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February 22nd, 2016

Francis and Paul, Nuns and Contraceptives

I bet you were as puzzled as I was by that remark of Pope Francis on the plane back from Mexico:
“Paolo VI – il grande! – in una situazione difficile, in Africa, ha permesso alle suore di usare gli anticoncezionali per i casi di violenza.” … Paul VI – the Great! – in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted sisters to use contraceptives for cases of violence.

Fr John Zuhlsdorf, in his blog What Does the Prayer Really Say, gets to the truth of the matter:

I’ve heard this before. I never believed it.

Years ago on the COL Forum (which I ran) we had a discussion about this.  One of the staffers tried to dig up the old files.  In the meantime he  sent this information.  It was not originally written in English, so I touched it up here and there… but not very much.

This reads like a soap opera, on the one hand.  It reads like a vicious campaign of lies and disinformation designed to confuse the faithful and undermine the Church, on the other.

The urban legend (lie) is now so common that even high-ranking churchmen cite it as if it happened.   They aren’t lying, per se.  They are passing on something that isn’t true but that they think is true… even if it really doesn’t pass the smell test.

This whopper doesn’t pass the smell test.  Paul VI told nuns they could use contraceptives… riiiiight?

You decide.

My emphases and comments.

So far, I was unable to retrieve the COL Forum thread on this urban legend about Bl. Paul VI and contraception for nuns in Africa, but I had some notes stored and then idiocies about our Holy Faith have the ability to switch on my memory neurons to combat mode,  like yelling Saracens would do to a Templar knight who had been fasting and praying for a good fight the whole Quattuor Tempora of Lent.

You can search any archive, google any keyword, ask any historian or moralist, all you will be served with is old articles of pro-contraception authors repeating this story either with no supporting references or with no other evidence than references to older articles saying that Rome had OK’d contraception for endangered nuns in Africa at some point.

Notice, the more you go back in time, the more “Paul VI” becomes, more vaguely, “Rome”. Dig deep enough and you will find that Rome” turns out to be just an article published, you guessed it, in Rome, precisely by the magazine Studi Cattolici, n° 27, in the year of our Salvation 1961. Title: “Una donna domanda: come negarsi alla violenza? Morale esemplificata. Un dibattito” (A woman asks, how to subtract oneself from violence? Exemplified morals. A debate).

Yes, I can hear you yelling at the monitor. Paul VI ascended to the Throne of Peter only in 1963.

And now I want somebody to tell me, with a straight face, that St. John XXIII allowed contraception.  Above all, I want them to show me where and when he did it.

Back to the article. The authors were 1) Msgr. Pietro Palazzini, later a bishop and a Cardinal but back then a respected moral theologian and the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Council, 2) Professor Francis Xavier Hurth, S.J., of the Pontifical Gregorian University, and 3) Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini of the Pontifical Lateran University (later Archbishop of Perugia).

Long and verbose story short, in that article Palazzini and Lambruschini explore a possible application of the “principle of the double effect” to the case of rape, where a legitimate end is pursued and the probable evil consequence is unintended.  [NB: Double-effect!]

Fr. Hurth attempts an elaboration of Aquinas’ concept of genus moris and genus naturae where the moral status of an act can be different depending on its spiritual and physical characteristics. In fairness, I’ll note that, back then, chemical contraception was a relatively new subject. Tonsured moralists were unlikely to be all that familiar with the science and the physiology involved and it will take until 1968 to hear an authoritative pronouncement on this specific subject, the reviled Humanae Vitae. And it came from that same Paul VI who is said to have allowed contraception, if only by way of exception.

That’s all.

No, really, there is nothing else.

The opinion of three moralists in a magazine, attempting to offer, I repeat, an opinion on a complex matter, gets quoted loosely and ad nauseam by other moralists and journalists and becomes “Rome” and later “Paul VI”.

