Tuesday, 5 August 2014

WWI: In Memoriam; Prof Tom Kettle and The Green Fields of France





The War to End Wars didn’t!

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
(Professor Lt Tom Kettle, 1880-1916)

IN wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they'll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.


Thomas Michael Kettle (1880-1916) Irish nationalist poet, politician and soldier was born in Co. Dublin the son of one of the founders of the Land-League, Andrew J Kettle (1833-1916), and his wife Margaret McCourt. Tom was the seventh of 12 children. Andrew Kettle was a member of the Tenant Right League (founded by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas) in the 1850s and became a constitutional Irish Home Ruler in 1866 following the publication of Isaac Butt’s “Plea for the Celtic Race”. Later as a close associate of Michael Davitt — the “One Armed Fenian” who renounced his Irish Republican Brotherhood oath, took a seat in the House of Commons at Westminster and totally renounced violence as a means of advancing Irish Home Rule —was instrumental in persuading Charles Stewart Parnell to support the land agitation of the late 1870s. Kettle chaired the first meeting of the Land League in October of 1879. He was elected Secretary and Parnell was elected Presdient. Kettle was later imprisoned for his leading the opposition to the Coercion Laws.

Tom attended, as did his brothers, O’Connell School, Richmond Street, Dublin run by the Christian Brothers. A gifted pupil, he then went on to the Jesuit-run Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare. A prominent debater, with a greatly admired razor sharp wit, he excelled in both sports (especially athletics, cricket and cycling) and studies (especially English and French).

Going up to University College Dublin in 1897 much was expected of him. And he did not disappoint, although disappointingly his studies were interrupted by ill-health. A contemporary of Francis Sheehy- Skeffington, Oliver St John Gogarty and James Joyce, he became “auditor” of the Literary and Historical Society. This is a position essentially equivalent to Convener of Debates at a Scottish university — I held this position at Glasgow University Union in the early 1970s and my friend, Mgr Patrick Burke, held it at Saint Andrews in the 1980s — or President of Oxford, Cambridge or Durham University Unions.

Graduating BA in Mental and Moral Science (don’t ask, I don’t know!) in 1902, he then studied Law and was admitted to the Honorable (sic) Society of King’s Inns in 1903 before being called to the Bar in 1905. Of course, his interest in debating and politics did not falter and in 1904 he founded the Cui Bono Club within UCD as a debating forum for recent graduates and became editor of the College newspaper. In that same year he also co-founded and was elected President of the Young Ireland Branch of the United Irish League. Offered a parliamentary seat by John Redmond, he declined becoming editor of a weekly, “The Nationalist”, instead. However, in 1906 he became a Member of the Imperial Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for East Tyrone at a bye-election caused by the death of Patrick Doogan.He remained an MP until the second election in 1910, in December, when he did not defend his seat due to pressure of other work.

In 1908 he had been appointed Professor of National Economics at his alma mater, UCD, now part of the new University of Ireland. He quickly became one of the most popular members of the faculty and was in geat demand as both lecturer and public speaker. In the year following, 1909, he married Mary Sheehy. Mary was a sister of the suffragette and member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, Hanna (christened Johanna Mary) Sheehy who after marriage became Sheehy-Skeffington. Another sister, Kathleen, married Joseph O’Brien and became mother of the apostate nationalist Conor Cruise O’Brien (known hereabouts as Conor Full o’B*****it).

In the 1913 lockout he supported the strikers and helped form the peace committee to negotiate a just settlement. Having supported the Home Rule Bill of 1912 and seen the Unionists' successful attempts to wreck it, in 1913 he also joined the Irish Volunteers. In Europe in 1914 to try to raise arms (he spoke fluent French and German) he witnessed the outbreak of war and, because of the atrocities he had witnessed committed by the Germans against civilians in France and Belgium, abandoning his original mission became war correspondent for London’s Daily News.

In “The Ways of War: Why Ireland Fought”, he wrote (@p72): “The outbreak of war caught me in Belgium, where I was running arms for the Irish Volunteers, and on the 6th of August 1914, I wrote from Brussels in the Daily News that it was a war of ‘civilisation against barbarians’. I assisted for many weeks in the agony of the valiant Belgian nation.”

Returning to Dublin, he joined Redmond’s National Volunteers. Repeatedly refused a commission into any Irish regiment because of his health status, at last he was commissioned into the 9th battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, part of the 16th (Irish) Division. Conditions in the trenches seriously affected his health and he was returned to Dublin for recuperation. Before leaving once more for the front on July 16, 1916, almost in despair at the brutal, merciless treatment of the leaders of the Easter Uprising, he said that they would be remembered as heroes while men like himself would be despised as traitors. And so it came to pass.

