Edward Daly represented all that is good in the world



Edward Daly – an inspiration to a generation

Last month I found myself in the crypt at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There lie the bodies of the city’s bishops – including, it is said, the first among them. The bones under the basilica’s great altar are said to be those of Peter, the ‘rock’ on which the Catholic Church is built.

No longer there is Saint John Paul II. He was ‘moved upstairs’ after his beatification in 2011 and his tomb is now one of the main attractions in the basilica itself. You can even see it on a webcam.

‘Attraction’ is perhaps the wrong word, but as anyone who has been to Rome will know, the Vatican has become more a place of tourism than pilgrimage.

It had been a long and tiring day, mostly spent marvelling at the riches of the Vatican Museum. Thousands were doing the same thing – most of us in pursuit of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece.

St Peter’s Basilica was the family’s last stop before heading to Roma Termini and the 19.40 back to Florence where we were staying.

With my pedometer showing I’d managed more than 20,000 steps on my blistered feet, I gave up looking for John Paul II’s tomb. Life’s too short and, to be honest, neither he nor his successor, Benedict XVI, struck me as being the right man in the right place for the challenges of the modern day Church. (In the case of JPII, I suspect I am in the minority on that, but no matter.)

I was, however, moved to find myself standing by the tomb of his predecessor, the ill-fated Pope John Paul I – supreme pontiff for one short month in what has become known as the year of the three pope’s. He rests not far from the Blessed Paul VI – whose last minute U-turn on contraception in Humanae Vitae has left the Church with a continuing problem over its approach to human sexuality.

The lurid conspiracy stories over John Paul I’s untidy death have clouded the breath of air he brought into the Church. He rejected a coronation and the triple tiara; he abhorred the use of the Royal ‘we’ (though Vatican flunkies wrote it back into his speeches), he referred to God as ‘our mother’ as well as ‘our father’, and he seemed ready to take on the corruption that had turned the Church into a corporation rather than a community of sinners.

It is a scandal that almost 40 years on, Pope Francis is fighting the same fight, and against the same forces within.

While many bishops, archbishops and cardinals find it difficult to relate to their flocks and the challenges they face; a few stand out and, with quiet dignity, uphold the values that underpin many of the world’s great religions.

One such man was Edward Daly, laid to rest in the city he loved yesterday afternoon.

Much has been written over this past few days about his life, and his commitment to the cause of peace and reconciliation.

To a generation, he was an inspiration. The image of him carrying out his ministry in the midst of the carnage of Bloody Sunday is one of the most iconic of the twentieth century – and one of the most complex too. It can be read in so many ways – the futility of violence, the courage of an individual and a community, the power of prayer, the gulf between the British and the Irish, and the brutality of war in all its guises. Its companion piece is the picture of the late Fr Alec Reid praying over the body of Corporal David Howes. Fr Reid was another witness for Christ.

Not everyone was enamoured of Bishop Daly’s outspoken renunciation of violence. He was principled and robust. He feared nobody.

For most of us, the best we can hope for is that we leave this life having done marginally more good than harm. Edward Daly was not man who lived on the margins.

He gave people their dignity and their place; he spoke for those oppressed by the state, and those cowed by men who wielded power within their own communities.

He held out the hand of friendship when it was not the done thing. He presence throughout the troubles was a reminder that there is good in the world, and good must triumph.

If anyone deserves to rest in the Vatican crypt, it is he. But given the choice we know he would pick the rich earth of County Derry in the shadow of the Cathedral he served so well. May he rest in peace.

  • This article appeared in The Irish News on August 12 2016

‘Vatican Five’ trial and the threat to freedom of the press

Vatican trial

Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaidi on trial at the Vatican

Freedom of the press is one of the essential attributes of a civilised society, or so we say, yet it is always open season on journalists.

Governments distrust the press, and journalists are often the targets of oppressive regimes. I have touched before on the risks faced by reporters, photographers and cameramen and women around the world. But it is not just conflict zones where they are at threat.

An alarming number of journalists are disappeared by repressive regimes; and in our own more benign democratic environment the rich and powerful flex their muscles (or get the courts to flex muscles for them) to minimise public scrutiny.

I doubt there is a single journalist who has not been the victim of intimidation and threats. Many have risked their personal safety to bring us the news.

It is unsurprising perhaps to see tin pot Latin American dictators, jumped up Russian oligarchs, and repressive regimes such as those in North Korea, China and the Middle East turn on the media.

This week, the Holy See joined the list of countries incapable of differentiating between the importance of a free press and its own narrow self-interest.

The Church has form. Silencing dissidents has been stock in trade of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since its foundations as the Inquisition. (Don’t mention Monty Python). Denunciation by the Church was a sign you had something worthwhile to say. From Galileo to the theologian Hans Kung independent thinkers have been viewed with suspicion.

The Church doesn’t burn heretics now. If it did, the current pontiff might be investing in a fire-proof cassock. He is a bit of a free thinker himself.

Although on paper he is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchs, his reign is testimony to the limitations of papal power. His opponents (and he has identified ‘enemies within’) know they just have to dig in and wait for regime change. Given Francis is approaching 80, and has himself spoken of the spectre of death, they have time on their side.

