29Jan Mary Ruane on not allowing anonymous comments

One of my concerns about your website is the number of comments on it from people who use pin names or indeed as we see on this page use terms like ‘From Someone Familiar with Maynooth’ and ‘A woman from Ballina’.

While the comments made by such contributors may be worthwhile, interesting and true, they lose all credibility when they are made by faceless or in this case nameless people. If people feel passionately about any issue then they deserve a platform to air their view – but not behind the cover of anonymous emails.

I don’t often agree with Brendan Hoban’s view but I respect his right to make them but more importantly his honesty in putting his name to them. I distrust anyone who won’t do this when making public comment.

I have regularly read the comments on this site and despair at the amount of them left unsigned. (Putting Mary or Tom or Martin is unsigned in my books.) It’s a feature of your website I disagree strongly with and believe that it prevents a lot of people from contributing.

It’s well known if people can voice comments anonymously the pen is much swifter in making statements.

While insisting people use their own name and you verifying they are who they say they are –  before putting up their comments, may cut back on the amount of comments which you can display – I believe it would improve the validity, standard and worth of those that are displayed. It would also make your site a more credible platform for the airing of views on all topics covered.

Anything less I believe is of little service to anyone.

52 Responses

  1. DHG

    But Mary, how do you expect the website to verify names to people? Are you suggesting that individuals wishing to comment should first submit a scan of their passport or drivers licence? Because anything less than that could easily count as unverifiable. I can set an email up in the name of Jo Blogs, sign my name as such and even click “verify” on an email sent to the Jo Blogs account, and still be posting under a fake name. Even if you had a system similar to paypal, where a text message gets sent to your mobile phone, with a code that has to be inputted a long with your email address and password, that still doesn’t verify that you are who you say you are. (paypal manage that aspect by putting a coded deposit in to ones bank account and request the code that shows up on ones bank statement – but that is clearly impossible for ACP to do.)
    Don’t get me wrong – I prefer to read comments from named, preferably entire named, correspondents, particularly in the case of anyone speaking with authority – but I don’t think it’s really a pre-requisite to making a valid comment. And I’m not entirely sure I agree that it takes away from the credibility of the comment – if a comment is insightful and valid, it is valid no matter what name makes it. At the end of the day, many people who comment here, are, like me, individuals who live in small enough communities, who are not known much outside of those communities – what difference does it make if I sign myself as DHG or Danielle Hicks-Gallagher? Unless you are from around my area, chances are, you don’t know me, nor ever will. Does my name make my comment more or less valid? Does yours? In honesty, for me, no. (and indeed, do you trust that the above is indeed my name, as ACP have not verified it!)
    Also, out of curiosity, do you therefore suggest that whistleblowers, and witnesses phoning Crime Stoppers and the like, should have to be verified in who they are, and give their name publicly? It may be that some people who feel they have a contribution to make to this site feel that they cannot do so under their full, or real name because their views are radically different to the majority, or because they do not want to be known for speaking out. (I’m thinking particularly of the poster ‘Martin’, who, some time ago when this topic was brought up in comments, added that he was still discerning a vocation, and he did not want his views to be taken against him, should he discern that he does have a calling.
    Lastly, you suggest that by not having such a system in place, ACP is preventing people from commenting. I would say that, if such a system were in place, it would lose a great deal more – from laity who feel unknown and therefore feel no need to sign a full name, to priests who maybe don’t feel safe commenting in the current climate.
    The middle ground might be if the site had membership accounts, which could be set up and verified at meetings of the ACP, for those who wish to have the authority of a verified name under which to post – the nature of their posts could look somewhat different to posts made by site visitors, so readers can differentiate between “this comment is made by someone known to the ACP leadership, the response to it has been made by an individual who may or may not be called Jo Blogs.”

  2. Simmary

    So, my name is Mary, and I’m a religious sister. The moderator knows my email address, and as it happens I wrote to the Association in its very early stages. I believe I gave my full name and some details of where I live at that time.

    I think this plea sounds more plausible than it really is. Not every contributor is posting an opinion. Sometimes the post concerns facts, details of what has happened or is happening at present. In some circumstances to release a name would amount to identifying a parish or diocese before the wide world. This would not always be prudent or just.

    Suppose a question was mooted on a topic like Catholic schools. A Head Teacher may have some very pertinent facts to describe a problem, but if obliged to reveal a genuine name, the school authorities, Governors, colleagues and parents would be able to pinpoint the writer. The result may be a loss of employment. Is that fair?

    The alternative is that everyone would be deprived of the useful information on topic that could have been available. Unfortunate, surely?

    My own concealment arises from my parish situation. My parish priest has had a very checkered time since his ordination not many years ago, and he is currently set upon a course in disobedience to the explicit command of the Bishop. Why should I provide information that would “place” him, the Bishop and the Parish? Of course I don’t think that’s necessary or desirable at this time.

    Most contributors to this discussion blog are very thoughtful and saying something they think worthwhile. I don’t remember comments such as “Too true,” commendably brief though that is!