They will tell you that that article legitimized the concept of “lesser evil”. Leaving aside the fact that we can never choose evil, no matter the scale of it, the fact is that in 1957 Palazzini had co-edited a widely used manual where the following is said (I quote a 1962 English edition of this manual):

“To choose the lesser of two evils is permissible [NB] if the lesser evil is not in itself a moral evil (sin), but a purely physical evil or the omission of something good or indifferent, from which in a specific case an accidental bad effect will follow, less serious, however, than that which another course would provoke” (Ludovico Bender OP, in Dictionary of Moral Theology, Ed. Roberti, Francesco, Palazzini Pietro. Transl. by H. Yannone. Westminster, MD: Newman, 1962).

Now, I am no moral theologian but contraception is in fact a moral evil in itself (see Humanae Vitae 16) and not a “purely physical evil”, much less “something good or indifferent”. Case closed.

Not many outside Italy know, however, that Cardinal Palazzini was asked about this matter years later, and precisely in the ‘90s when another such myth was concocted, had seen that the Paul VI-Congo nuns version was losing credibility.  I am talking about the John Paul II-Bosnia nuns myth.

Those of us old enough will remember that during the Balkan wars articles begun to be published about “the Pope” or “Rome” authorizing nuns in Bosnia to take the pill in war zones. Palazzini is quoted in an article on that paper sewer some call La Repubblica which seems to have taken the place once occupied by the Osservatore Romano lately (OTOH, natura abhorret vacuum). The article was published on March 5, 1993.

Translated title: “The pill? Forbidden also for missionary nuns at risk of rape”.

Palazzini explains that all they were trying to do was to explore the possibility of actions aimed at preventing a pregnancy after a rape and before conception, supposing that possibility existed, in ways that have nothing to do with taking the pill for weeks for fear of a potential rape. So “Rome” (read: the author of an old article) denies having ever said that contraceptives are OK in certain circumstances.

[QUAERITUR] But what was this new article about and why were they interviewing Palazzini after 30 years?

Bear with me.

There had been stories of women raped in Bosnia (nihil sub sole novi).  Fr. Bergamaschi, a Franciscan friar, had accused St. John Paul II of hypocrisy because the Great Pole had reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church on contraception to the point of exhorting raped women to keep their babies but, according to Bergamaschi, had also authorized nuns to take the pill.  So journalists began to ask questions. [Agere sequitur esse.]

With the typically half-horrified and half-snarky tone, the reporterette of La Repubblica has to write that the Vatican is in fact unwavering in its position on contraceptives, even in the case of rape. The inhumanity! She quotes the then vice-director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Piero Pennacchini. His words:

“The Holy See never issued texts authorizing women religious to make use of contraceptives, even if they run the risk of being raped”. “I know of no official document by the Holy See on this”.

Disappointed, the journalist evokes Fr. Efrem Tresoldi, a missionary who says that he doesn’t know the extent of the phenomenon. “Surely” there is “talk” of contraceptives among missionaries. “Certainly” some nuns have been told to make use of contraceptives, says Tresoldi.  So, there are disloyal confessors or superiors of religious orders who tell nuns to act contrary to the doctrine of the Church.

OK Father, and what else is new?  [Not much.]

Above all, since when are disloyal members of religious orders “the Pope”, or “Rome”? [When it fits.]

Unsatisfied, the reporterette turns to a missionary nun (she couldn’t find one from Bosnia so she asks one who had been in Africa for 12 years. Says the missionary nun: “Personally I have never heard of contraceptive pills”, “but there has been certainly the risk of (sexual) violence for many of us who lived though the great African upheavals. I don’t know if other sisters have been advised to take precautions”.

Back to Tresoldi, we are told that, of course, there is no official pronouncement, but that’s because John Paul II and his merciless minions are hypocrites who tell nuns to take the pill in secret even while they tell lay women to accept their fate and keep the baby.

That’s when the Repubblica hack turns to Card. Palazzini, hoping to save the day with the lies of 30 years ago.

A few months after this article and others of the same kind, in July 1993 the Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica (surprise!) [NOT] published what to this day remains the “doctrinal” foundation to the John Paul II- Bosnia nuns version of the myth: G. Perico, Stupro, Aborto e Anticoncezionali, volume III, Quaderno 3433, 3 luglio 1993.

Search all you want, this stream of the myth always goes back to this article.  [It sounds almost like the way all myths about Pius XII and the Jews go back to one source, a play in 1963, and that source was cobbled up by the KGB in a campaign of disinformation.]

