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Interview with the Dean of St. Patrick’s. December 31, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.

Jason O’Toole has an interesting interview in the Mail with soon to retire Dean of St. Patrick’s, Robert McCarthy.

‘It’s a great banner headline for saying what you think. You see, I’m a boat rocker,’ he says about the association with Swift, when we meet in his study at the Deanery, only a stone’s throw from the cathedral. It isn’t lost on me that it was probably in this very room that Swift penned some of his most contentious polemic writings.
Since taking up the post in 1999, Dean MacCarthy certainly has marked himself out as being similarly controversial. He recently caused uproar by describing Islam and Hinduism as ‘cults’.


Given his outspoken views, it’s no wonder that the board of St Patrick’s asked him to run all his public statements by them first. ‘They tried that about two or three years ago, but that would be outrageous really,’ Dean MacCarthy says.

‘It would be unprecedented, too. Some people don’t like it now and some people didn’t like it then [in Swift’s time]. I think bishops in all churches are people who say nothing. And they say it very nicely, of course. The only way of avoiding any criticism is to do nothing. On the whole, it’s a very Irish thing to say nothing.’ But the Dean clearly doesn’t believe in playing by the conventional rules. And now, rather than sailing off into the sunset quietly, he has taken one final shot across the bow with this explosive interview.

And who is he firing towards?

Dean MacCarthy is clearly vexed that the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, did not take up his invitation for the Catholic Church to have masses at St Patrick’s, which would have elevated its status to ‘a national cathedral for all Irish Christians’. Does he feel Archbishop Martin is not ecumenically minded?
‘I don’t think he’s ecumenically minded. In a way, the non-Catholic element of the population has become so small that we don’t really count. If we were a bigger proportion of the population we would count more.

The good Dean appears to be ecumenically minded, but in a Christian sort of a way – clearly not so keen on Hinduism or Islam. Interesting too not least because Martin is regarded as somewhat liberal on some issues. Though perhaps that’s more about organisation than theology.

The Dean recounts how at a recent ‘diplomatic reception’ he met Archbishop Martin and brought up the subject of the two ecumenical canons — one Presbyterian and one Roman Catholic — whom he had controversially appointed to say prayer, read Holy Scripture and assist with baptisms, marriages, funerals, and the celebration of Holy Communion, as well as having a say in meetings about the cathedral.
‘I said to Archbishop Martin: “I’m sorry that you’re not in favour of Mass in the cathedral. Are you also against the canons that we’ve appointed?” And he said: “I don’t really know what a canon does!”’ The Dean pauses to laugh. ‘Well, I’m afraid I lost my temper at that point and I said: “Well, your Grace, I’m just glad I didn’t have to ask you for permission for that one.”’

And McCarthy suggests in answer to the question:

Why does he feel the idea of sharing St Patrick’s is opposed? ‘Both Cardinal [Desmond] Connell and Archbishop Martin have refused to give permission, which I think is a bad thing. I think the reason the archbishops of Dublin are not prepared to have masses at St Patrick’s is because they don’t want to recognise a shared building. Almost every Church of England church has its own Catholic Mass regularly. We’re exceptional in Ireland by not having it. Given our history, we should be leading the pack rather than following it.’

Mind you, McCarthy wouldn’t strike one as particularly liberal either. though he’s in favour of same sex unions, and perhaps marriage, and is pro-choice up to a point. But you’d wonder…

‘I think it is fair to say that a lot of people think that if you got rid of celibacy and had married priests and women priests all would be well. But if you look at the Church of Ireland or the Church of anywhere, they’re still scraping the barrel for people. We’re scraping the barrel here in the Church of Ireland even though we’ve always had married priests and now have women priests.’

Though in relation to the CofI he:

….believes that the alarming drop in numbers joining the clergy will eventually spell the end of the Anglican Church as a leading minority religion here. ‘I think the Church of Ireland, in the Republic at least, is probably finished. As an island-wide church, it’s going to be a niche church. It’s very sad, for me anyhow.

And he’s harsh words for the RCC in relation to other issues:

“If people want Confirmation they have to go to their local parish and be trained by the clergy and not the teachers.”
‘It seemed me to be the right thing. If people want this sacrament then they have to do some preparation before to make it a serious gesture.
‘It’s mad, the idea that teachers are training for First Communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. That’s bonkers. It should be the clergy. And, of course, the reason that the Catholic Church is holding on to it is that it’s keeping the numbers up. It’s their job to take it out of the school and back into the parish.’

And on economic issues McCarthy’s position is well within the orthodoxy:

Dean MacCarthy is critical of the Government for breaking many pre-election promises and for inflicting many of the austerity measures on the more vulnerable rather than the better-off. Does he feel the Government should be ashamed?
‘I think so. I think they should’ve been tougher. They have failed to set a good example themselves.
‘Unfortunately, I think the present Government has fluffed the possibility of a hard, hairshirt budget. I mean, it’s ludicrous to me that they haven’t brought back rates. It’s ludicrous to me that they are still dishing out children’s allowance to extremely wealthy people who don’t need it at all. It’s ludicrous handing out children’s allowance to people who just use it as pocket money. It should be means tested. It costs a fortune every year.’

And O’Toole makes a fair point when he suggests that:

….nobody escapes the ire of this Dean, who also has harsh words for the man on the street. ‘I think that people in Dublin have lost the run of themselves. They have no idea of the value of money and they want to continue to be able to behave as if they were rich. And I don’t think any of us are rich any more. Irish people, no matter what has gone on, haven’t realised that the game is up and that we are not any longer well off.’