  3. Martin

    Mary, the fact is, that is not how the internet works. It’s not even how letters to the editor of newspapers works as you can give a false name and address, and even give them your mobile so they can phone you to check you are who you say you are… There are many very good reasons why people refuse to use their full or real name on the web. Take me for instance: I am a faithful Catholic who might like, one day, to enter religious life, or else to work for the Church in some capacity. I fear that if I use my real name here, or on any other site, people with power will read my comments and will later make things difficult for me. That’s just the way it is. For as long as, to use Archbishop Martin’s term, ”dark forces” reign within the Church, sometimes it is better to lurk in the shadows rather than exposing oneself needlessly. Your mission might be more effectively achieved using a lower profile, rather than blowing one’s cover. That’s just my reason for keeping my identity hidden. I am sure there are other valid reasons. And, as I said at the start, your full disclosure concept is simply not how the internet works. For those who feel confident to give their full name, great, For those who don’t feel so confident, are they to be denied a voice or an opinion? One final point, and one I made before, is that no name given on such a site as this can be assumed to be real. I could just as easily sign my comments Justin Webb. Or Noreen Murphy. Or Elaine Paige. See? All I need is a valid email address (and I can set one of those up in less than five minutes using a name of my own choosing) and hey presto, I have my own new identity. Look at what people say, I say, and value the content of their posts, rather than who is saying what. That’s what I think. Of course, the admin of this site can see which email address is consistently associated with which user, but that is as much as can be discerned.

  4. Sine nomine

    I don’t agree. This is the internet, and people should be allowed the freedom of anonymous comments. The internet has given a voice to the little person, who is essentially nameless. Comments should be valued because of their content, not the name of the commenter. A good moderator judges the value, and decides to include or exclude. Part of the interest in this site is the wide range of free comments one finds here; to restrict this would greatly reduce the freedom of expression, and the usefulness of the whole operation.

    By the way, who is Mary Ruane? Actually I don’t really care. What I care about is what she has said, which I believe to be misguided.

  5. Eddie Finnegan

    I’m in at least 90% agreement (whatever that unfounded phrase may mean) with Mary Ruane on this. I’ve never had much respect for newspapers where letters to the editor end with “Name & Address with the Editor” or “Disgusted Tunbridge Wells” (Yes, I live in London, Westminster Archdiocese, Harringay’s St Augustine of Canterbury Parish before they abolished us without so much as a ‘by your leave’.) When I write to the ‘Editor’ or ‘Letters Editor’ of the Irish Times, I’m happy to provide full address with post code, two contact phone numbers and, of course, my email address. I’d be equally happy to do the same for the ACP website – though I’m sure the volunteer Manager/Moderator of this site could do without all the finicky fiddling with verification of every post.

    And yet, and yet, and yet . . .
    I’m sure “Mary Ruane” is as real and with at least as trustworthy bona fides as “Eddie Finnegan”, though I’d guess there are more Mary Ruanes than Eddie Finnegans in Ireland and the Diaspora. The problem is that, apart from the little incidental hints we may drop about ourselves in our posts, the name may carry as little credibility as the pseudonym. I feel, after a year or so, I know ‘Martin’, ‘Shane’ (partly from his own historically interesting website), ‘Fr S’ and ‘Sean(Derry)’ better than quite a few who, apparently, sail under their own names. Occasionally I wonder whether ‘Sean(Derry)’ and ‘Sean O’Connell’ are one and the same – though I suspect the former is younger than the latter, unless it’s a double-bluff!

    But I agree that the cover of anonymity may too easily slip the bit & bridle off our tongues, pens, keyboards. A point I thought I was making just before Christmas in response to someone called ‘SagartBÁC’ on some aspect of the apparently contemptuous tyranny of Diarmuid Martin’s regime. Whereas someone called ‘Mary Burke’ (who sometimes gets annoyed with ‘Martin’ over his nom de plume) diagnosed my own expression as not only beneath contempt but a sure symptom of my bilious, ranting nature, full of unpurged wickedness.

    I think if we lay contributors to this site were to be a little more conscious that the ACP was set up as “an association for Catholic priests who wish to have a forum and a voice to reflect, discuss and comment on issues affecting the Irish Church and society today,” and that therefore this website should reflect the association, we might have a better chance of the site avoiding the descent to the low level of unthinking and ill-informed comment characteristic of so many open sites – e.g. the slew of comments engendered by the Kennedy piece on Maynooth in the recent NCR issue.

    Unfortunately, as nature abhors a vacuum so too do faith related websites. While I see the broader point Mary Vallely was making recently (on why just an association for priests?), it seems to me that if far more of the parish priests of Ireland, and a few bishops as well,(including at least 100 of my Maynooth contemporaries) were active members of the ACP; and if a significantly critical mass of those members were on here regularly under their own names + email contacts, as well as writing their own weekly columns in the local or regional newspaper (like Brendan’s ‘Just a Thought’ in the Western People, or Pádraig Standún’s ‘Standún’s Station’ in the Connaught Telegraph, or until relatively recently Denis O’Callaghan in Cork papers and local radio, or Colm Kilcoyne in the Sunday Tribune), then this ACP would really be a voice for priests and laity alike, and this website would be worth clicking onto.

    Mea maxima culpa. At least two convoluted sentences. Don’t blame me – I was at Mass this morning.

  6. Association of Catholic Priests

    Comment by Brendan Hoban

    When we started the website I argued for opening it up to any and every kind
    of comment. And I’ve defended it against a number of Association of Catholic
    Priests members on the basis that if you get into the kitchen you have to be
    prepared to take the heat.

    Now I’m not too sure and Mary Ruane’s measured intervention finally
    convinces me – after giving this a lot of thought – that we need to have
    another look at the present ACP policy on putting up almost any and every

    The anonymous nature of the site has not worked as it has given a platform
    to those who can make vicious comments but don’t have to own them. This
    attracts the worst kind of participant and the lowest form of debate and
    cheeses off the middle ground of people. Is it any wonder that so few (in
    real terms) actually contribute to the site?
    Several members of the ACP who posted comments have said to me that they
    would never post another and have stopped contributing because of the
    personalised nature of some of the comments. It’s hard to blame them.

    Yes I know that we include advice about being respectful and all the rest of
    it but the truth is that people who hide behind an anonymity we give them
    have little or no interest in accepting such worthy conditions of debate.
    If someone hasn’t the courage to sign their names, their opinions are not
    worth having.