On September 9, 1916, at Guinchy, during the Battle of the Somme, leading his company of men, Lientenant Professor Tom Kettle died, victim of a sniper’s bullet to the upper chest above a protective steel waistcoat”. Following behind,18 years old Lt Emmet Dalton, the boy hero of Guinchy”, was horrified to see him fall… (and) paused to press a crucifix into his hand… Kettle was obviously dying.  Fr Felix Burke, Catholic Chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, wrote: We all looked up to him as a towering genius and as a storehouse of information.

Kettle had written to his brother: “I am calm and happy… but desperately anxious to live.” He was planning a book on the 16th (Irish) Division and looked forward after the war to dedicating himself to work in the interests of “perpetual peace.” The writer Tim Cross said that Kettle had a vision of “Ireland at parity with Britain as a free European nation” and quotes him as saying: “My only counsel to Ireland is that in order to become deeply Irish, she must become European.” 

This deeply thinking, deeply religious Irish Catholic intellectual had got there long before that group of young intellectual Italians who, as students, had gathered around Don Battista Montini (the future Pope Paul VI) when he was Chaplain to the student section of Italian Catholic Action in the late 1920s and early 1930s (his formal title was Chaplain to the Federation of Italian Catholic University Students, FUCI), and even after he had been forced out, and were instrumental in creating the European Christian Democracy movement along with their German and French co-religionists. These were men such as Alcide De Gasperi and Aldo Moro (President of FUCI in the late 193os) whose vision was the European Union, but not as we know it, as a bureaucratic nightmare. 

What a loss to Ireland. What a loss to Europe. What a loss to the Church.

Although it only appeared belatedly and begrudgingly and has never been formally unveiled by the Irish government, a memorial to Kettle by Francis W. Doyle-Jones stands in St. Stephen’s Green in  Dublin. It quotes the last four lines from the sonnet he penned to his daughter shortly before his death (To My Daughter Betty'):

“Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.”



Session in the Forge Bar Dromore





This is a typical weekend evening in my friend Oliver West's local pub in Dromore, Co Tyrone. I must get over to see him soon!,

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Holy Mass with the imposition of the Pallium

The Sunday Times ducks the issue

On Sunday, June 29, The Sunday Times published a Letter to the Editor from one Neil Barber who asserts that he represents "The Secular Society". Mr Barber attempted to disparage both Archbishop Cushley and religious faith. My reply to him was not published by The Sunday Times and so I post it here.

Dear Sir

The tenor and, indeed, the language used by Neil Barber (“Faith in its place”, Letters last week) are all to reminiscent of something I read recently.

“When they attempt by other means — writings, encyclicals etc —  to assume rights which belong to the State, we will push them back into their proper spiritual activity.” Thus spake Adolf Hitler as quoted by EC Helmreich in “The German Churches under Hitler” (at page 280) (Detriot, 1979).

What does Barber mean by “minority religious beliefs”? True, the Church of Scotland has on paper more members than the Catholic Church in Scotland. But it is also probably true that there are more Catholic bums on pews of a Sunday. So the Catholic Church in Scotland is far from being a “minority” in terms of numbers.

Is he trying to suggest that the Catholic Church’s objections to so-called “same sex marriage”, gay adoption, abortion on demand and the other matters that we consider to be anti-life and/or anti-family are in a minority? In 2000 a life-long friend said to me at the height of the Section 2a (Clause 28) controversy: “I never thought I’d ever see the day that I would ever agree with everything your Fr Winning said.” My friend was also a life-long fervent member of the Orange Lodge and many of his fellow Orangemen and other Presbyterians were similarly minded. Ours wasn’t a minority viewpoint then and it isn’t now. Despite the campaign of distortions, half-truths and outright lies waged by the gay lobby and so enthusiastically promoted in the mainstream media.

And Barber is wrong. Schools are not State institutions. They are run by the local authorities for and on behalf of parents. And those parents have rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. I would refer him to Protocol No.1, March 20, 1952, Article (2): “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

Mgr Cushley has made no attempt to force anybody to do anything. But he might persuade them to. And why not


Yours etc

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Archbishop Leo Cushley and the Pallium Mass 2014

On Sunday, June 29, 2014, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis will celebrate the Pallium Mass in St Peter’s Square. As is now traditional, there will be present a delegation representing His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The delegation will be in Rome over the whole of the weekend and consists of His Eminence Metropolitan Ioannis (Zizioulas) of Pergamo, co-President of the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, accompanied by Archbishop Job de Telmissos and Patriarchal Archdeacon John Chryssavgis. On Saturday, the delegation will be received by Pope Francis and will then meet with Cardinal Kirk Koch and the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.


