Saturday, April 24, 2010

Watching Sinead With My Catholic Mother [Anthony McCarthy]

It was quite uncomfortable to be sitting up with my mother while she watched Rachel Maddow last night. Since her operation last December we’ve been taking turns staying with her until she goes to bed at 10:00. She can’t wait until it’s warm enough to not have a fire at night and she can “have some solitude again”.

Anyway, when Rachel said that her interview was going to be with Sinead O’Connor and they were going to talk about the sex abuse scandal I thought, “Oh, oh. She’s not going to like this.” As it turned out my mother knew who Sinead O’Connor was, she remembered the famous incident where she ripped up the picture of JPII, for which Sinead was, if not black listed, somewhat disappeared from American media. Subsequent events vindicate what Sinead said then, you don't generally expect popular singers on SNL as voices of prophesy.

I kept looking at my mother as she watched the interview, as the now all too familiar crimes and sins of Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals and, now, popes were listed. She’d heard all of those already and certainly wasn’t happy about them, but she wasn’t in denial that they’d happened*.

As it went on and O’Connor said that the problem wasn’t Catholics, it was the clique that had stolen The Church from them. Her declaration that she was a Catholic “in love with the Holy Spirit” and that she thought it was high time that Catholics took ownership of their church was nothing my mother hadn’t said in some form, though less passionately. O’Connor’s recognition of the many women and men who used their religion to serve humanity was totally in accord with my mother’s view of religion.

After the segment was over, I asked her if it had upset her too much. My mother looked at me with surprise and said, “I agree with her.”

I don’t think it’s just because Sinead is Irish.

* My mother was a bit annoyed by the “Infallible” subtitle. Being an Irish Catholic my mother can’t abide the common misunderstanding of that doctrine, which she has little enthusiasm for. It’s a bit odd but it’s really not that incomprehensible, in theory. Most of what the Pope says isn’t held to be “infallible”. I believe it has been invoked twice in the relatively short time it’s been official teaching.

Though it certainly has more than a bit of historical proof of its falsity, which even an Irish Catholic, if they are liberal enough, will acknowledge. As James Carroll, one of my mother’s favorite Catholic columnists (Richard McBrien is another) recently noted the doctrine is the illogical result of Cardinals giving it to Pius IX as a consolation prize when the former Papal States were removed from him. To have “infallibility” dependent on a vote by the First Vatican Council is quite a logical disconnect. I believe the sometimes mentioned quote by John XXIII, that he knew he wasn’t infallible, is authentic. I hope it is. If it is, that would present a bit of a problem to the biggest fans of that most famous of recent innovations, flying in the face of many centuries of tradition.