    I hesitate to advance this point at this time – though I’ve mulled over it
    for some time – because I might be said to have taken exception to the
    recent contribution of ‘A Woman from Ballina’. Some readers of the site may
    know that until a few weeks ago I was PP of Ballina. What they might not get
    were the personal gibes directed at me by our anonymous scribe under the
    guise of contributing to the debate. It is an unworthy contribution.

    While I am always happy to argue my case in the public forum I have
    absolutely no respect for people who use the protection of anonymity to make
    personal attacks on others.

    As far as I’m concerned, if anyone hasn’t the courage to sign their names
    then what they have to say is not worth listening to.

    We need a change of policy and I for one will be arguing for it.

  7. Pádraig McCarthy

    I agree that anonymous comments pose a problem. In the case Brendan Hoban mentions of the “Woman from Ballina”, there is no way of knowing whether it really was a comment from a woman of Ballina, of from another person using that pseudonym to make things more difficult for Brendan.
    There may perhaps be a case for allowing an exceptional comment under a pseudonym, if the matter is for some reason particularly sensitive and if the contributor establishes his/her identity with the webmaster. This, however, should be very much the exception.
    No system can give an absolute guarantee, of course, but if the website can effectively filter out personalised comments and attacks, then there should not normally be any fear for a contributor in giving a real name.

  8. Theodore Fink

    Those who choose to be anonymous have a valid reason to do so. Imbalance of power is the most common one. Excluding anonymous from sharing valuable information and thoughts is not a good idea. The powerless, intimidated and bullied may never be heard.

  9. Martin

    I think the suggestion proposed is a retrograde step, out of sync with the direction and positive nature of the web and one that will mean the little person, again, has no voice. Back to the catacombs for them little people.

    Personalised insults are forbidden by the 3 rules given to posters. It is up to a moderator to see to it that insulting comments are not published.

    I have borne in mind two things here: 1. that everyone is entitled to respect, and 2. that I am often addressing or at least being read by priests who are ordained by God, even if I disagree vehemently with their personal opinions. I remember that David didn’t take out King Saul when he had the chance, so I try to follow his example.

    If the ACP clamps down on freedom of speech on this site, then I can only see that as a repressive, and dare I say it, clericalist step, since one of the cries of the faithful is that we, the little people, have no voice in our parish or our diocese, and to be honest, the ACP site is one of the few places where I am able, and feel confident to air my views, even as I retain my identity for the valid reasons I’ve given earlier. This site is a forum and it would be sad to see it closed to the little people who wield no worldly power but do wield the sword of truth.

    I honestly think that if the 3 posting rules are followed and enforced, there is no need for any change to the site policy.

    Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
    Use appropriate language. Vulgarities, slurs and personalised insults may be edited.
    Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don’t aid the discussion.

  10. Mary O Vallely

    One of those self-help books was entitled,”Feel the fear and do it anyway,” wasn’t it? I never read it but unlike many, I have little or no fear of expressing my honest opinion because I have nothing to lose, neither postition nor status in the Church. I’m a 61 year old woman who feels that time is so short and we must try not to waste it. I agree that the anonymity of posters can cause problems. I am sorry for hurts caused to good men and women because of words written perhaps in hurried and unthinking anger. The difficulty with this medium is that words can be misinterpreted so easily when one is unable to see the facial expression, “hear” the tone and have to wait for some time before a response is printed. This whole issue of listening to each other is a new one for priests and laity. BTW I take Eddie’s point (curious as to where you hail from, Mr F!) about the small number of priests posting here. Is it fear of being branded a “dissenter?” That is extremely sad if so but then I am not in a position to judge.I may be aware of some of the pressures of priesthood but not all. May I suggest that any poster must add his/her email address and if a comment is deemed insulting or personal towards another then that debate can be continued privately between the two concerned? Yes, in an ideal world, each person should give his/her correct name but there may be valid reasons why they don’t. Let God be the judge.(not meaning to be preachy) It is important to keep the conversation going and we will all learn from our mistakes. I’m sure no one sets out to deliberately hurt another but if the email address was given then the offender would certainly understand because we could write and tell him/her so! To Brendan Hoban and the others who do so much work here voluntarily I salute you and praise the Spirit moving in each of you. Keep the hearts up! You are giving the rest of us HOPE. 🙂 Mary V / Mary O Vallely, Armagh city (maryov@btinternet.com)

  11. Brendan McCarthy

    I enjoy your website and agree with Brendan Hoban’s view that contributors should own what they say and use their real names. They should give verifiable email addresses and be contactable by the moderators.

    But very occasionally, someone may want, for good and responsible reasons, to remain anonymous. Perhaps a way around this is that those who feel a need for anonymity would first mail their comments to the moderators. The comments would only be posted if the moderators agreed that the writer should remain anonymous online (but, crucially, with her/his identity known to the moderators)

  12. Elaine O'Neill

    I’m very much in agreement with Mary on this point.
    I ‘m not sure that facilitating anonymous comments does anything for the church, for debate or indeed the agenda of the ACP. The internet may well be the place where all kinds of people let off steam on a whole range of issues but that doesn’t mean it should be part of the agenda of the ACP.

    You have a credible platform and website now and no doubt many log in to read your news items but the number of contributors is very small (it seems to be the same few all the time)
    This may well be because of the points Mary makes in her contribution.

    As a teacher for years I was driven demented by parents coming to me saying….’you know everyone is saying we should do….’ Eventually I decided to respond by saying well tell them to come to me and we can chat their idea through as adults rather than via messengers. It eliminated a lot of the problems.
    Once a view is owned – whether one agrees or disagrees with it – it always leads to more respectful engagement and puts both parties on the same footing.