Cardinal Koch on the right and Metropolitan Ioannis centre (screen grab from Vatican TV)

In 2012 a change was introduced to the rite for imposing the pallium the most important point of which is that it now takes place BEFORE the Eucharistic celebration. Thus, there can be no confusing this rite with a Sacramental rite. Normally the rites which take place during a Eucharistic celebration following the homily are all Sacramental rites: Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick.

Now, the list of new metropolitan archbishops is read out immediately before the entry of the opening procession and the singing of “Tu es Petrus”. Thus it will not be part of the celebration proper. The rite of the imposition of the pallium takes place as soon as the Holy Father reaches the altar. As yet the Vatican Press Office has not issued the list of all those to receive the pallium. However, I am fairly confident that the following list will be fairly complete, if not totally so. I have compiled it bearing in mind the provisions laid down by Pope Paul VI who decreed “…for the whole of the Latin Church…from now on the sacred Pallium be given only to metropolitans and to the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latin rite. We abrogate all privileges and customs which certain particular Churches and some prelates enjoy as a special favour at present.” (Apostolic Letter of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI given “Motu Proprio” on  the Conferring of  the Sacred Pallium in the Church, May 11, 1978.)

(Now, ONLY Metropolitan Archbishops may receive the pallium. In former times the Pope could impose the pallium on a non-Metropolitan Archbishop or on a Bishop as a mark of especial favour. Thus were Peter Amigo, Archbishop.Bishop of Southwark and Archbishop Charles Peter Eyre of Glasgow honoured.)

Metropolitan Archbishops appointed since last June:

(1)  Victor Henry Thakur (60, on July 1), Raipur, India
(2)  Tarcisius Gervazio Ziyaye (65), Lilongwe, Malawi
(3)  José Rafael Quirós Quirós (59), San José de Costa Rica
(4)  Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, O.M. (68), Reggio Calabria-Bova, Italy
(5)  Leo William Cushley (53), Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland
(6)  Jaime Spengler, O.F.M. (63), Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
(7)  Jean-Luc Marie Maurice Louis Bouilleret (60), Besançon, France
(8)  Richard Joseph Gagnon, Winnipeg, Canada
(9) Gabriel ’Leke Abegunrin(67) Ibadan, Nigeria
(10) Leonard Paul Blair (65), Hartford, Connecticut, USA
(11) Sebastian Francis Shaw, O.F.M. (56), Lahore Pakistan
(12) Franz Lackner, O.F.M. (58, on July 14), Salzburg, Austria
(13) Thomas Luke Msusa, S.M.M. (52), Blantyre, Malawi
(14) Benjamin Marc Balthason Ramaroson, C.M. (59), Antsiranana, Madagascar
(15) René Osvaldo Rebolledo Salinas (55), La Serena, Chile
(16) Marlo Mendoza Peralta (64, on July 13), Nueva Segovia, Philippines
(17) Emmanuel Obbo (61), Tororo, Uganda
(18) Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, S.D.B. (55, on July 4), Montevideo, Uruguay
(19) Marco Arnolfo (61), Vercelli, Italy
(20) Damian Denis Dallu (59), Songea, Tanzania
(21) Romulo Tolentino de la Cruz (67), Zamboanga, Philippines
(22) Malcolm Patrick McMahon, O.P. (65), Liverpool, England
(23) Paul Bùi Văn Ðoc (69) (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) SUCCEEDED
(24) Nicholas Mang Thang (71), Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) SUCCEEDED (25) Wojciech Polak (49), Gniezno, Poland
(26) José Luiz Majella Delgado, C.SS.R. (60) Pouso Alegre, Minas Gerais, Brazil
(27) Agustinus Agus (64), Pontianak, Indonesia

[UPDATE: There are two mistakes in the above list, one of omission. I should not have included Archbishop Gagnon of Winnipeg as this is not a Metropolitan See but is, rather, directly subject to the Holy See. I failed to include Msgr Stephan Burger (52) who was confirmed as Metropolitan Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany on May 29, 2014.

