Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Of Those "No Way" Moments (III)

A friend of mine recommended that I should visit the parish church in Ballymurn if I wanted to see something rather surprising. So off I went one fine day, and while wandering about the inside of the church I noticed a modern stained-glass window behind the balcony (pictured above). However, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and shattered the glass when I saw the dedication on the left window (pictured below).



As is well known, Fr. Sean Fortune was a Catholic priest and serial child rapist who killed himself in 1999, before his trial for multiple counts of child abuse against 29 victims. A documentary, Suing the Pope, which was devoted entirely to his monstrous activities and the role of the Church in covering them up, was broadcast in 2002 by the BBC. Yet seven years later, and ten years after he killed himself, the dedication is still there (as of two weeks ago, when I photographed it). To me, it beggars belief that the people in the parish would not have demanded its removal, and boycotted the church until this was done. How difficult would it be to simply paint over it with opaque red paint, if they can't afford to remove the actual pane? I mean, would an Austrian church keep a window with a very visible dedication from Josef Fritzl on display? Or a Cheshire church keep one from Harold Shipman? Just what is wrong with this country that the name of a notorious predatory paedophile can adorn the window of a church, and nobody cares enough to have it removed? Here's a description of Fr. Fortune's behaviour in Ballymurn, from The Sunday Business Post in 2005 (full article here):
So, despite the numerous complaints and warning signs over the previous years [in Ferns], Fortune was allowed to make a full-time return to parish life in September 1989, when he was appointed to the Co Wexford village of Ballymurn ... As part of the job, he was appointed chairman of the board of management of Ballymurn National School, and gave classes in religious instruction in the Bridgetown VEC. Serious problems arose during Fortune's time in Ballymurn. Complaints were made in 1991 by a number of parents about the content of religious classes given by Fortune. They said he encouraged children to tell lewd jokes, used sexually inappropriate language and "asked prurient questions while hearing confessions". When confronted once again by [Bishop] Comiskey, Fortune vehemently denied the allegations. He was forced to leave his VEC position in 1991, but remained as curate and on the primary school board until December 1995, at the nomination of Comiskey. “He also continued to give classes there until he was arrested by the gardai in March 1995,” said the report.
Curiously, the offending panel has been airbrushed out in the church's official website, seen here. (There's no link to the exact page, but click on 'Photo gallery', then 'Ballymurn Church', and it's the last picture in the row). I wrote a letter to the bishop of Wexford recently about this and, while I received a reply from his secretary, I am still awaiting his response. The following is the text of the letter (I won't publish the bishop's reply as it would be discourteous, for I didn't inform him that I have a blog when I sent the message).
Dear Bishop Brennan, I was recently in the church in Ballymurn and found it to be well maintained and very interesting, especially the Meyer of Munich stained glass window. However, I was extremely surprised - shocked may be more appropriate - to see there a modern window containing the inscription "Dedicated by Fr. Sean Fortune 31st Oct. 1993." I was curious as to whether there are any plans to replace this with glass which doesn't contain the name of this ... well, it is hard to think of a phrase that one would use in civilised company to describe him, frankly. Omnium bipedum nequissimus, I think. (I notice that the offending phrase has been airbrushed from the photo of the window on the parish website.) Although I am not a practising Catholic, I feel that from a community - indeed, from a human - viewpoint, to have the name of this person on display is grossly inappropriate. I was wondering what your feelings are on this matter. [The Latin phrase translates as "Of all two-footed creatures the worst".]

11 comments:

Stan said...

Your surprise is understandable - it does seem extremely inappropriate. It's a strange and disheartening sign of the times that the clergy seem to have manipulated the photograph online, or instructed for it to be done, yet they have not altered the physical window. Are they waiting for enough people to make a fuss before they can be bothered addressing the matter?

A Doubtful Egg said...

Disheartening is certainly the right word. But Ballymurn's church is probably little visited by outsiders, and the clergy would rather ignore the issue than, as you say, "make a fuss" and draw attention to themselves. And perhaps the locals have petitioned to have it removed. I don't actually know, something I was hoping a reply from the bishop would clarify. Although seeing as Fortune was first arrested in 1995, over fourteen years ago, they can't have been petitioning with any great urgency. It just horrifies me that people can trudge into Mass every Sunday with this name on the glass behind them, without being filled with a blinding rage...

Sean Jeating said...

Like Stan I think the manipulating of the photograph tells all: Arrogance, hubris, cowardice, camouflage,hypocrisy.

jams o donnell said...

Bloody hell, that's not a dedication I would want to see anywhere. Then again I didn't want to see a new head on the Sean Russell statue either.....

A Doubtful Egg said...

Sean,
While I fully agree with you, I think it's fair to point out that the website looks to me like an unofficial effort done by the parish priest of the area rather than an official church one. It doesn't make it any less offensive that the offending window pane has been removed, though.

Jams,
Agreed, on both points! I think that if Ireland had felt any of the real horrors of WWII (and I can't imagine that Hitler would had viewed the Irish as anything other than untermenschen!) there would be stronger feelings here about such statues...

Stan said...

My guess is - and this is sheer speculation - that of those who noticed the inscription, or heard about it, very few said or did anything about it in an official capacity. Kitchen bitching, sure, pub grumbling, naturally, private disgust, you betcha, but for the most part people are cowed by authority, or unwilling for other reasons to step out of line or "rock the boat".

Writing to the bishop was a good thing to do. (I wonder if he has received many other letters about it.) Did his secretary's reply indicate hypothetical future discussion, contemplation, or action over it, or was it a perfunctory we-got-your-letter letter? Would a follow-up letter to the local media be of use? Failing that, there's Joe Duffy...

A Doubtful Egg said...

The reply from the bishop's office just said that it would be brought to his attention, and little else. And I'm extremely reluctant to go the Joe Duffy route, as I intensely dislike radio call-in shows. I had mused on a number of options, such as forming a Facebook group, contacting a more senior and well-read blogger to publicise the issue, or writing to a national newspaper.
I certainly would agree that lodged deep within the Irish psyche is that paranoid fear of "rocking the boat", of drawing attention to yourself by taking a stand on anything that stands outside the common consensus (which is also a deeply cynical tactic of ignoring an injustice rather than putting yourself out by drawing attention to it). And the church is still a power to be reckoned with down the country. This window, in a small way, is reflective of the mindset which permits the church to keep control of education after the Ryan report, and allowed priests to get away with such horrors in the first place. [Pauses, steps down from soapbox]

Stan said...

Ah yes. Cynicism and fear. I think human behaviour is, lamentably, motivated far more by conformism than by morality, especially when this supposed morality has been inherited from the Catholic Church - which, as you point out, still wields considerable influence especially in rural parts.

People forget how to stand on their own two feet. They would rather watch a dog drown than step out of a crowd to help it (true story!). My reference to Joe Duffy was facetious. But I support your musing about - and pursuing - other avenues of action on this.

Stan said...

I meant to add that the dog survived, but there's a fair chance it wouldn't have if I hadn't been passing by the canal that day and saw a crowd of people staring downward with more curiosity than concern. Chilling experience.

Hamilton said...

I just stumbled onto your blog post while researching Sean Fortune. Thanks for writing such a poignant post. And I also wanted to tell you how terrific your letter to the Bishop was. So well phrased, remaining polite while making your point - I loved it. And the Latin was the icing on the cake.

A Doubtful Egg said...

Thank you. I have no idea if the offending window is still there, and I still await a proper reply from the bishop, by the way.