No need to summarize it. Go read it if you want. I did.

He harkens back to the 1961 article and moves from there. [Surprise.] As happened with the Palazzini, Hurth and Lambruschini article, and even more given the firepower of the media of 30 years later, Perico’s piece sparkled lively discussions among moral theologians on the subject of contraception. Fine. But that’s not the point. That point is that they have nothing, not one thing they can come up with to support the notion that Paul VI or John Paul II ever allowed contraception, when the facts, the known and easily accessible, official, constant and binding pronouncements of the Church show the exact contrary.

Discussions are NOT the teaching of the Church.

Off-the cuff-remarks are NOT the teaching of the Church.

This is why on my bended knees I beg you all, Fathers, check your facts and, in John Wayne’s immortal words:

“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much”.

So: Who is going to tell Pope Francis that he should stop doing these stupid, self -indulgent mid-air Press conferences? They are doing enormous damage to the credibility of Holy Mother Church.

BTW, that last paragraph is  Stramentarius, not Father Zed.


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February 19th, 2016

The Bloody Question for 2016

In the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England,  “the Bloody Question” was put to Catholic priests who fell into the hands of the authorities. It was some variant of this: “If the Pope were to invade England, whom would you support—Pius V or Her Majesty?” If he answered “the Pope”, he became a candidate for hanging, drawing and quartering; if he replied “the Queen”, he showed himself to be a disloyal Catholic.

Radio-Telefis Eireann and other media outlets have an updated version of this device, which they put to bishops and priests who agree to be interviewed about the Eighth Amendment. It goes like this: “Can you oppose the  Amendment and still be a Catholic in good standing?”  If you say No, you’re an uncaring dogmatist; if you say Yes, then it’s OK for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abort.  The media began  began using this dodge  at the time of the original Pro-Life Referendum in 1983, and Morning Ireland used it again yesterday in an interview with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

You would think that by now the archbishop’s media handlers (I hope he has some?) would have prepared His Grace for this Bloody Question, which was bound to be asked. He muffed it hopelessly,  launching into an obfuscating  apologia about the necessity for reflection on “the kind of society in which we live” , the needs of the marginalised, social housing etc. The question of the Eighth Amendment was all important, he said, but he insisted it was up to the conscience of the individual whether to support candidates who wished to overturn it. It was “not his job to give guidance on whom to vote for”. People needed to “grow up morally”.

Consummate diplomat that he is, Dr Martin seems determined to avoid attracting the ire of the RTE-Irish Times axis. This is why he doesn’t follow the example of Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, both of whom have come out quite strongly in support of candidates who wish to keep the Amendment. (They haven’t named names, of course: that really would be to engage in “pulpit politics”.)

It’s not for a layman to tell the clergy how to respond to the Bloody Question; but if they agree to go on air it does seem to me that the only way to deal with this is by short-circuiting it. For instance, they might begin by pointing out that this is a question of killing the innocent, and then  tell their interrogator that they can’t understand how any serious Catholic could vote for anyone who wishes to facilitate such an atrocity. It could also be pointed out that the measure has saved thousands of lives  in the past quarter of a century.

I’ ve  just seen this gratifyingly  blunt response by Pope Francis, on the plane back from Mexico:

Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.

Now why couldn’t Archbishop Martin have said something like that?







February 15, 2016

Praying to be declared a ‘hate crime’

Some commentators in England are getting all hot and bothered about the appointment of sports commentator Dan Walker,  an evangelical Christian (what I would call a Low Church Protestant)  to the BBC Breakfast show. They think he may distort important new stories because of his faith. I think that is grotesquely bigoted, and I greatly enjoyed what the blogger Eccles has to say in his post today:

Following the news that the distinguished atheist Richard Dawkins has suffered a mild stroke (fear not, he will soon recover, and the only after-effects will be an inability to speak coherently, so no change there)… following this news, the Church of England, together with other organizations, has encouraged people to pray for Richard and his family (Romana, K9 the dog, and his hive of honey-bearing bees). The main argument from the Christian perspective is that Richard needs a bit more time to get his act together before going to meet his Maker, so let’s give it to him.

