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(A) New Age Dawns at the Irish Times June 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Media and Journalism.

On Friday the Irish Times had a piece which noted that:

Four directors of the Pilgrim House Community, which is funded by the Health Service Executive, placed a half-page advertisement in yesterday’s paper in which they apologised to the founder of the organisation, Helena O’Leary.

In the advertisement they apologised for the damage caused by their “dishonesty” to her seven years ago and for lying about their reasons for being part of the organisation.


THE DIRECTORS of a controversial religious community involved in the care of people with disabilities have refused to explain the background to a public apology they published in The Irish Times yesterday.

Well, yes. Curiously the term “refused to explain” is used in the unusual sense of meaning that they did actually explain.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Bridget Anne Ryan … said the apology had been made in a personal capacity by each of the signatories.

She declined to be drawn on what the apology related to except that the issue attracted misleading media coverage of the organisation and ended the spiritual community which existed within the organisation.

“I don’t want to say anything else today which will distract from this.”

There. We have it. Story over. Final word. Doesn’t want to say anything else.

Well, actually not quite the final word… because she continued…

I have nothing else to say except that how deeply sorry I am,” she said.

Grand. Nothing to see here, everyone move on. She’s said her piece and who are we to demand more.

Except – er – she had something else to say…

“The apology relates to the fact that the Pilgrim House Community no longer exists. It ended seven years ago. What exists now is an organisation which provides residential care for the intellectually disabled. The community life that was there is over.”

Okay. That was it. Nothing else. Prying would be indelicate, if not indeed wrong.

Fair enough. The article in the IT concluded with the following:

Dialogue Ireland, an organisation which gathers information on new religious movements, says Pilgrim House has displayed cult-like characteristics and it has passed this information on to religious authorities. The Health Service Executive yesterday confirmed it provides about €210,000 a year to Pilgrim House for providing a full-time residential service to five clients with intellectual disability.

So, after that impassioned statement that there was no more to tell, I was more than a little surprised when I read this in today’s revolutionary, all changed, new age – I mean of course a new age for the – Irish Times.

A public apology was placed in The Irish Times last week in relation to the Pilgrim House Community, a controversial and private religious grouping. It was signed by four of the group’s directors. Here, one signatory BRIDGET ANNE RYAN, explains why she apologised…

No explanation necessary. Seriously. Still, she writes:

I WAS one of four people who made a public apology in this newspaper last Thursday to Helena O’Leary for the damage done to her, a Christian peacemaker, spiritual teacher and mystic.

How nice.

I decided, as did the other three signatories, that on that day I would make no comment on the advertisement because I did not want to say anything that might distract from its simple purpose.

That was very good of her. But seeing as I’ll bet most people actually didn’t notice it first time round perhaps less good of her (and oddly the Irish Times) to bring it to our attention both in the original article and this follow-up.

In this article I am speaking only for myself; although four people shared a desire to make an apology our reasons for needing to do so were very personal and very different.

Lest this seem a little – unusual – well, yes, yes it is. For the piece continues – and answers a question some may have as to where some former editors of the Irish Catholic go (fair dues to David Quinn – he certainly dodged that bullet):

I first met Helena O’Leary in 1994 when I was editing the Irish Catholic newspaper. I knew her by reputation as a spiritual teacher with unique insight and wisdom on the “God-given gift of people with intellectual disabilities”. I had also heard about her work on behalf of illegal immigrants in Ireland and France.

There is more, about her marriage to an ‘ex-priest’. About how that didn’t work out. To be (more) serious for a moment it is a genuinely tragic tale. But we are also told how:

Helena O’Leary had doubts about our motivation for being part of Pilgrim House and she expressed them many times. But I reiterated my desire to be part of Pilgrim House and asked for people’s trust. Trust was given to me because “no one owns a spiritual movement”, she said.


I abused that trust. When problems in my marriage began to appear I allowed the environment of Pilgrim House to be blamed for them. I and my former husband had a history of personal irresponsibility. In my case, as an adult I had chosen to be a victim and my ex-husband had his own personal difficulties.

It continues:

We had left Pilgrim House and when the marriage ended I returned. I knew that our personal issues were not resolved and that Pilgrim House, and Helena O’Leary in particular because she was the person who embodied most clearly the values of openness and truth, would be vulnerable to scapegoating. I knew that and did nothing.

There is more:

In 2001, when a severe trial came into the life of Pilgrim House in the form of a media attack in the aftermath of the suicide of a woman who was part of the community for many years, I did not protect and defend this life which had so nurtured me and healed me from the lies that were spoken and recorded. I allowed my ex-husband to use this tragedy to have his grievances about our marriage break-up aired publicly with no thought on my part for the people whose trust I had so violently broken. Immense damage, spiritual and economic, was done to Pilgrim House.

Again a tragic set of circumstances. Some detail would be useful. But it’s not that sort of apology.

Recently I stopped being angry. I remembered a teaching given by Helena O’Leary in the chapel in Hyde Park every day – “we do not ask people to do anything that we are not struggling, as imperfect people, to do ourselves. Human beings are frail, and so many of us have been taught, falsely, that we have to find God. But you cannot find what is not lost. God is in you.”

