Clerical Gripes

by John Boland

Irish Independent, November 3, 2012

Like most of the celebrities with whom he’s been schmoozing throughout his priestly life, Fr Brian D’Arcy has always embraced the limelight – indeed, for anyone who’s lived through the last four decades, he’s been a constant media presence, whether through his Sunday World column or as guest on innumerable chat shows and other radio and television programmes.

In that sense, he’s been unignorable, though when he first emerged as unofficial chaplain to dancehall stars (turning up at gigs every night of the week, acting the eejit in Late Late Show stunts), sceptics could simply scoff at his antics – and subsequently marvel at Dermot Morgan’s Father Trendy, a gleeful lampooning of all that he embodied.

This inspired skit (first aired on The Live Mike) expertly nailed the ingratiating earnestness of such clerics, though D’Arcy’s eagerness to please has somewhast curdled in recent years, and the person you’re more likely to meet now is a self-absorbed individual who’s bitterly convinced that the church to which he’s devoted his life is out to get him.

That certainly was the D’Arcy to be encountered in The Turbulent Priest (BBC1), an hourlong documentary that was revealing in ways probably unintended by its subject. Thus, though we heard much, both from the man himself and from a somewhat awed narrator, about the loneliness and isolation caused by his outspokenness against autocratic church authorities, it was hard not to be struck by a seeming addiction to media attention that required the constant presence of a camera crew and interviewer.

And thus, when he wrote what he delared was a “personal” letter to Cardinal Sean Brady about his priestly misgivings and then received a “personal” letter in reply, it was odd to find out that these were not “personal” at all – the camera lingering in particular over the missive sent by the cardinal. If I were the latter, I wouldn’t have been too pleased by that, and if I were D’Arcy I might have reflected that there are better ways to heal divisions than by publicising such matters.

Even less endearing was the tone of woebegone whingeing that persisted throughout. Indeed, the poor-me attitude was so pervasive that when another priest failed to sympathise with his predicament, his only response was “I knew he wasn’t hearing anything I was saying”.

As it happens, I agree with most of his views on an inflexible, male, celibate institution that brooks no dissent, but then I’m an agnostic, while D’Arcy is not just a practising Catholic but a priest of that religion and he willingly signed up to its basic tenets and rules. If he finds them intolerable now, well, he should get out.

But he’s not getting out. Instead he’s resolving to be “more prudent” in utterances that caused him to be censured by the Vatican, though at the very end the narrator revealed that “Brian is determined to speak his mind, whatever the consequences”. Oh dear, does that mean there’ll be an updated episode of The Turbulent Priest in a year’s time?

“You’re being bullied!” D’Arcy’s actor pal, Frank Kelly, assured him about the Vatican’s stance. “That’s bullying”. Perhaps it is, though nothing like the cruel behaviour that has recently caused deaths among the vulnerable young, as two RTE1 programmes on Monday night made clear.

On Prime Time, Miriam O’Callaghan prefaced a filmed report and studio discussion by insisting that “something drastic needs to be done” to halt bullying among pre-teens and teens, while less than an hour later clinical psychologist David Coleman assured us that something can be done about it.

In the first instalment of the three-part Bullyproof , David was in customary earnest and upbeat mode, confidently announcing that “we won’t tolerate bullying” and confiding that he’ll be helping young victims to “rebuild their self-esteem” – though it was disconcerting to watch his first interviewee, thirteen-year-old Jade, as she burst into tears while recounting her experiences.

To be honest, I felt somewhat uneasy, and more than a little queasy, while witnessing her distress and couldn’t help wondering if someone so young should really be exposed in this manner, no matter how noble the intentions of the programme. But I’ll reserve my judgment for now.

Just back from the glorious late-autumn sunshine of Sicily, I paid particular attention to this week’s episode of Inspector Montalbano (BBC4), though one of the odd features of this endearingly shaggy-dog crime drama struck me even more forcibly than before.

Having dodged the chaotic traffic of Palermo, the absence both of cars and of people in the fictional town of Vigata seemed especially eerie. Do they film this series at 5am? Or don’t they have the money to pay extras? Either way, Vigata resembles a ghost town. Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano is still the bee’s knees, though.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse are getting on in years, but they can still occasionally deliver the goods. Their new sketch-show, Harry and Paul (BBC2) had the usual quota of duds but there were some inspired moments, especially the closing parody of BBC4’s Nordic Noir crime dramas, with everyone behaving morosely and filmed in almost impenetrable gloom.

And the final episode of The Thick of It (BBC2) was as bracingly profane and off-message as all that went before in Armando Ianucci’s gleeful take on the backbitings and betrayals that constitute British party politics.

Panel

It’s called Katherine Lynch’s Big Fat Breakfast Show (RTE2) but it’s screened after 10pm. Funny, eh?

No, not really, though not as unfunny as the show itself, in which the tics of a once bracingly rude and bawdy comedian now irritate rather than amuse.

Kerry Katona was the main guest in this opening show, but as she was plainly living on a planet of her own devising she was impervious to the laboured slagging of her hostess, who appeared to think that being shouty and sweary was enough to carry the show. It wasn’t.

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