    I have often wondered why so few of your ACP members actually contribute to your site.
    It’s not I’m sure that they don’t have views.
    I think Mary has answered my question.

  13. Martin

    Mary, you should never publicly post your email on a website as you have just done, because little email spambots (web-crawlers) crawl the internet, harvesting email addresses and placing them on spam lists for all sorts of hideous things.
    If you do wish to post your email publicly, it would be better to do it like this: mary1566 at hotmail dot com. That would offer some basic protection from spambots.

  14. DHG

    “They should give verifiable email addresses and be contactable by the moderators.” I’m quoting Brendan here, but I see a couple of comments along the same lines above.

    Verifiable how? As Martin has pointed out, an email address can be created in under five minutes to go with a “nom de plume”. Even if an ACP moderator sends a personal email to it, requesting a personal response, that is still not verifying that the owner of the email account truly shares the name accredited to the account. Are you suggesting that contributors provide phone numbers? But even then, I could provide my phone number, and a moderator could phone me up, and all that they will really know is that I’m female. And that could be quite a costly business for ACP, given that the website has contributors from the UK, the States, Austria… Short of emailing the moderator a scan of ones formal I.D, or only having accounts for people who turn up to ACP meetings, there is no way to completely verify the identity of any contributor to an online forum.

    I completely respect – why – a number of people have said they would like to see comments made by “real” people, but no one has yet managed to suggest a credible, “do-able” method of – how – to go about this.

  15. Soline Humbert

    It seems to me that there is definitely a very different energy on a website with a lot of anonymous comments. I personally strongly prefer the energy that goes with openness.I suspect many others do too.
    Perhaps the ratio of anonymous to named contributions could be reduced?

  16. Sean (Derry)

    So who is Mary Ruan? … I don’t know.
    The addition of the surname ‘Ruan’ doesn’t enlighten me any further than had she just used her Christian name ‘Mary’. It does not, in my opinion, make her post gain any extra credibility by including a surname nor would it make her post ‘lose all credibility’ if she had just called herself ‘Mary’.
    However the use of a pseudonym such as ‘Someone Familiar with Maynooth’ and ‘A woman from Ballina’ may offer a little insight into the writer (even if it only adds to suspicion to his or her true idenity or motives).
    Personally it doesn’t really bother me if a comment is anonymous or not but it would probably be useful if the poster mentioned a little about who he or she is. ‘Martin’ for example has stated his position in previous posts. I have stated in an early post that I am married with two young children. I do not belong to any ‘group’ but I am opposed to campaigns for women priests, married priests and novelty being introduced into the Mass and litrugy (I realise I am in the minority on this site and probably in the wider community). The fact that my opinions go against the flow should they be excluded?
    (By the way Eddie I am a different ‘Sean’ from ‘Sean O’Connell’)
    I also think that it would be helpful if, at the very least, the writer mention if he or she is a lay person, a priest, a nun, a seminarian etc.

  17. Sean (Derry)

    PS. thanks to the submissions from the seminarians, their comments certainly shine a light in the dark tunnel and strengthens my hope for the future of the Church.

  18. Joseph O'Leary

    Mary Ruane is right. Anonymity is the plague of the Church today — as in anonymous delations, and the scurrility of the anonymi who fill comboxes on Catholic sites, and the secretive and manipulative operations of the rightwing groupuscules that are attaining disproportionate power in the church. I have just read “Der heilige Schein” (The Sacred Show) the shocking but remarkably honest and convincing expose by David Berger, former editor of “Theologisches”. It documents rampant antisemitism and hypocritical homophobia throughout the entire galaxy of rightwing groups on which the Vatican relies for its reconquista of Europe. Had he written under a pseudonym the book would be worthless. Priests in general are coy and cagy about their views, and in particular about their sexuality or sexual lives. On their silence and cowardice the fanatics are thriving and are painting the church as a monstrous organization. Unless priests can stand up and speak loudly and clearly, and in their own names, they are doing nothing for the health of the church and the welfare of those who are victims of the fundies. Martin uses the arguments of seminarians — I can’t be open and honest now, because I have to get ordained; but after ordination, boy!, then I’ll speak out — and they never do.

    Mary Ruane’s advice should be followed. It would lessen the volume but greatly increase the quality and interest of this site.

  19. Margaret Lee

    Yes, I agree with Mary Ruane and I confess that I have written posts on this web site anonymously. I thank Mary Ruane for reminding me to have a bit of courage.

  20. Martin

    The Lord sometimes told people to be quiet about His identity. Sometimes it makes sense. I would also be interested in hearing suggestions about how the identities of commentors are to be policed.
    And like Sean (Derry) said, I feel like I know a right bit about certains posters, yet precious little about the others. All that is missing from my contributions is my name and address, but why would I give out those things online? And also, anything you do online is typically permanent, although a polite email request to webmasters can work wonders. But other material, once thrown into the web, is effectively permanent and out of your control. I spent about a month de-Googling myself last year. It’s not impossible. But I have views which are not popular and if I might have a vocation or maybe wanna work in the Church, why should I risk littering the internet with personally linked comments which some would hold as extreme/right-wing and lots of other scurilous tags they would love to stick on me? I am sorry to say it, but on this issue, the ACP are out of touch with the reality of the web and also on the rights of virtual Catholics.

  21. Sean O'Driscoll

    Interesting mix of reaction here. Like in other sites where comments are welcomed, the moderator has the power to block anyone who does not adhere to the rules of commenting as outlined for this site. That should prevent anyone who wants to make inappropriate attacks hiding behind an anonymous e mail. I think we ( I am an ACP member) should welcome all comment whether verified or anonymous, if it is fair comment and not offensive.