Which reminds me, on a complete tangent, some of you may remember “The Prophet” by CJ Bolland from the mid-1990s. It was (and is) a nice slice of techno which uses a variety of samples taken from the Last Temptation of Christ with William Dafoe as Christ…

Sadly not the excellent album version, which is here…

Check this transcript of the samples from the film out…

You think God belongs only to you? He doesn’t. God is an immortal spirit who belongs to everybody, to the whole world. You think you’re special? God is not an Israelite.

Or how about this?

You don’t have a choice. Neither do I. Remember, we’re bringing God and man together. They’ll never be together unless I die. I’m the sacrifice… Forget everything else, understand that.

You know it makes sense… sort of…

The Messiah doesn’t need miracles. He is the miracle.

Doesn’t it?

Now he’s here. Are you ready for me? I’m here to tear down everything around you, and you know what I’m going to replace it with? Something new: God. The World of God. So take your bread and give it to the poor. What difference does it matter what you own? You have gold and silver? It’s going to rot, and that rot is going to eat away your heart. All of you! There will be a flood, and there will be a fire. Everything will be destroyed. But there will be a new ark riding on that fire, and I hold the keys and I open the door, and I decide who goes in and who doesn’t. You’re my brothers from Nazareth, and you’re the first I invite on the ark. Don’t wait. Don’t waste your life. Come with me.

Now imagine a thumping 4/4 beat at the end of that and you have something of a taste of “The Prophet”. But strip away the beat and you have a demonstration of just how easy it is to slip into the sort of language we see quoted in the article. Truly being a peacemaker and mystic is a lyrical sort of a gig. Nice one.

And not merely is that a nice bonus that comes with the job, because you also get to be more or less invariably right in your pronouncements and sayings, and others more or less per definition must accept this, just as Bridget Anne Ryan has…

…accepted that I lacked authenticity in questioning other peoples’ motivation for attacking the spiritual life when I was not holding myself accountable. I accepted that I was limiting my own life by not taking personal responsibility.

With Thursday’s apology that personal, spiritual work has begun.

It has indeed. A good days work I think we can all agree.

That said it has odd resonances with past events. Consider the following:

Bukharin: Citizen President and Citizens Judges, I fully agree with Citizen the Procurator regarding the significance of the trial, at which were exposed our dastardly crimes, the crimes committed by the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,” one of whose leaders I was, and for all the activities of which I bear responsibility.

I once more repeat that I admit that I am guilty of treason to the socialist fatherland, the most heinous of possible crimes, of the organization of kulak uprisings, of preparations for terrorist acts and of belonging to an underground, anti-Soviet organization. I further admit that lam guilty of organizing a conspiracy for a “palace coup.” And this, incidentally, proves the incorrectness of all those passages in the speech for the prosecution made by Citizen the State Prosecutor, where he makes out that I adopted the pose of a pure theoretician, the pose of a philosopher, and so on. These are profoundly practical matters. I said, and I now repeat, that I was a Deader and not a cog in the counter-revolutionary affairs. It follows from this, as will be clear to everybody, that there were many specific things which I could not have known, and which I actually did not know, but that this does not relieve me of responsibility.

We came out against the joy of the new life with the most criminal methods of struggle … but my counter-revolutionary confederates, and I at their head, endeavoured to murder Lenin’s cause, which is being carried on with such tremendous success by Stalin … Counter-revolutionary banditry has now been smashed, we have been smashed, and we repent our frightful crimes.

Bridget Anne Ryan’s plight is clearly, despite personal tragedy, far less serious than that which faced Bukharin. And perhaps the comparison is indelicate between victim of Stalinist show trial and forced confession and this situation.


On yet another tangent, could this be a trend? Public apologies to those in positions of power… I mean of course, peacemakers, spiritual teachers and mystics. I have a number of people I want to apologise to… no, maybe more than a number. A lot. A very very large group. Ah, feck it. I’ll apologise to everyone I every worked for or with – or indeed anyone in the future.

And the beauty of this? Why the Irish Times wins twice over. It gets to host the advertisement and then reference it afterward.

Spiritual teaching and mysticism. The memories. Many years ago I worked in New York close to a shop which sold crystals, had a rock garden and a pond inside which was crossed by a little walkway and garish pink and yellow paintings done in a faux Indian style of sylvan glades and such like adorned any blank space on the walls. It was like walking into something made of candy floss. Rumour had it that in the back there was some sort of immersion tank where people with more money than sense went to lose and then – one presumes – find themselves. How useful in a planetary context of endemic mass poverty, hunger and conflict to spend so much money on oneself… Mind you the pond was quite nice. If you like that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, keep reading your free to view on the web Irish Times. On Friday you might see a piece in the Business Section about Feng Shui and how it can help your business beat the recession, it’s all a question of wads and wads of cash handed out to people who would be better employed as interior decorators – oh wait, apparently they are. Also there’s possibly a timely piece about Scientology and its massive contribution to Cinema in the Entertainment section (of course you’re a religion guys, don’t you get it, that makes it worse) while in the weekend section tips on (very very) large marriage ceremonies from the Unification Church. John Waters and Breda O’Brien will be submitting their pieces as normal.

Could you make it up? On the evidence of today’s article, probably not. And remember, this is in the Opinion & Analysis section in our ‘paper of record’! ’nuff said.


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