The Holy See’s decision to put on trial five people – two of them journalists – over the publication of embarrassing leaks seems out of character with the more open regime Francis has embraced. Since his election as successor to Benedict XVI (who as Cardinal Ratzinger was the Church’s Silencer-in-Chief) he has ploughed a more socially liberal furrow.

If the decision to prosecute was taken with the active approval of the pope, he was badly advised. The Vatican Five include two investigative journalists, a PR woman, a Spanish priest, and his secretary.

In their books, drawing on the leaked information, the journalists accused the Curia of financial mismanagement and waste. According to them, prelates promoting the pope’s vision of a Church of the Poor did so flying business class, spending money on lavish private apartments in Roman palaces, and splashing out on expensive furniture.

Quite what the Holy See hopes to achieve by these prosecutions is difficult to discern. Yes it has been embarrassed. But more people now know of the allegations than would have been the case if it had taken the criticism on the chin.

The Church has been made a laughing stock. Rather than rooting out corruption, and cleaning up its act, the Holy See is indulging in that popular past time – shooting the messenger.

It’s been open season on ‘messengers’ since the dawn of time. Sophocles wrote about it in Antigone, and Shakespeare too. In modern times, it is the media that carries the load: newspapers are regularly vilified for shining the light on corruption – large and small. It’s all the fault of the press.

Embarrassment is not a good basis for prosecution, and a show trial does nothing for the Vatican’s crumbling image. Next month, the Church begins its Holy Year of Mercy – there are better ways to launch it than this prosecution.

In his Lives, Plutarch tells the story of the misfortunate soldier who was murdered for bringing bad news to the general, Tigranes. In the story, Plutarch writes: “No man dared to bring further information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him.”

A Church relying on flattery and deaf to criticism – not matter how harsh – will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past; and will continue to lose credibility. Surely there must be someone of influence within the Vatican with the wit to see that.

Pope Francis opens fire on ‘the enemy within’



Pope Francis takes on the might of the curia


He makes an unlikely superhero. Mild-mannered and bespectacled, like a septuagenarian Clark Kent, but when he puts on his white cape he is fearless. Not yet two years into his term (reign seems an inappropriate word) Jorge Mario Bergoglio has confronted the rich and powerful.

He has taken on the Mafia, governments and dictators, condemning their excesses in no uncertain terms, and denouncing their indifference to the poor, the weak and the hungry.

But now he has taken on his most fearsome enemy yet – and the confrontation will shape the future of his papacy, and the Catholic Church.

This pope nailed his colours to the mast when he chose Francis as his papal name. It was a declaration of intent.

The rule of St Francis is simple: “To follow the teachings of our lord Jesus Christ, and to walk in his footsteps.” It was radical in the 13th century. It is a revolutionary idea today, particularly for a Church that has lost touch with its purpose and its people.

The pope has used Francis’s rule as the standard by which he measures people, leaders, institutions – and the decisions they make. Many have been found wanting – some shockingly close to the See of Peter.

Last week he turned the spotlight on one of the most entrenched, self-aggrandising and self-absorbed power blocks in the world today. And he did not miss and hit the Sistine Chapel wall.

The curia is the Catholic Church’s equivalent of the Soviet Politburo or the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It shares with them the distinction of being dominated by conservative old men who quash non-conformity and embrace change with reluctance. Some, no doubt, still believe the Church was hasty apologising to Galileo in 1992 for insisting the earth revolved around the sun.

Since his election, the curia has been blocking the pope’s change agenda. Every time he opens a window, a cardinal jumps up to shut it again. If there are feet to be dragged, the curia will drag them.

Its most brazen move was thwarting reform at the Bishops’ Synod on the Family. Other popes might have played for time, manoeuvred behind the scenes, and tried another tack. But this pope – 78 years old – does not have time on his side, and he knows it.

Deciding attack is the best form of defence, he has laid into the curia and its wicked ways, in a speech both shocking and audacious.

The Church has not been short of critics, and it has denounced them. But when the pope joins the critics, you know something is seriously wrong.

His words were somewhat overshadowed by the shopping, partying and unbridled hedonism that marked last week’s festival of Saturnalia (the revival of an ancient Roman feast that now replaces Christmas).

It’s worth revisiting what he said.

The pope listed 15 “ailments” – enough to suggest the curia should be on life support. Perhaps the most devastating was that it was suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.

He said: “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias; in those who build walls around themselves, and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

“Spiritually and mentally hardened,” he accused the curia of lacking coordination and trying to thwart “the freedom of the Holy Spirit”.

The pope sees clerics who are boastful and jockeying for position: men (yes they are all men) worrying over their appearance, the colour of their vestments and their titles.

He attacks the sickness of “those who live a double life… losing contact with reality.” And he condemns the “terrorism of gossip”, and the sickness of sycophancy. Hoping for advancement, clerics “honour people who are not God”. And he talks of a Church whose leaders are indifferent to others, and who take “joy in seeing another fall”.

The curia promotes a Church of “theatrical severity and sterile pessimism”, forming a closed circle that seeks to be stronger than the Church itself, men who “insatiably try to multiply their powers”. This the pope described as “a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body”.

It had to be said: tough love and all that.

The risk for Pope Francis is that the old guard – the enemy within – will bide their time and wait for regime change. The danger for the Church is that they will succeed.

  • This article appeared in The Irish News on December 30 2014