Three prelates were not present in Rome for the Mass: Tarcisius Gervazio Ziyaye (No 2 above), Nicholas Mang Thang (No 24 aove) and the aforementioned Archbishop Burger who was being ordained bishop and installed on the same day as it had already been chosen as the date of the "diocesan day". All volunteers active in the churches had already been invited to gather in the square in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady and so it made perfect sense that Msgr Burger should be at home rather than in Rome. update ends]  

The following Eastern Rite Metropolitan Archbishop have also been appointed but as far as I can make out they are not presented with the pallium by the Pope:

Nicolas Antiba, B.A. (68), Bosra e Haūrān (Melkite Greek), Syria (B.A. Ordre Basilien Alépin (Melkite Greek)
Hormuz Al-Naufali (54), Archbishop of Basra of the Chaldeans
Yousif Thomas Mirkis (65) O.P., Archbishop of Kirkuk of the Chaldeans
Valdomiro Koubetch, O.S.B.M. (Order of St. Basil the Great) (61), São João Batista em Curitiba (Ukrainian), Brazil

The following is an article written by my good self and published, slightly edited if I recall, in The Scottish Catholic Observer in 2006. Obviously it is somewhat out of date. Since then Msgr Leo has served in South Africa, and neighbouring countries, and has spent four years in the Vatican as Head of the English Language Section of the Secretariat of State. In addition he served for a year as a Prelate of the Antecamera, glad-handing guests of the Pope before they could be received and putting them at their ease. Famously, at least here in the Diocese of Motherwell, it was Msgr Leo who accompanied the newly elected Pope Francis when he received the College of Cardinals in audience a couple of days fter his election.

Msgr Leo Cushley 2006

Leo Cushley is the older son of the late Bill and Eileen Cushley, parishioners of St John’s, Uddingston. Although Leo was brought up in Uddingston from the age of five, he was born in June of 1961 at Wester Moffat as his parents spent the early years of their marriage living in Coatdyke. Bill Cushley owned and ran a baker’s business in Coatbridge.

Msgr Leo has a brother Kenneth and a sister Carey. Carey has a young son and daughter over whom Leo, according to his mother, “absolutely dotes”; and in turn they adore him and take up much of his time whenever he manages to get a break at home.

His first six months of primary schooling were spent at All Saints before his parents’ move to Uddingston. Leo then transferred to St John’s, Uddingston, before going up to the big school, Holy Cross High, Hamilton.

Mrs Cushley recalled that it was when Leo went on a school trip with Holy Cross to Rome that he became certain that he wanted to try for the priesthood. She remarked: “It wasn’t just that he was enchanted with Rome, with the Scots College, the Vatican, the beautiful churches, the whole thing. He was, but he was also quite certain that the priesthood was what he wanted to do.”

And so he left Holy Cross, and home, after S2 and headed north to Blairs. After four years there, he spent the next six completing the normal course of studies at the Pontifical Scots College, Rome, and the Gregorian University. He was ordained priest in St John’s, Uddingston, in 1985 by Bishop Joseph Devine and then returned to Rome to complete, or so he thought at the time, his education.

By 1987, the Rev Fr Leo W Cushley was equipped with both a Bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology and a Licentiate in Sacred Liturgy. He then returned home to work happily in the Diocese of Motherwell, but for only the next six years. He served first in Motherwell Cathedral and then transferred to St Serf’s, Airdrie. To parish duties was added school chaplaincy work.

Speaking of this period, Msgr Leo recalled: “It was good to be home among family and friends after twelve years away. The parish work and the chaplaincy work were new and challenging and, when I wasn’t doing that, I spent many a free day with priest friends bagging the odd Monroe in order to reacquaint myself with Scotland.”

In December 1992, he was serving as chaplain at St Aidan’s High School, Wishaw ― your esteemed but humble correspondent was a member of the Science staff at the time ― when out of the blue he was summoned to an interview with Bishop Joe Devine. He had no idea what Bishop Joe wanted with him, but it transpired that the Vatican authorities had written to His Lordship to ask if he would release Fr Leo for work in the Holy See’s diplomatic service.

Msgr Leo recalled: “The summons to Rome is always a bit mysterious: a letter arrives from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and it’s not addressed to you but to your bishop. If he is agreeable to letting you go, he then asks you if you would like to take up the new call.  So, after some thought about it, I agreed.  But what exactly was I letting myself in for?”

Monsignor’s mother said: “Leo had told us that the bishop wanted to see him, but he didn’t know what about. When he arrived home after the interview he was in a state of shock.”

Although the Vatican wanted him from the outset for the diplomatic service, he was to start for the time being in the Secretariat of State offices in the Apostolic Palace, having first negotiated the small matter of an interview in Rome. That done, August of 1993 saw him depart once more from Scotland bound for life in the Eternal City, but not this time as a student; at least not at first. At first, he was put to work as agreed in the English Language section of the Secretariat of State.