Justin Welby praying
The arch-troll of Canterbury, deliberately offending atheists.
However, supporters of Dawkins have accused such Christians of trolling, and it is clear that the only way this situation can be resolved is if praying for atheists is declared to be a “hate crime”. Police will be given the powers to raid private homes and confiscate laptops in the search for prayer lists and other evidence of “hate prayers”.
Already it is considered culturally insensitive to wish people “Happy Christmas”, rather than “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”, and those of my readers who annually send Richard Dawkins a card saying “May you have a Holy and Blessed Christmas you silly old goat” should stop that sort of thing.
Personally, I welcome prayers from Christians. If people with less refined beliefs wish to pray to stone idols, sacred donkeys or Prince Philip, then I promise not to be offended.
Prince Philip worshippers
“O Prince Philip, bless thy servant Dawkins, we pray!”
In other news, it has been revealed that a genuine Christian, Dan Walker, has been appointed to host the BBC’s prestigious breakfast show Get off the Sofa, you Lazy Slob, and Go to Work.
This is a controversial appointment since not only is it virtually certain that Mr Walker is guilty of hate crime (praying) in his spare time, but also, since he is a Christian, he must believe that snakes can talk, that wine-making is done by pouring water into large pots, and that the blind can be cured by having mud rubbed into their eyes. No doubt also he believes in the great Sky Fairy, which no intelligent person has ever done – well, except for Shakespeare, Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Tolkien, … oh make your own list.Dan Walker
Clear off, Dan Walker ! We want someone impartial like Stephen Fry!

February 9th, 2016

Story Time: Squirreled Away

Well over a year ago I noted that a senior lecturer in sociology (what else?) had alleged on the BBC radio programme Thinking Aloud that the station’s   Gardener’s Question Time  was “riddled with racist overtones”.  It was,  said Dr Ben Pitcher,   full of  “racial meanings”, and all those references to soil purity and non-native species were promoting nationalist and fascist beliefs.

Dr Pitcher believes the programme was connected with the crisis in white identity in multicultural Britain. Apparently people are ashamed to be overtly racist so they conceal their perverted ideas behind all this gardening talk.

I wondered how this head-banger had ever secured a senior lecturing post at a British University, felt glad that I lived in Ireland rather than Britain, then forgot about this ridiculous affair.

Some months previously I had congratulated  The Salisbury Review, one of my favourite publications, on the consistently high quality of its articles. In a gracious acknowledgement  they asked me to circulate some of their articles in the hope of gaining more subscribers.  Fairly recently they published this  splendid satire on  British current affairs programmes in general and  Dr Pitcher in particular. It’s by Christopher Hart, lead theatre critic and book reviewer for the Sunday Times.

Dr Gary Glubb scanned his article one last time and then pasted it into his email and pressed send. And it was with warm satisfaction that he read it again the next day in the newspaper; indeed, in Britain’s most progressively misanthropic of newspapers, imbued not with a jovial relish for what man is, but an earnest faith in what he yet might be – given a little prodding here and there.

Only two days’ later, thanks to the article, he was on the panel of the BBC’s most combative and exhilarating current affairs programme, being grilled by the eminent host and rather enjoying it. If this was what it meant to be a media don, it could rather appeal to him.

‘Are you seriously suggesting, Dr Glubb, that even our gardening programmes are riddled with, as you call it, “poisonous, unconscious racist terminology, based on a primitive terror of the alien and the Other”?’

‘Yes I am.’ His voice sounded crisp, confident in his own ears. ‘Gardening discourse is filled with terms like native species, alien invaders, and more worrying still, a constant urging to root out and eliminate those which are non-native. Because they are taking over, pushing out the native species – which for some unspecified reason, are valued more highly.’

‘They’re more local ones,’ said Ted.

‘Ted?’ said the host.

Ted gathered himself. Dr Glubb waited patiently. Ted was some so-called wildlife expert from some racist backwater in Lincolnshire or somewhere. The other members of the panel were a fat, alcoholic, supposedly funny right-wing columnist called Roy Licker, brought on in the interests of balance, and Mercy Ogumboh, the large, beaming, much-loved Labour MP for Tottenham. It was true that in a recent interview she had appeared to be unable to say who the Foreign Secretary was, and there was some business to do with a missing £100,000 grant in her constituency; but nevertheless she was much loved.