  22. Eileen

    I appreciate the concerns about anonymity but I suffer from a condition which I call ‘cyberphobia.’ This arises from an experience that caused me on-going mental torture because I signed my name to a certain justice campaign in a country, with an oppressive regime, where I lived and worked for many years. I was terrified that my friends and associates might be under threat because of my involvement. In an ACP context, my fears may be irrational but they are, nevertheless, real! One of the moderators of this website knows my identity, anyway. Besides, it’s no big deal.

  23. Joe O'Leary

    Martin, you are silencing yourself, in the glorious tradition of clerical self-censorship, which people learn at entry level in seminaries. I think that in the present climate this is a suicidal policy.

  24. Paddy Ferry

    Mary Ruane has started a very important debate here and, of course, in an ideal world everyone would feel able and free to openly declare their identity when posting their comments and opinions. However, sadly, we do not live in an ideal world and, more to the point, we most certainly do not live in an ideal church. We have to accept that freedom of speech and the right to express loyal dissent are not things that are valued in our current model of Catholic Church. We have plenty examples of good men being crushed and silenced simply because they expressed their honestly held views. I don’t get The Furrow but I believe a priest recently contributed an article openly and honestly challanging our church’s official line on homosexuality. I have to say fair play to The Furrow. However,of course, the priest was immediately stamped on, on instructions from Rome I would guess, silenced, never to be heard again.
    A couple of years ago a Fr. Derek Berger, a German priest I think, spoke out on the same subject. Fr. Berger is a neo-Thomist theologian — whatever that is — and he taught at the Institute of Aquinas in Rome. When his comments reached the ears of his boss, a member of Opus Dei who is the Rector of the Institute, he immediately sacked him. (Fr. Berger’s comments after his sacking made very interesting reading indeed).
    More recently,the absolutely disgraceful treatment of Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba in Australia made many of us feel totally ashamed of those at the top our Church. His troubles began, apparently, when a small group of right-wing malcontents in his diocese reported him to Rome and this proved crucial to his fate despite Bishop Morris having the approval and respect and even the love of the vast majority of his flock.
    Now, these are only a few examples and I’m sure those of us who take an serious interest in the affairs of our Church could go on all day with other similiar examples – there are many of them.
    So, I would appeal to the Leadership team of ACP please do not take away the right of those contributors to this site who wish to express their views anomymously. Our discourse would be diminished, I feel, if that were to happen. Fr.S, for example, I think, has been one of the wisest and most enlightened voices on this site. We would all have been the poorer if he had not able to share his views with us all. We have not heard from him recently and I certainly look forward reading your postings soon again, Fr. S. On the whole, I don’t think that there have been too many outrageous postings from anomymous contributors. SagartBAC was the one example that I felt should not have been published but, thankfully, Eddie responded admirably. Most of us would not have realised that the Woman from Ballina was, in fact, having a go at Brendan Hoban and that is despicable. However,as the Americans would say ” if it ain’t broke – (at least too badly) – don’t fix it”

  25. Eddie Finnegan

    If you want to encourage Brendan Hoban to reverse his recent U-turn and revert to his first brave conviction of having this site open to all levels of openness and anonymity, you must just whisper three phrases in his ear: “verification of identity”; “Arundati of Bombay”; “the dusty road to Mumbai”.

    If you’re wondering what stimulant I’m on, you probably haven’t flicked through this weekend’s “Western People”. Please do so now. It’s at “Western People” – click on “Just a Thought” in the lower left hand menu on the home page and you’ll get to Brendan’s column archive – all well worth reading. I’d recommend them all to anyone who’s been living in a Yellow Submarine or even what another Mayoman, Fr Kevin Hegarty, sees as “an incense-filled cocoon”. I hoped the seminarian (on the neighbouring thread) who shared his “View from the incense-filled cocoon” was writing with a wry and knowing irony, but after a second reading of his effusion I doubt it. To him particularly I’d commend Brendan’s weekly column, but especially this weekend’s reflection on the aftermath of his seventh flitting in 38 years of priesting – this time from Ballina out to Moygownagh.

    But Back to Brendan and verification. If he thought that yer one from Ballina was a contra(i)ry woman to tangle with, she couldn’t hold a candle to Arundati of Bombay (if, indeed, Arundati’s her real name!)and all her far-flung sisters on the outsourced teams of Eircom or the ESB. They wanted his D.O.B and his mother’s maiden name, and a phone bill or ESB bill for his new home (which is what he really wanted from them), or even his laundry number. I don’t know why he didn’t quote his Maynooth laundry number from 1966: aka his ‘seniority number’ which I thought conferred lifelong identity on one. Mine is 45(1961), branded gently on my brow by Tommy Finnegan, our Junior Dean, as I stepped into Rhetoric House that balmy September evening. I’ve always found it worked much faster than my name and old Glassdrumonaghy, Crossmaglen address, now replaced by a post code. As Brendan said, I’ll bet Charlie Haughey was never asked for his D.O.B or his mother’s maiden name or his laundry number for any of his complex transactions between Dunsealy, Inisvickallaun and Charvet de Paris, his shirtmaker.(In case you ever need it, it’s 16.09.1925 and his mother was a Derrywoman,Sarah McWilliams from Swatragh.)