What is the Secretariat of State? Msgr Leo put it this way: “The Secretariat of State is the Vatican body which helps the Holy Father exercise his ministry in all the Church’s and the Holy See’s affairs. It is a little like the British government’s Home Office and Foreign Office rolled into one.

“The Secretariat of State also assists the Holy Father in the day to day running of the Roman Curia and by extension helps him to function as the focal point of communion throughout the Catholic world.”

The offices of the Secretariat of State are situated on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, an address it shares with the Pope’s private apartments. Indeed, should you ever get the chance, when you emerge from the lift turn right and you get to the bit where Msgr Leo worked; turn left and a couple of rather large Swiss Guards will stop you going any further! Unless, of course, you have a rather special invite.

The Section of the Secretariat where Msgr Leo worked helps the Holy Father with all his work in the English language. As he put it: “You can well imagine the amount of things the Pope must be ready to communicate in English both to Church and to world leaders, and, to both Bishops’ conferences and to governments around the world.

“Moreover, there is all the correspondence that he receives in English, from all sorts of people; from the child who asks simply for the Pope’s blessing to the Head of State who wants to enlist the Holy See’s support on some international question. Then, once this correspondence has been presented to the Holy Father, the English Section deals with it according to his instructions.”
Serving in this Section are about eight English-speaking priests from all over the world. So important is their work that they have to take it in turns to man the office, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They have to deal with any and all matters as and when they arise.

Msgr Leo recalls this as “a busy and happy time in my life, extremely rewarding but very hard work.” But like his busy and happy time back home in the Diocese of Motherwell, it wasn’t to last.

As indicated above, the Secretariat authorities had from the outset wanted Msgr Leo for the Diplomatic Service. And that meant becoming a student again, but this time at one of the most select, if not in fact THE most select, academies in the world: the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (PEA). Msgr Leo enrolled in the academia in October 1994.

The PEA was established in 1701 by Pope Clement XI and was originally called Pontificia Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici (the Pontifical Academy for Noble Ecclesiastics). To gain admission, post-graduate clerical students not only had to be smart ― a doctorate in canon law was a given, you either had to have one or you had to get one while you were there, but students also had to have other formal qualifications of a very high standard as well as an aptitude for languages ― they had also to be of noble birth.

Obviously, since Leo got in, this is no longer the case!

Of his time at the PEA, Msgr Leo said: “The normal course of studies in the accademia includes in-house courses on the diplomacy of the Holy See, our manner of writing reports and dispatches, a detailed study of the history of the papacy (taught to us by a distinguished Scot, Msgr Charles Burns!), and the study of languages, with an emphasis on Italian, English, French and Spanish.

“We also study political science and international and diplomatic law. Everyone must complete a doctorate and, with a view to future duties, most students naturally choose canon law or international law.  Finally, there is an exam after which the young priest attachés receive Vatican citizenship, a diplomatic passport and a good medical before being appointed to their first embassy, or Nunciature, as they are known.”

That diplomatic passport not only allows Msgr Leo to travel rather more freely than you or I around the world, it also marks him out as a very rare bird indeed: a citizen of Vatican City State! He is in good company, for the citizenry are restricted to: the Pope, his Cardinals, the members of the diplomatic service, and a few lay people, perhaps totalling only a thousand persons in all. Moreover, the electoral franchise is restricted to those cardinals who have not celebrated their 80th birthday on the day the Head of State, the Pope, dies.

As a Vatican diplomat, Msgr Leo is expected to promote the policy of the Holy See. So what is that policy? He summed it up thus: “The Holy See employs its unique international position to promote peace, development and human rights, with a particular care for the freedom to practise one’s faith, no matter the religion in question.

“At the international level, the Holy See promotes policies that will allow the world’s peoples to live in peace and dignity, with adequate food, water, shelter and decent work. The Holy See’s independence and freedom to act on the world’s political stage is, of course, utilised for the good of the Church, but it also means that it is free to speak and act on behalf of others, especially those who, through poverty or oppression, have no voice.”

Msgr Leo’s “own adventure in this unusual world” began with a brief spell in the Nunciature in Cairo in 1996. Thereafter, his first real posting was to the Nunciature in Burundi, a landlocked country about the size of Belgium in the very heart of Africa, were he was able to perfect his French.

Msgr Leo recalled: “When I went there in 1997, Burundi was in the midst of a civil war, from which it is only now emerging. It is a country of some 6 million people, of whom about 67% is Catholic and for me it was a wonderful experience. I was especially impressed by the White Fathers, who have been there since the country first heard the gospel in the late nineteenth century, and whose presence has made the lives of the people so much better in every sphere.”