‘The local ones,’ said Ted, ‘are what the bees like. I mean, they like Himalayan balsam too, but that’s an invader, I spent all summer clearing it out of our river. But that’s not racist, I got nothing against Himalayans as such.’

‘What do you mean by Himalayans?’ snapped Dr Glubb. ‘Tibetans, Indians, Nepalese –there are dozens of different ethnic groups who live in the Himalayas, yet you lump them all together in one single, amorphous mass of ‘foreigners,’ in a way that is itself, frankly, more than a little racist.’

‘I didn’t mean that,’ muttered Ted, but he was drowned out by applause for Dr Glubb’s salient point from the live audience. The audience for this programme was generally pretty sound.

Mercy Ogumboh applauded as well and glared at Ted.

Ted began to sweat profusely. His mate Jim had said it was a mistake to go on telly. ‘You might as well stick a skewer up your arse and roast yourself, Ted,’  he’d said.

‘So,’ said the host –David Fairtrade –‘how should we be talking about these so-called alien species? And what should we be doing about them?’

‘Welcome them with open arms,’ slurred Roy Licker. ‘Give ’em council housing and free medical treatment, same as all the others.’

The audience gasped.

Mercy Ogumboh folded her arms. ‘That is disgosting.’

‘Yes, Roy,’ said David, leaping gallantly to her defence, ‘satire by all means, but let’s not be offensive.’

‘Talking of which,’ said Dr Glubb, reaching for a piece of paper –this was his masterstroke, he was sure –‘here is a quote from a column Roy Licker wrote only two weeks ago.’

‘Don’t remember it,’ said Roy. ‘Ancient history.’

Dr Glubb read, ‘They’re noisy, colourful, aggressive, they upset the neighbours, breed like mad and they drive out the natives. I’d take a shotgun to them and wipe out the lot. Yes, I’m talking about the menace of the African parakeets that have now taken up residence in London’s elegant Kensington Gardens. Now how’s that for racism?’

‘That is rather shocking,’ said David Fairtrade.

‘But they’re parakeets,’ said Ted. ‘You can’t be racist about parakeets. Only about people.’

‘It’s ironic,’ said Roy Licker, belching softly.

‘Irony,’ said Dr Glubb, ‘is the mask the English always put on when expressing the most unacceptable opinions or making the crudest generalisations. This is far too serious a subject for irony. This is about people’s lives –and deaths.’

‘And parakeets’, said Ted. ‘Deaths, I mean.’

He really was a bumpkin. What was he even doing on this panel? Sometimes, thought Dr Glubb, the BBC’s policy of inclusiveness went too far.

Mercy Ogumboh said, ‘And what about the black squirrels?’

‘You mean the melanistic squirrels?’ said David Fairtrade.

‘I mean the black ones. They are shooting them now. Saying they are not native. It makes my blood run cold.’

‘Just to be clear,’ said David, ‘these are grey squirrels that have mutated, for reasons we don’t quite understand, and now appear very dark, even black. And those who want to re-establish red squirrels have started to cull them, along with the greys.’

‘It is racism,’ said Mercy Ogumboh, ‘pure and simple. Just like the slave trade.’

The audience applauded loudly.

‘Dr Glubb –a final word from you?’

Be pithy, he thought. Be memorable. ‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘This moral panic about black squirrels, and this barbaric extermination policy, is akin to our stigmatising of black teenagers. As if they were all muggers or something.’

‘I’ve been mugged by squirrels,’ slurred Roy Licker.

But David was wrapping it up, thanking the panel members, and the show was over.

The producer told Dr Glubb that he had been brilliant.

‘Between you and I,’ she said, ‘you were the best one on it.’

Dr Glubb glowed.

He was still glowing when he got out of the BBC car at the end of his one-way street and set off walking the

last fifty yards to his flat.