    My conclusion: the hoops that Brendan had to jump through to add some heat, light and communication to his new home in Moygownah are as nothing to the series of checks and balances this ACP site may need to install for less heat and improved light and communication. Better let anonymous dogs lie – through their teeth if necessary (I joke). Alternatively, bring in our friend Arundati and her sisters from Mumbai or Bangalore to apply the third degree to all posters. It may cost, though: think visas from Alan Shatter, new citizenship ceremony starring Mayoman Enda Kenny, resettlement package etc. It’s endless.

    ps. When you’ve finished with Brendan’s house move, click onto 15 or 20 of his earlier pieces: everything from the Pope’s Letter to the Leaving Points System, the Presidential Election to True Austerity & Michael D, as well as jobs for bricklayers and carpenters in Maynooth. And if yer one from Ballina would just read his appreciation of my former dean and her former bishop, she might just learn something useful about both Brendan Hoban and Tommy Finnegan, and about how to attend a funeral ceremony like a Christian.

  26. Peter O'Roarke

    Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had some very interesting remarks on privacy at Davos three years ago. He admitted that he himself uses a fake name at times. You can watch his address at the following link, scrolling ahead to 10:20


  27. Sean (Derry)

    Eddie Finnegan,
    A lot of the time I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re on about.
    Is it just me ?

  28. Joe O'Leary

    Fr Owen O’Sullivan was not silenced but obliged to show his pieces to the CDF before publishing; he has published twice in Doctrine and Life in recent months.

    David Berger, ex-editor of Theologisches, is not a priest. His book Der heilige Schein: Als schwuler Theologe in der katholischen Kirche (The Holy Show: As a gay theologian in the Catholic Church) (Berlin: Ullstein, 2010) is a must read.

  29. Joe O'Leary

    Brendan’s seniority number (1966) was 8, mine 9.

  30. Martin

    At 10:20 on that video you can watch Bishop Martin’s piece.

  31. Mary O Vallely

    Sean (Derry), I don’t always get Eddie Finnegan’s allusions. The man is more widely read than me (has a few years on me so hope to catch up!!) but he speaks such sense.There is wisdom there and I find him rip-roaringly funny at times – a pure tonic. Long may he continue to challenge, amuse and teach. IMHO.
    Mary V

  32. Tom Cox

    I agree with Mary Ruane. I have penned articles for 14 years past in the “Longford Leader” and for 13 years in “Intercom”. Presently I am with St. Paul’s Publications who gave me the option of leaving my name out. I never have and never will.
    It has led to some skirmishes for me in the past, but I valued them in clarifying my thought. One springs to mind where a disgruntled parishioner tackled his PP on the parish newsletter. PP told him the convent do the newsletter, who told him that it came from “Intercom” magazine. The poor man then contacted the Editor and suddenly my phone rang. He made a very polite and enlightening critique. You have to admire his resilience. All because his parish never published my name.
    While i understand the points raised, I have never had time for anonymous contributions. Time to step out.
    Tom Cox

  33. Gerry Delaney

    Archbishop Martin makes a good point in that video clip, that the move from the country to the city, and from squinting windows to greater anonymity, is a mark of modernity – and, one might add, “civilisation”. When I go to Dublin I enjoy being able to walk the streets without being (generally) recognised, an experience I cannot have in my home village. I think the Internet should have that urban, indeed global, feel to it. I think people should be free to express themselves anonymously. Of course there must be supervision and control, just as there are Gardaí and CCTV on the Dublin streets; these keep an eye on you, but they don’t want to know your name! And if as upright a man as the Archbishop doesn’t scruple to use a second identity in public, why should we be concerned?

  34. Eddie Finnegan

    Sean(Derry), next time I’ll reduce my ‘Western People’ meanderings to more scholastic syllogisms.

    < >

    Joe, with laundry numbers as high as 8 & 9 why aren’t Brendan and yourself Archbishops of Tuam and Cashel respectively? If you were, I hope your posts, blog and columns would still be just as well worth reading.

    < >

    Paddy, while Joe is correct in that the need for a CDF ‘nihil obstat’ isn’t quite ‘silencing’, I am sure your inclusion of the case of Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s Furrow article (March 2010) is relevant to the perceived need among many priests for anonymity in the expression of opinion. Yet it may not be just a few logical conclusions in his “On Including Gays” that drew the CDF’s attention to Fr O’Sullivan. That article may have been more the occasion than the cause of their restrictions. His prophetic eye for, and consistent voice over years in pillorying the half-truths that pass for serving the truth at all levels in the Church may have more to do with his writing being referred/delated to Rome.

  35. Paddy Ferry

    Joe, thank you for your information on Fr. Owen Sullivan and David Berger. Everything you say is absolutely correct though I had to re-read the Tablet articles I was so convinced that David Berger was a priest. The headline concerning Fr. Sullivan in the Nov. 6th edition of the Tablet does state ” CDF silences priest ……..” but then in the body of the article it does explain that he cannot publish again without permission.

  36. Paddy Ferry

    Séan(Derry), I’m just in awe of Eddie’s knowledge and erudition. There are plenty of people who would pay good money to read Eddie’s postings so we are privileged to be able to read them for nothing. Eddie and I had a conversation a few months ago on Austria pointing the Holy Spirit towards Poland — it was Koenig who proposed Wojtyla at the second conclave in 1978 –and at the end of it all he gave me this wonderful description of some of the art in the Cistine Chapel. Just brilliant. And he is also so wise and sensible into the bargain.

  37. Joe O'Leary

    Catholic culture has suffered terribly from self-silencing. In the Modernist period pseudonyms were rife and their effect was poisonous. Today we are supposed Bishops are certainly not the models to follow, since they are the ones who have most heavily invested in the clerical culture of coyness, trimming, self-censorship, and the nod and the wink. I remember a very good bishops telling me that homosexuality was a taboo subject and that if the clergy started to talk about it people would think the church had gone mad. Thus do we abandon our flock. Tom Cox is right — it is the cowards who hide themselves who end up being trampled on; free speech in the vast majority of cases wins you friends and dialogue partners. Can you imagine St Paul resorting to pseudonyms? Honi soit qui mal y pense!

