A St Vincent de Paul member I was travelling with last week said to me "why can't they keep their mouths shut? Efforts to bring people back to the Church are up against it each time these fools speak." Not exactly verbatim as memory is rarely faithful to precision, but close enough to make no difference.
His exasperation had been prompted by yet another baleful cleric doing his bit. In retaliation for the SVP not having taken up a position on the recent referendum, priest Patrick O'Connor told the Society that it would have to remove its clothes bank from a church owned car park in County Meath. The clothes bank had been in place long before O'Connor who just prior to the referendum had been appointed parish priest at St Peter & Paul's in Dunboyne. Parachuted in, he had decided before landing that he would, from a great height, crap upon the poor.
SVP shops, sustained largely by the clothing they sell, are a vital source of income for the Society which is then turned around and put into the empty pockets, fireplaces and food cupboards of the poor. O'Connor's frothing at the mouth was nothing less than an attack on the poorest people in Irish society.
A local man hit the nail on the head. Darren Whelan said:
Now more than ever we have a homelessness crisis in Ireland. SVP support some of the most vulnerable in society. To ask them, at local level, to remove their clothes bank from parish property, shows the continued ignorance of the world around the Catholic Church at parish level.
Very much so when it is considered that Meath voted almost 70% in favour of Repeal.
Priest O'Connor was so angered by the SVP being genuinely pro-life, that he had a rattle at the poor because the SVP didn't behave as he thought he could order it to behave. He deduced from his own warped theology of domination that by squeezing the poor he might somehow gain leverage which he could apply to have the Society think like he thinks.
While he has stood pontificating from his pulpit, for which he is paid, SVP members have, gratis, trudged the streets of this country, seeking where possible to ease the financial strain and hardship that human beings are relentlessly ground down by. What the SVP does is life affirming, carried out in the streets. It is anything but the arid, formulaic, virtue signalling boomed out from joyless pulpits. Among the Society's volunteers are people of different religious faiths and none. There was no chance that they were ever going to be whipped into some Catholic liturgical orthodoxy by a clergy steeped in a history of serial failure when it comes to children. How people should vote in the referendum in accordance with their own conscience was not something the SVP was ever going to try to influence. Were the Society volunteers to have gone out on home visitation duty with the attitude of Priest O'Connor, they would have issued assistance on the basis of how people intended to behave in the polling booth. Vote No or you can go hungry this week.
It was not that O'Connor was following Church policy as no directive came from the hierarchy. He was simply of that school of thought articulated by Bishop Kevin Doran and he felt he had a right to inflict his religious opinion on the poor.
Having on Friday just finished Jon Sobrino's passionate, The Eye Of The Needle: No Salvation Outside the Poor, I might be excused for seeing two different religions at play here. Sobrino, a Salvadorian Jesuit, stands uncompromisingly on the side of the poor. Driven by an authentic pro life ethos, he states in unambiguous language a preference for the poor. Whereas for O'Connor, it is Purity before People.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.