He was just walking under the last plane tree, fishing for his door keys, when a six-foot squirrel stepped out from behind it and blocked his path. Its eyes gleamed yellow, but other than that it was a pure and glossy black from top to toe.

It was such a realistic costume that he couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘now that’s pretty good. You gave me quite a start. What joker’s behind this?’

‘No talkin’, bruv. Just hand it over. I want your cash, your iPod and your trainers.’

The chap in the squirrel costume spoke a perfect street-London patois. It was very funny.

‘These trainers?’ said Dr Glubb cheerfully. ‘Are you quite sure?’

The squirrel glanced down at Dr Glubb’s cheap old plimsolls. As his eyes moved they caught the sodium streetlight on their lenses, those big yellow eyes, and the eminent sociologist had to admit, the whole thing really was extraordinarily realistic. And when the squirrel spoke, somehow the muscles in his throat actually moved, and his jaws, and he could see flecks of saliva in the corners of its mouth. The huge incisors too were bright and wet.

‘OK, forget the trainers,’ said the squirrel. ‘Just hand the rest over.’

‘I have to say,’ said Dr Glubb, ‘this outfit must have cost you a fortune. Where did you get it? Is this an art thing? Are we being filmed?’

For a moment, something like amusement flickered in the squirrel’s eyes. ‘Not the first time someone’s thought this was a costume,’ he said. ‘Now hand me all your shit or there’s gonna be grief.’

And he stepped nearer.

Glossy black, over six feet tall, and those incisors, as long as carving knives –for a moment, despite himself, Dr Glubb felt a ridiculous shiver of fear. He could even smell the animal –the man, rather –something musky and woody and rank all at once. Like a forest floor in autumn, after rain. What was going on?

‘Last chance, bruv,’ said the squirrel, glancing rapidly around to make sure they were still alone. ‘I got places to go. Cash and iPod, now.’

‘Now just a minute,’ said Dr Glubb, ‘you’re not seriously suggesting –’

Someone was coming. Skipping, it sounded like. Dr Glubb glanced back, and saw to his amazement another huge black squirrel, turning to race across the darkened street and then straight up the trunk of a London plane tree.

He began to shake, and he bowed his head as if in defeat or supplication. The squirrel in front of him rose up to his full height, towering over the quailing grublike figure, and then he opened his jaws and closed them upon the learned head of Dr Gordon Glubb of the Sociology Department of the University of Brent. The eminent sociologist’s skull popped and crumbled into dusty fragments like the shell of a rotten hazelnut.


February 4th, 2016

Dominic Greer: The Man with a Grip on Reality

The voice at the other end of the phone was North Dublin,  commanding, and a bit loud. Could be a senior NCO in the Irish army, I thought, or possibly a Garda. A big, athletic man, anyway. Probably in his early sixties, like me.

Dominic Greer had read my account in the Brandsma Review of the three-day walking pilgrimage from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres which takes place every Pentecost, and wanted to know more. How did one get involved? How much would it cost? Were all the Masses in Latin? Was a Pontifical High Mass celebrated actually inside Chartres Cathedral? Did one  pray lots of rosaries on the hoof? How did you get fed? And washed?

His final questions were asked slowly, with great emphasis.: What about training walks? Surely you need to build up to it gradually, to be capable of covering 25 miles in a single day?

Well yes, I replied, it’s just as well to do that. Around about March, I begin going  up to the Dublin/Wicklow mountains,  increasing the distance and gradients week by week. (This wasn’t strictly true , but it was certainly what I was aiming for.)

Dominic was impressed. Could he join me on my next walk? He didn’t have a car.

Yes of course, I responded, my heart sinking a little at the thought of this hulking individual racing up Lugnaquilla, leaving me panting far below.

We agreed to meet at Glenageary station, Dominic having walked from his home in Marino to the Dart at Killester.

So one cold, blustery Tuesday morning in early spring, on to  the platform at Glenageary stepped a little  old gnome in his mid-70s, of  about five feet two, the size of  my mother. He was wearing a stout pair of boots, leggings, a thick overcoat with a pink plastic cape on top, a scarf, and a woolly hat. On his back was a massive heavy rucksack, which I later discovered accompanied him everywhere.