It was in Burundi, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, that Stanley famously said: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”

Msgr Leo pointed out that the spot where Stanley met Livingstone is not far from where Archbishop Michael Courtney, the Nuncio to Burundi, was assassinated while carrying out his duties at Christmas time in December 2003. He added: “This tragedy was only one of many in a forgotten conflict which claimed perhaps 300,000 lives.  Burundi is now on the way to peace, but its situation remains very fragile.”

It was also in Burundi that Msgr Leo said rather less famously than Stanley: “Big Tag, I presume?”

The occasion was when he went to the airport to meet off the plane his great friend Fr Gerard Tartaglia, now PP of the joint charge of St Margaret’s and Our Holy Redeemer’s, Clydebank, but then on the staff of the Scottish National Tribunal. (Fr Gerry is the brother of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.)

Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, would not be many people’s idea of a holiday destination, even if there wasn’t a civil war going on, but Fr Tartaglia explained: “I knew there was a civil war going on, but I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think it was relatively safe, that we wouldn’t be able to move about safely. Obviously, if I thought there was a fair chance that I was going to be killed I wouldn’t have gone. But given that the Holy See had sent Leo and the French, American and Russian and other governments all had their diplomats still in the country, it was reasonable to assume that it was going to be safe.”

And despite what later happened to Archbishop Courtney, he has no regrets about having gone. Far from it. “It was incredibly impressive, mind-bogglingly impressive, how the activity of the Church was having a beneficial effect in the country. The Church was and is doing an amazing amount in Burundi.”

Fr Tartaglia joined Msgr Leo on a visit with the Missionary Sisters of Charity to an orphanage run by the ICIM Sisters of Belgium. During Fr Tartaglia’s remaining time at the Tribunal, each Christmas his staff sold cards made by the children of the orphanage. Over a period of about three or four years they raised about £5,000 or £6,000.

He was tremendously impressed by the reception Msgr Leo received wherever they went: “As a member of the Nuncio’s staff he was seen by those such as the White Fathers as a bridge between the Church workers on the ground and the outside world. But the ordinary people of Burundi clearly understood that Leo was someone who cared about them, was someone who could and would act as an advocate for them. They were aware that he would report back to the authorities in Rome on what was being done and what else needed to be done. They knew that through him the outside world would be better informed about what was going on in Burundi. There was a real sense of solidarity.”

Fr Tartaglia recalled that it had proven much easier to enter Burundi than to leave. He was supposed to fly out on the First of November. However, his flight was cancelled as the airport was closed. But not because of the civil war, but because it was All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation!

Msgr Leo’s own leave-taking of Burundi was occasioned by his being next posted to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where there has been a papal embassy since the sixteenth century. Indeed, Lisbon was one of the first permanent papal embassies established in modern times.

It will come as no surprise to learn that Msgr Leo (he received that title while based in Portugal) found that life in Lisbon was a lot quieter and much more peaceful than Bujumbura. Or, as he put it: “You could actually go for a walk in the street with a fair hope of coming home alive afterwards!” He added: “Portugal is a beautiful country with very kind people.  Lisbon is only an hour’s drive from Fátima, and it was an added blessing to be able to join the people in prayer there on a regular basis.”

But as had happened to him so often before, no matter that he was quite happy where he was, after three years he had to move on, this time to New York and the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York. Msgr Leo said: “Every one of the 191 UN Member States has an embassy in New York, known technically as a ‘permanent mission’. The only other state to have enjoyed Permanent Observer status since the inception of the UN was Switzerland.”

However, Switzerland finally joined as a full member in 2002. Msgr Leo explained: “At that time there was discussion about whether or not the Holy See should also go down the road of full membership. But, having considered its options, it was decided instead to have its Observer status clarified. In this way, we remain active in every sphere of the UN’s activities, from the Security Council to the General Assembly, while staying above the fray, at least to an extent.”

The current Vatican team at the UN includes three diplomats, headed by the Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Celestino Migliore, a diplomat of over twenty years’ experience and who was the Holy See’s former Under-secretary for Relations with States, the equivalent of a deputy foreign minister. His Excellency is assisted by Msgr Ruben Dimaculangan, a diplomatic Counsellor from the Philippines, and Msgr Leo as First Secretary.

In the mission there are in total 18 permanent members of staff. In addition, there are nearly 30 other men and women of several nationalities whom His Excellency can call upon to attend meetings and to advise him on a whole range of issues. These are all experts in various fields, many of them lawyers or professors.