  38. Wendy Murphy

    I love Eddie’s posts although they send me round the houses sometimes until I get his point. But the insight, warmth and humour is delightful and thank you Eddie for pointing me in the direction of ‘Western People’ which (being a mere Brit)I hadn’t seen before. I particularly valued Brendan’s piece from Oct 2011 ‘The Writing on the Wall’ in which he sets out his vision of future church. It is so encouraging to read great stuff like this and feel there is hope. Thanks Eddie and Brendan.

  39. Joe O'Leary

    The Furrow published one article on homosexuality from an anonymous contributor more than 20 years ago — far from being a liberating intervention its anonymity cast an oppressive pall. Fr Bart Kiely signs his own name to his response to Fr Owen O’Sullivan, and in doing so shows courage, since his article is likely to raise far more hackles than Fr Owen’s. If extreme reactionaries have the courage of their convictions those who stand for the values of Vatican II must show the same courage. As Fr Tony observed here lately, there has never been a time in the Irish church when free speech was so easy. Fretting that its practice might attract criticism or a rap on the knuckles from authorities is just the kind of clerical huddle-in-a-corner timidity that misses the grace of the kairos again and again.

  40. Martin

    Fr Joe, I ‘came out’ publicly in my own parish – not about my sexuality, but about my liturgical preferences and my desire for a ‘reform of the reform’ in a most polite and generalised way. Now I think one of the priests has stopped speaking to me! He has ignored me on the few occasions when we crossed paths. No wonder people hide behind pen-names when this is the treatment they get when they lay their cards on the table. At the present time, there is great fear and uncertainty among ordinary Catholics about how to approach such issues as liturgical abuse in parishes by priests. I’m actually considering leaving my parish so this is a very serious issue. Either I stay and say something specific like ask the priests to comply with the norms and risk being written off, ignored and ostracised, or I leave quietly and get my Mass elsewhere, shaking the dust from my heels. For as long as an arrogant clericalist mindset continues, all the sham ‘consultations’ and ‘listening exercises’ will achieve nothing. It is all pathetic window dressing. What is needed is conversion to Jesus and obedience to Holy Mother Church.

  41. Joe O'Leary

    Martin, unfortunately you choose a very bad moment to call out, “comply with the norms” — I mean, don’t you realize how much people and priests are “hurting” because of the new translations? – I don’t think a good priest could comply with them 100%.

  42. Martin

    I hurt too Fr Joe, because the Holy Rite of Mass is not respected. Does my hurt not count? Liturgical abuse harms the unity of the Church and ‘hurt priests’ ought to check their ego at the church door and say Mass as prescribed. It’s not about what they prefer. They don’t even have to like the new translation, just do their duty in obedience, no more, no less. A man who takes pride in his work takes pride in doing things right according to his master’s instructions. Priests are servants of Holy Mother Church. Is it too much to ask that priests obey? I think not. See my Coca-Cola comments on the other post.

  43. Eddie Finnegan

    Seems as if my off-topic meandering has tempted others to meander away from Mary Ruane’s anti-anonymity. But after 42 comments on Mary R’s comment, plucked from obscurity on another thread, wouldn’t it be nice to hear back from Mary. Or has she gone anonymous?

  44. Joe O'Leary

    Martin, you are fretting about the letter of the law in a most unwholesome manner. You accuse priests of liturgical abuse, but it is not clear what you are talking about. Pastoral sensitivity requires that a priest handle the liturgy as best meets the needs of his flock. Some bishops have urged their priests to adjust the new translations to meet these needs (which is a confession that the bishops have failed in their pastoral vigilance in letting the new translation be imposed). You rage about “norms” in the manner of Fr Zuhlsdorf, “read the black, do the red” but you forget the supreme norm in canon law: “salus animarum suprema lex”.

  45. Martin

    Fr Joe, these bishops you speak of, if they exist, have no authority to urge priests to tinker with approved, fixed texts.

    If the priest is dropping the word ‘men’ from the creed, then that is an abuse. If he refuses to say the introductory verse before the Our Father, that is an abuse. Or editing the Sanctus so that it refers not to ‘He’ but to ‘the one’… because Christ isn’t a man, but a ‘one’, apparently. Bizarre. That’s right up there with the oddest ‘pastoral’ changes. There are lots more in my parish and lots of parishioners are fed up with it. So why do the priests do it? To placate some imaginary feminists in the congregation? Nobody I spoke to in my parish really understands why it is being done nor do they want it to be happening yet we are powerless to stop it. So there you are, there is your ‘pastoral sensitivity’ – a priest deciding himself what we ‘need’ instead of giving us what the Church desires. If this continues, then we are going to see a continual shrinking of congregations as more and more people walk away, seeing that what goes on in church is apparently unimportant and of no real value to their lives because priests treat the holy sacrifice of the Mass with such casualness and even contempt.

    If there is an approved Roman Rite translation, that is to be used. It harms the unity of the Church if priests are deciding, on their own whim, what to say and what not to say. It goes against the faith and is condemned in strong terms by the Council documents:

    ”Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”
    – SC, 22.3
    In the true spirit of Vatican II, let us be docile and obedient.
    Fr Joe, I would be most grateful if you would address and take time to explain to me these arbitrary changes, condemned by Holy Church, yet apparently you would agree that they are being made due to pastoral sensitivities.