Would he even be able for this outing, let alone Chartres? I wondered..

I drove along the old coach road towards Roundwood, parking in a layby near the path up to Djouce mountain. Dominic and I got out, trudged up the track and reached the open moorland. When we encountered the final steep approach to the summit, it was as much as I could do to keep up with him. At the top we ate our sandwiches. (Dominic insisted on taking half an hour over this, while I shivered impatiently.) At last he had finished, and we began our descent.

The wind was by now blowing ferociously, and for the first time I found myself outpacing Dominic, who was staggering to keep upright. He had difficulty with the steep downward gradient, which was clearly troubling his ankles. (Now that I’m in my late 70s I have the same problem.)

We chatted all the way home in the car.  I began to realise that this was a man of formidable intellect, an impression that increased  exponentially on subsequent “training walks”.  Apologetics lessons  had led to an abiding  interest in  scholastic philosophy and theology. His knowledge of English literature was eclectic and impressive, and I’m told by those in a position to know that his fluency in the Irish language was excellent—for a Dubliner.

His favourite authors were Boswell (Life of  Johnson) and P.G. Wodehouse, from both of whom he could quote extensively. He would entertain me with the sayings of Dr Johnson, Bertie Wooster, and Jeeves, all delivered in  the same deep Marino tones. “Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig. Why all this childish jealousy of the power of the Crown? The Crown has not power enough!” Or perhaps he might refer to Bertie’s purple  socks and his  “rather fruity scarlet cummerbund” which made Jeeves shy like a startled mustang.

Listening to him, I began to realise that my own rather expensive education, for which my parents had made a considerable sacrifice, was not really superior  to the one the Irish Christian Brothers had given Dominic at Synge Street in the 1930s.  It had stimulated his intellectual curiosity, as well as his piety—and if an education doesn’t do that, it’s no more than a possible key to a lucrative job. Which from the perspective of eternity, is not worth that much.

Dominic came on the Chartres pilgrimage perhaps half a dozen times. He was the oldest Irish pilgrim, and became something of a mascot. Sometimes he would fall several miles behind the Irish chapter, until the French co-ordinators would order him on to a  bus, much to his chagrin. On one occasion I myself and a middle-aged lady fell out, overcome by the heat on the dusty path across La Beauce. Whom should we see, still striding manfully up the hill, but Dominic Greer, who marched right past us, walking stick in hand. It was then I began to realise that my own Chartres pilgrimage days might be numbered.

That stick had quite a history.  It had been given to me by my friend Peter Maskens, a London policeman who became a social worker. His main hobby  was the making of walking sticks. I had lent this one to Dominic and hadn’t the heart to claim it back.  It was a really fine stick, made from a blackthorn from Epping Forest, topped with a sheep’s horn for a handle, fixed to the shaft with strong black plaited twine tied in a Turk’s head knot. At first it was rather too big for Dominic, but it gradually wore down and became shorter and shorter until it was only just long enough for him to use.

Dominic worked as a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture. He never married. He told me he had once lost his heart to a girl, but she married someone else and that, as far as he was concerned, was that. The Irish chapter was greatly amused when, at one of the pilgrimage campsites, he became extremely friendly with a young woman doctor, a member of the Lithuanian chapter. Dominic confided  to me that for the first time in half a century, his affections were somewhat engaged. “If I’d been 40 years younger…” They corresponded for several years.

All his life he lived in the same house in Marino, which had belonged to his father and mother. When they died, he and his brother and sister left his parents’ bedroom unoccupied, and he and his brother continued to share a room.

He was a man of equable temperament. The only time I saw him quite angry was on the Chartres pilgrimage when the British and Irish chapters started singing insulting songs and throwing water at each other. Dominic protested loudly that this was no way to behave on a pilgrimage, and peace was quite quickly restored.

He had no time for the organisational rivalry between different associations promoting the traditional liturgy, which has sometimes been quite bitter. He supported both sides generously, and attended their meetings as well as their Masses. At one AGM a hothead suggested that an apology should be demanded from a rival association for some real or imagined slight. “What you need to do,” said Dominic, “is to get a grip on reality.”