Mind you, an anecdote he relates rings a bell with my own passing acquaintance with the CofI…

The conversation turns to the Dean of Leighlin Cathedral in Carlow, Tom Gordon, whose same-sex civil partnership in July was the first for an Anglican clergyman in Ireland. It’s not that long ago since the outgoing Church of Ireland Archbishop Dr John Neill told me that he didn’t think an openly gay deacon or bishop ‘would be even vaguely acceptable’ and that ‘it would split the Church from top to bottom’.

‘I think it is [acceptable] to the extent that provided it doesn’t turn people away,’ says Dean MacCarthy. ‘You’ve got to move at people’s pace really. I think you don’t have a priest who’s manner of life will turn people off. It’s purely a pragmatic thing.

‘I’ll give you a good story about Tom Gordon. Appointments to parishes are made with lay people having at least 50 per cent of votes. They were at this meeting with the Bishop and eventually one of the lay people said: “There is just one thing, Bishop, we wanted to raise with you that we’re not very happy about.”

‘And the Bishop thought: “I know what this is.” And the person said: “He’s driving a very poor car.” So, that was their context. Isn’t it a good one?’


1. Organized Rage - December 31, 2011

Surly all religions are cults, including that which MacCarthy belongs to.


WorldbyStorm - December 31, 2011

I think there’s sufficient ambiguity about these matters that the Dean would be probably well advised to not cast too many aspersions about others!


2. Jim Monaghan - January 1, 2012

“Surly all religions are cults, including that which MacCarthy belongs to.”
But there is a range of cultish behaviour. You could say that Anglicanism nowadays is fairly toothless and has compromised with reality. Catholicism for the most part (Martin) is on a similar journey. Then there is the various array of nuts in all religions, varying in importance and danger. It is a judgement on how important they are in each country.In Ireland the chance of a McQuaid type revival is fairly slim. Reaction will be secular for the most part.
This is a sort of challenge that they are all the same. On one level this is true. Religion is a denial of science and encourages passivity. But I would prefer say Martin to McQuaid if this that was the only choice. In other countries religious reaction is far more important. And in Ireland many of our newish religions have believers who would make McQuaid look like a wimp.


3. Blissett - January 1, 2012

That thing about communions and confirmations is a good point, about the RCC wanting to keep it in schools. But it might also be a tricky issue for Quinn if he is to make an effort at secularisation. I think many people, particularly in country towns with, say 2-3 schools, who would be broadly favourable to non-denominational education, might be given pause if enrolling in a new non-denominational schools meant that their Johnny or Mary wouldnt be doing their confirmation or communion with all the other kids on the road. The church themselves could take a mature approach to that, and do as the Dean suggests and take it out of the schools entirely, and it might well be a positive thing for them in the long run, but in the short term I imagine they will probably want the numbers that confirmations and communions give them


4. sonofstan - January 1, 2012

I wonder if Diurmuid Martin is being reactionary about d’oul ecumunism of if he just finds the Dean a bit pompous and annoying and is winding him up?


sonofstan - January 1, 2012

‘Diarmuid’ and ‘or’ rather than ‘of’


5. CL - January 1, 2012

The bizarre but entertaining process of selecting a U.S. president gets underway next Tuesday with the Iowa caucuses. One of the front runners, Ron Paul, is said to have a ‘cult following’. Another Mitt Romney, is regarded by many evangelical Christians as being a member of a cult,-Mormonism.
Whatever about the Paulites, Mormonism is surely wealthy enough at this point to be regarded as a religion. The late Christopher Hitchens made the case for an investigation of Romney’s strange beliefs.


6. Starkadder - January 2, 2012

It’s been mentioned before, but Dean Robert McCarthy
and Dublin Protestants were the subject of some
very, very bizarre comments in the November 2011
issue of the Irish Political Review by a man named
Michael Stack:

“Protestants-one knows them by their braying
voices ..while the baskets are handed around after
the..Service, it is the Catholics I know who give paper
money, with coins being dropped in by well-fed,
prosperous-looking Protestants”

Later Stack discusses McCarthy’s comments on the
Catholic Church’s recent problems and Stack interpreted
McCarthy’s comments thus:

” Do you see what he does in that last sentence
there-alluding, no doubt, to the many claims against
the Catholic Church and then by way of help-kicking
it while it is on its kness when there is the
prospect of a nice little earner for himself as
his church.”

I now have the strange image of Dean McCarthy walking
the streets of London with Dennis Waterman. 🙂


WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2012

Pretty foul stuff isn’t it? Sort of the worst and most stupid stereotypes possible. Who is Stack?


Starkadder - January 2, 2012

Stack writes a column for the IPR, “Does It Stack
Up”? A few years ago he wrote a piece in
the August 2007 IPR saying everyone
should read the criticisms of the Tribunals by Denis O’Brien.

Apart from that I don’t know much about him. He
ended his piece on the Dean by saying that
the Dean should consider handing back
St. Patricks “to the Catholic people of Dublin
from whom the Protestant Church of Ireland stole
it in the 17th century”.

The whole piece struck me as very odd and dubious- a throwback to the “they dig with different feet” days?


7. Crocodile - January 2, 2012

Dean McCarthy would not be very representative of the Cof I community. He is a maverick in a sense that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t really permit. As SofS suggests, he’s terribly pleased with that status and regarded by most other clergy and laity as an enfant terrible whose time has long passed.
If the Cof I is doomed, it is for the same reasons that the RC church is in decline – minus the child abuse and coverups, but plus the recategorising of protestant schools as private and fee-paying. As for the Swiftian pretensions – Dean McCarthy, you’re no Swift!


WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2012



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