  46. Sean (Derry)

    Martin, I was about to respond to the issue of priests adding to or deleting the liturgy and rubrics of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass but you have said most of what I intended to.
    Fr. Joe, when it comes to the Mass, the pinnacle of our faith, the most important needs of your flock are the same as the needs of every priest’s flock, that is, they have a right to a Mass that fully conforms with offical ‘approved’ liturgy of the Universal Church and not a Mass that conforms to the whims or sensitivity of a particular priest of parish (or rather a few busy-bodies pushing their own agendas within a parish). The Mass MUST be God-centred and not people-centred and if someone gets their feelings ‘hurt’ because the Mass gives all worship and glory to God and does not change to focus on the personal ‘wants’ of a few individuals, well I suggest they humble themselves a little.
    As regards to examples of liturgical abuse, well don’t get me started.
    Appologies for going off the topic of the original thread.

  47. Joe O'Leary

    Norms are meant to help the faithful celebrate a meaningful and spiritual liturgy in union with the whole Church. But norms are only that. The temple police have a totally frozen idea of liturgical prayer.

    An example of this is your deadening demand that the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer never deviate from what is written in the liturgical books — I suppose you are armed with some prescription from GIRM that it is forbidden to alter the text thereof by one jot or tittle, but I am not aware of any such prescription — kindly quote it. In any case, as you know, your attack on this as abuse is an attack on the pastoral practice of almost all priests.

    An important principle in canon law is that custom has an important role in the interpretation of norms. Have you reflected on this? In overriding custom you may yourself count as an abuser in canon law terms. And what weight do you give to the basic principle of canon law: salus animarum suprema lex?

    What is feared here is any living experience of prayer, dialogue, or listening to the Gospel afresh.

    People who find abuse everywhere are crying “Wolf!” and when real abuse comes along their cries will be unavailing.

    In fact, the real abuse just now is the imposition of a liturgy in bad and ungrammatical English that is quite unworthy of the people of God.

  48. Shane

    Sorry but it has been held from time immemorial that a bishop is the regulator of the liturgy in his own diocese. If a bishop determines that a particular liturgical practice is pastorally necessary then that should be the end of the discussion. His authority over his clergy and flock is divinely ordained and immeasurably greater than that of some ignorant curiacrat who lives thousands of miles away. The fact that our current generation of bishops are idiots does not change the traditional constitution of the Church.

  49. Martin

    Fr Joe – I find it downright annoying. If the priest did what was right instead of pussyfooting around the word DARE there’d be no issue. And that’s what, I suspect, is his reason for avoiding it. He doesn’t think we should dare anything with God cos He’s just a big cuddly bear rather than an awesome, fearful, all-holy God. I’ve the psychology of these fellas sussed out, believe me.

    Shane, bishop’s authority over liturgy is not absolute – they MUST comply with liturgical directives e.g. Redemptionis Sacramentum. Goodness, bishops have enough powers without granting them more imaginary powers. It’s clerics taking power to themselves and doing their own thing that largely has us in the mess we’re in (bishops ignoring the Law of God, Canon Law, and common decency/sense to shield abusers and priests ignoring rubrics/norms to hijack the Mass). And surely, if they are idiots as YOU have said, then a few norms from Rome to keep them right is a good idea. Remember that documents on the liturgy are authorised and approved by the Pope. Also in all my 30 years of living, I’ve yet to see an Irish bishop regulating anything in the liturgy.

  50. Simmary

    “a bishop is the regulator of the liturgy in his own diocese” #48 above.

    Shane, is there a documentary chapter and verse for this statement? Please can you let me have it? It seems to me that with the recent permissions for the “Extraordinary Form” which even extend to allowing solo celebration, any priest can make his own decision about the type of Mass liturgy he offers in “his own” church and imposes upon his parishioners.

  51. Joe O'Leary

    “audemus dicere” — “we dare to say” — I do not think any priest with his head screwed on could preface the Lord’s Prayer with those words. They sound like a medieval court rather than like Paul: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry “Abba! Father!” it is that very spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15-16). Please do not attribute uncharitable remarks to me; if I said what you quote, I apologize.

  52. Paddy Ferry

    Now that we have had 51 responses to Mary Ruane’s original piece challanging the right of contributors to this site to communicate anonymously, I’ve done a quick scan of the responses and was quite surprised to realise that, of those of us who do not use the cloak of anonymity, only Séan O’Driscoll and myself were in favour of leaving things as they are. Eddie, you were 90% in agreement with Mary Ruane and you were correect when you guessed that my main concern was for priests who might not wish to identify themselves when posting comments. I do find it hard to understand why so many laity feel the need to participate anomymously despite the reasons given by Martin and others. Joe,you are vehemently in agreement with Mary Ruane. Yet, I still feel strongly that we should leave things as they are. I am sure you visit the Misguided Missal site. Those responsible for that site remain anomymous and the reason they give is ” the vitriolic nature of the current climate of fear in our beloved Church” That sums up pretty well why I feel strongly that those priests who wish to withhold their identity should continue to be allowed to do so. Joe, I want to thank you for always taking the time to correct mistaken ( in my case with David Berger ) or misguided comments which you always seem have the patience to do. I found the David Berger case absolutely fascinating. When he spoke,after his sacking, he made 2 very interesting points. He said that as a young student he and others were fascinated by the Tridentine Rite and all it’s trappings because it was “aesthetically so attractive to homosexual culture”.( I obviously thought about this when I read Brendan Hoban’s description of the liturgical pantomime he watched unfolding at Knock last year on television).The 2nd thing he said which I found deeply sad and disturbing was that he felt his longstanding work for the ultra-conservative faction in the Church was because of “a subconscious feeling of guilt and a desire for atonement”, because of his sexual orientation, and which led him to be especially loyal to the Pope and the Church. How very sad is that. However, going back to the original debate, I do hope we all can continue to contribute whether openly or anomymously and grateful thanks to the ACP of Ireland, and Tony especially, for making it all possible for us.

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