Reality caught up with Dominic unpleasantly some  years ago when he was collecting for St Vincent de Paul outside a supermarket in Fairview one January afternoon.  A gale gust blew him off his feet and he fell heavily to the pavement, fracturing his pelvis. He  recovered sufficiently to  hobble around with the aid  of sticks, but for the past couple of years  had to retire to a nursing home, and get around in a wheelchair. He continued to attend the Traditional Latin Mass, thanks to some good friends who picked him up every Sunday, and took an active interest in all the pro-life organisations, including Life,  SPUC, the Pro-Life Campaign, Family and Life, and Youth Defence.

Dominic died in late January, fortified with the rites of the Church. He was in his early 90s.  I understand that he has left me all his books, dozens of which he had originally bought from me through Francis Book Sales in the Brandsma Review. I’m touched and grateful, and I’ll enjoy looking through them: but wherever shall I keep them?

Anima eius, et omnium fidelium defunctorum per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace!


February 2nd, 2016

Meet the Real-Life Cat Woman

The columnist Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph used to muse that whenever he invented a particularly outlandish absurdity someone, somewhere would propose the same nonsense in all seriousness. I’m not in the same league (nowhere near) as the great Peter Simple, but now I know from experience exactly what he meant.

Let Hibernicus of the Irish Catholics Forum explain:

Stramentarius  recently wrote a satirical piece on his blog recalling how when he was a child he wanted to be a cat, and how the growing acceptance of transexualism suggests he might now achieve his ambition by fitting himself out with a tail and whiskers and demanding to be accepted in his own self-image. Stramentarius should have realised that  satire is a dangerous business, because the apparently absurd may be seriously propounded.

And now that’s exactly what’s happened! This is what Hibernicus found on the on-line version of the Daily Telegraph:

We probably all feel a bit like a sleepy housecat when we have to get up for work in the morning. This Norwegian woman has taken that feeling to the next level. Nano claims she realised she was a cat when she was 16 years old, and has adopted feline mannerisms since.

The 20-year-old has opened up about her life as a puss, describing how she has a superior sense of hearing and sight which allows her to hunt mice in the dark.

She made the revelation in a YouTube video, which has been viewed over 100,000 times.

Nano claims to possess many feline characteristics including a hatred of water and the ability to communicate simply by meowing.

The young woman shows off her cat characteristics by wearing fake ears and an artificial tail.

‘I realised I was a cat when I was 16 when doctors and psychologists found out what was “the thing” with me. Under my birth there was a genetic defect,’ she explains in the video.

As they walked through Oslo’s central station, the presenter asked Nano what she could hear and see that a normal person might not.

‘Suitcases rolling on the ground,’ she says, ‘Keys clinking in pockets. People with ice under their shoes.’


Then all of a sudden, she lets out a hiss and takes a step back.

‘There is a dog over there,’ she explains. ‘Sometime I hiss when meeting dogs in the street. It’s because of their behaviour and my instinct automatically reacts by hissing.’

The cat woman wears a pair of pink fluffy paws with which to groom herself, and feels especially like doing so when she is in contact with water.

When asked if she was born as the wrong species, she said: ‘Yes, born in the wrong species.’

Nano prefers to crawl around on her hands and knees, and paws at windows when she wants to go outside.

She also said, despite their size, she can sleep in the sink and on windowsills.

‘It’s also obvious that I’m a cat when I start purring and meowing,’ she explains. ‘And walking around on four legs and stuff like that.’

 The cat also claims to have night vision – but has never caught a mouse.

‘I can see better in the dark than in daylight. That’s no problem,’ she says. ‘I have been running a lot after animals that can be seen in the shadows.’

She has a friend called Sven, who has a cat personality.

They meow at each other in the park.

‘He has something called “personalities” and one of them is a cat,’ she says. ‘He is human but has someone in his head that is a cat, and I am born as a cat.’.



The young woman said her life as a cat was ‘exhausting’ but she doesn’t want to live as a human.

‘My psychologist told me I can grow out of it, but I doubt it,’ she concludes. ‘I think I will be a cat all my life.’

Sorry about the sloppy appearance of this piece, but  try as I may I can’t sort it out.