The Holy See helps along with the 191 member states and Palestine to elaborate the resolutions and decisions taken by all the UN’s main bodies, as appropriate.

Msgr Leo summarised the Holy See’s particular interests thus: “Our especial concerns naturally include the Catholic Church’s interest in fields such as human rights, the rights of women and children, life and health issues, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the eradication of poverty and promotion of development, fair trade, the law of the sea, the peaceful use of outer space, and so on.”

He added: “There are very many meetings, subjects and bodies, and the personnel of the Holy See’s Mission does its best to attend them and to participate actively and constructively.”


Sunday, 15 June 2014

St Mary's Mother and Baby Home, Tuam: The Truth is Out There, But You Won't Get It In The Media

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” And then there are stories about brutality, abuse and the Catholic Church.

What follows, I submitted as a comment to an article I came across on Facebook posted by Waterford Whispers News. The article was totally scurrilous, simply a rehash of all the worst distortions that have been so far published — for example, indeed as an example of the ludicrous rather than the scurrilous, whoever wrote it just assumed that whoever wrote whatever article he had based his on knew French as wot it is rote and so mis-translated "Bon Secours" as safe harbour rather than Good Comfort”, even going so far as to replicating not using initial capital letters 

See: http://waterfordwhispersnews.com/2014/06/03/bodies-of-800-children-were-just-resting-in-mass-grave-claims-catholic-church/

“The Tuam workhouse for unmarried mothers and their babies was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours (French for ‘safe harbour’) between the years 1925 and 1961, during which time the bodies of at least 796 children aged from 2 days to 9 years were placed one by one in an unused septic tank, following deaths from TB, malnourishment, pneumonia, and good old-fashioned neglect.”

Good old fashioned neglect. Yes, indeed. The good old fashioned neglect of the truth when to actually check the facts and to then properly assess them before putting pen to paper would be too much like hard work when there is the chance of a bit of good old fashioned Catholic Church bashing and baiting.

Where to start? Although it is only incidental, the seemingly helpful translation of the French, calculated to provide an ironic dig at the nuns involved, and hence the Catholic Church, falls flat. If the author of this article had done something as simple as bothering to seek expert help about the translation of “Bon Secours”, rather than just lift it from somebody else’s piece, he would have come up with a more pointed barb. It is all to do with the “of” before “Bon Secours”. This renders the possible translation of “Bon Secours” as “safe harbour” untenable. They are in fact the Sisters of Good Comfort. Still to my mind a sadly misplaced jibe but it at least would have had the merit of being, whilst still wrong, at least right; if you see what I mean.

Catherine Corless examined the public records and found that as far as she could determine 796 children had died at the local St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam run by the Bon Secours nuns. This was not in any size, shape or form a “workhouse”. It had been one, established in 1840, but it had ceased to be one before the nuns took over. Perhaps the author of this article had read that in 1938 the Matron and Medical Officer for the Home had petitioned the local authority to have a new disinfecting chamber and laundry installed and jumped to the wrong conclusion. These were to deal with the Home’s own laundry: the children’s clothing, the bedding etc. It was NOT a Magdalene Laundry.

Indeed, originally mothers were not catered for. It was only four years after the Home opened that this became the case. And it is very much to the credit of the Sisters that this happened.
In 1929 a special maternity ward for unmarried mothers-to-be was added to the Home. Married women, especially those paying the full fees, at the local district hospital in Connacht voiced their displeasure at having to share hospital facilities with “fallen women”. A senior local priest, one Canon Ryder, objected to the suggestion that these unfortunate women be segregated from the others and had hoped to secure facilities for them at other hospitals. That having proved a fond hope, the Bon Secours sisters in St Mary’s kindly offered to help. Unfortunately, they were never able, through no fault of themselves, to recruit enough properly trained staff and they were never provided with adequate facilities. There is no doubt that these practical difficulties affected infant and maternal mortality outcomes but the nuns cannot be blamed for that. They did their best.

Over the lifetime of St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home (1925-61) there were on average about 22 deaths per year. Catherine Corless noted that the children had died from a range of ailments including malnutrition, measles, meningitis, tuberculosis, convulsions, influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, gastroenteritis and so on. (It must be remembered that in any institution were large numbers are living in close contact with one another  cross infection is both a great concern and something which can never be wholly counteracted.) Neglect, good old fashioned or not, was not an issue she noted. And to forestall at least one all too predictable riposte from the ill-informed and ill-disposed, “malnourishment” is not a synonym for “neglect”. Indeed, at that time most children in Ireland would have been clinically speaking malnourished and it is reasonably safe to assume that that would have been a contributory factor in the deaths of most infants and young children, in or out of local authority care.

