to sort Ireland.
      One thing for certain there are too many Diocese for the numbers now so these short term appointments may end up Ireland losing Diocese.
      However I am not into Paddy Power betting but if I were I would say that Ireland will get Two Senior appointments over next few years a New Cardinal E Martin and a New Archbishop of Dublin Archbishop Tighe will be returned

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    8. @ 11.08
      Yes I do! - - Thanks for your compliment!
      (Sometimes one just sees through the fog of so-called "reasons" with a laser beam to the simple truth. This person simply doesn't like that one.)

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    9. At 16.17
      Your type of reasoning is why men like Farrell are not held to account; rewarded despite their failure and why the status quo remains grim.

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    10. 09:43, from your description of Farrell, I should have thought him an excellent choice for bishop.

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    11. No way! But it is obvious that the poster recognised jealousy when he /she read it..

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    12. @21.28...????

      @ Magna, I appreciate the realism in your response.

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  6. I imagine this is not much of a problem nowadays, unless Ciaran has been dipping his wick again.

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    1. That was my first thought as well - that the homosexualisation of the priesthood would stop this happening.
      There's no great moral fibre in that priest - thought he could get his end away without consequences.

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    2. Ciaran "dipping his wick".......now, there's a nice thought!

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  7. The old maxim was preserve the priesthood and the status quo. Jesus said let the children come to me. I agree with the person who said Fr wasn't much of a father. In today's society there is no excuse for such an attitude.

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  8. Like the Galway Appointment, Ossory is a short term appointment. I think Farrell is heading to Dublin.

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    1. Bishop Paul Tighe will likely be sent to Dublin he was there for Midnight Mass

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    2. he invited himself to midnight mass

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    3. Not without Dermo's knowledge!

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    4. The invitation to Midnight Mass was open to all..

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    5. Was Tighe concelebrating with Dermo at Midnight Mass in the Pro?

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  9. Why is the D&C case so hidden? How much money do you think is being paid in this case? I suppose he has the money!!!!!!!!!!!1

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    1. We in D&C are not so much into gossip l suppose..

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  10. Readers of the blog might like to hear this radio broadcast - My Father the Priest. It features Sarah Thomas.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswbnt

    The contributor at 01:48 would do well to listen to this before making any further, misogynistic postings.

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    1. There is nothing misogynistic about what I said. Some couples are better off separated. And if the separation is bitter and a child is involved then total separation is often sadly the only option. Mental health comes first.

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    2. The CHILD comes first! Haven't you been attending your Child Safeguarding lectures?

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    3. In order for the child to come first the mental health of the parents must come first. Does a governing agency not go to lengths to assess the mental health of parents first before placing a child or deciding not to place a child with them?

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    4. Paul, I don't have to listen to a biased TV program in order to make a valid point here.

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    5. 18.27 How do you know programme is biased if you havent heard it.

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    6. Well done to that poster who reminded us of the the paramounty of the child. Easy to lose sight of...

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  11. 1.48 so the poor priest had to deal with a CRAZY,what a male chauvinist u are.

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    1. I agree.... deep-seated chauvinist...

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    2. So, you have never met a crazy?
      There are crazy men and crazy women. Work it out!

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    3. Yes, I have met people with mental health problems.
      However, I do not apply the pejorative label "crazy" to them and particularly not to ones whom I only know from hearsay.
      There really is nothing to "work out" about it.

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    4. MournemanMichael4 January 2018 at 18:01

      Well said A@16:10. I entirely agree. I share the views expressed in first comment @01:06 concerning this individual's likely "contributions" to those in need. You make an excellent point A@08:20 In pointing out his pre ordination state.
      I suspect the individual had a basically weak immature personality readily persuaded by the RC hierarchy.
      MMM

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    5. So when the cleric wakes up to find he having an affair and realises that he cannot marry the woman and she is so crazy to tip off media and cause so much harassment that he has to leave his work and seek refuge and start life over... Oh, I forgot, I'm the chauvinist.

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    6. What a pity the cleric didn't "wake up" a little earlier in the proceedings.... And perhaps the life of the woman may undergo some upheaval and have "to start over" as well... How dreadful of the woman to tip of the media just when the father was banking on being able to slink away and hide! Is that what we are supposed to be thinking?

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  12. Jesus would never have turned a child away. No true father would desert his own.

    I thank God for this anniversary day of being a free Catholic in all its richness, what a good year it was.

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  13. If the father's name is included on the birth certificate, then in law he has also "parental responsibility" for the child and should share that responsibility with the mother. That includes certain rights of access and decision-making but includes sharing financial responsibility.
    If the father's name is NOT on the birth certificate, it is legally different.. However, I don't at all imply that he is then free to ignore the child and her needs. (It is simply a case of the mother working out how much involvement from the unnamed father she will permit or seek) So the priest's daughter needs to be very clear on the stance that her own mother took at the time and continued to take throughout her childhood. I merely say that would have had a significant effect on the amount of contact and involvement she experienced with her father. It cannot be ignored as a factor..

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    1. The decision to ordain him when he was morally responsible for his own child's welfare, and that of the mother 'cannot be ignored as a factor'.

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    2. I do agree with you.

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  14. That man should never have been ordained.

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    1. They were scraping the barrel even back then.

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  15. With 80% plus of seminarians being gay this type of behaviour should decrease, thankfully.

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  16. And a lot of today’s contributors reinforce my point yesterday that the rotten lot is in decline. They can appoint archbishops,bishops, vicars general, ordain malformed and unsuitable candidates til the band plays Amen. The whole thing is a comical fiasco and smacks of the rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic. Now there you are. Not a bit of venom in sight. A simple statement of reality for the boys in the pointy hats to chew on.

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    1. Sorry to say this, but the boys in pointy hats don't give a fiddler's elbow what you think. It's why they're in pointy hats in the first place: a law unto themselves.

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  17. An Irish Dominican priest teaching in their Dublin seminary fathered a child before entering the outfit.

    He is not to be confused with another priest teacher in the same seminary who is HIV+.

    It must make for interesting conversations among them and among the seminarians at the breakfast table.

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    1. There are more professors than seminarians there.

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    2. The question to be asked is what age the daughter was when he discovered his true vocation.

      And whether either or both of the reverend gents teach morality.

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  18. 19 21. Ha, ha, ha . .you got it.....but oh so wrong! Delusional.

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  19. The poster at 13:11 is quite sure of Eamonn Martin's appointment as Ireland's next cardinal. I'm not so certain. I believe that if Francis appoints the next cardinal it will be someone like Alan Mc Guckian SJ in Raphoe or Kieran O' Reilly SMA in Cashel & Emly. Francis has gone for unusual choices from around the world to fill the College of Cardinals so he might continue the trend here, while at the same time, giving the Irish Church a kick in the goolies.

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    1. Eamon Martin's mother would not let him move that far away

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    2. Enda for Dublin.

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    3. 07:42 The meagre number would be be more meagre only for the odd one or two from the Meath benedictines.

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