Albeit that in this instance it is local authority care by proxy. The local authority owned the Home and the good sisters operated it on their behalf. And far from it being “notorious”, in 1935 the Health Board commended it as being “one of the best managed institutions in the country”. In 1944 the Matron ensured that all the children were vaccinated against Diphtheria (it has been estimated that in the previous year, 1943, there were 1 million cases of Diphtheria throughout Europe and that 50,000 died). She also sought to have the children vaccinated against Whooping Cough. The Tuam Herald reported in 1949 on the Health Board inspection of the Home and noted that the Inspectors had “found everything in very good order and congratulated the sisters on the excellent conditions in their Institution”.

And, yes, in that year of 1944 a local Health Board report did, indeed, described some of the children as being “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” But in 1944 even children not in Homes were nowhere near as well-nourished as they are today. There was a war on in Europe and the Irish economy was in tatters, as were children in or out of care; and particularly in rural Ireland. And to state that is not being heartless, it is being honest. In 1949, the Matron and her senior assistants met with Senator Martin Quinn and told him that children were suffering as a result of a lack of funds. The Senator is reported to have replied: “I do not like these statements which receive such publicity”. He then asserted that the local people were complaining about how much the present level of care was costing.

But what about the poor wee souls who died? The author of this article states: “between the years 1925 and 1961… the bodies of at least 796 children aged from 2 days to 9 years were placed one by one in an unused septic tank.” If I may borrow a highly technical term from the legal fraternity: Bollocks. A spokesman for the Garda stated: “(T)here is no confirmation from any source that there are between 750 and 800 bodies present.”

In 1975 two boys, Francis Hopkins (then aged 12 years) and Barry Sweeney (10) were playing at the site. Barry was recently interviewed by The Irish Times. He told Rosita Boland they had levered up a concrete block which she notes he indicated was about the same size as his coffee table, roughly 120cms by 60cms. He said: “There were skeletons thrown in there. They were all this way and that way. They weren’t wrapped in anything, and there were no coffins. But there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number. I don’t know where the papers got that.”

Boland asked him how many skeletons he believes were there? He replied: “About 20.”

Now you have to bear in mind, firstly, that he is recalling something form almost forty years ago and, secondly, that this is a guess; it can’t even be described as an estimate. He had then and has now no scientific knowledge upon which he could make an educated assessment. And that is in no way meant as an insult or as a condescension. It is merely a statement of fact. Figures are being bandied about, supposedly authoritatively. Where do they come from? Even one of the few people who has actually seen inside this supposed septic tank — the site remains so far unexcavated so we don’t know if it is the septic tank that is known to have once been there — doesn’t know exactly but he reckons it could be only about 20.

And another thing, he does not say anything about the bones being those of children. They could have been the bones of adult s who died and were buried there when it was a famine workhouse. But even if they were children there couldn’t have been 796 of them. Not in the septic tank there couldn’t. And not simply because it would have needed to be one helluvva size of a tank. The septic tank was in use in the period between the nuns taking over the premises in 1925 and the public water system reaching Tuam in 1937. The public records show that 204 children died in the Home during that time. And so they could not have been “placed one by one” in it. 592 anyone?

But there is another problem. Barry Sweeney says there were no coffins. However, in 1932 in the Connacht Tribune newspaper the Bon Secours nuns placed an advertisement seeking tenders for the supply of coffins for the Home. Why do that if you are just going to dump the bodies either naked or in a shroud and in a septic tank or a more common mass grave? At the time the boys made their grim discovery, most local people believed that the remains dated from the workhouse that had been on the site before the mother-and-baby home. It could even have been a famine grave from the 1840s. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there are ANY babies or young children buried on the site never mind in the septic tank. So far it is simply a matter of supposition.

When Catherine Corless had produced her list of the 796 children, she sought to cross-reference them with the names of children buried in local cemeteries but she drew a blank. She concluded, therefore, that they must have been buried in unconsecrated ground at the rear of the premises. The Home has long since been demolished but that area is today a grassy, walled and gated plot where local people have planted roses and erected a small grotto with a statue of Our Lady. Hopefully there will now be added a suitable commemoration of the children who lived and died at the Home. And the Irish government, the local authority and the Church should combine to ensure that the site and the records should be thoroughly examined to determine exactly what happened.

And until that is done all those Lunchtime O’Booze’s out there should put away their fevered, anti-Catholic imaginations.