No Rubbing Dirt On My Daughter’s Face

Paul Kelly writes about a challenge he overcame on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday morning I received a phone call from my 5 year old daughter’s school politely informing me that a priest was due to visit to dispense ashes to the pupils and did I mind my daughter participating. In essence I was being asked did I have any objection to a lowly employee of arguably the most morally bankrupt organization in the history of mankind rubbing dirt on my daughter’s face.

Resisting every instinct in my being to swear (even though this was a perfect example of why bad language was invented), I politely told the voice on the other end that while I appreciated the courtesy call I did indeed object, most strenuously in fact. I asked if my daughter would be the only pupil not involved and was told this probably would be the case. Acutely aware of playground dynamics, I now faced a conundrum but I still decided to decline the offer. I must stress that at no point during the exchange was any pressure exerted from the school to conform to tradition.

I make no secret of, nor attempt to camouflage, my utter contempt for the Catholic Church and everything it represents. If anyone can cite an example of anything the church has done that might tempt me to overlook the rape of a single child please feel free to get in touch. Just when I feel it can’t plummet any lower in my estimations the Theodore McCarrick and George Pell cases remind me of my naivety.

Irish history is replete with examples of what the church deems as priorities. During the 1913 Lock Out, Archbishop of Dublin William Walsh launched a scathing attack on efforts to send malnourished children of striking workers to England while the dispute was unresolved, fearing the lasting ‘unholy influence’ such a move might have. Speaking directly to the mothers, Walsh said:
I can only put it to them that they can be no longer held worthy of the name of Catholic mothers if they so far forget their duty as to send away their little children to be cared for in a strange land, without security of any kind that those to whom the poor children are to be handed over are Catholics, or indeed are persons of any faith at all.
In a nutshell, a group claiming to be the absolute moral authority was recommending starving to death as a better option, a position said group would distance itself from in 1981. After being read from the altar, James Connolly brought a group of emaciated children to the Archbishop’s Palace in Drumcondra and encouraged Walsh to show as much interest in their stomachs as he seemed to have in their souls.

My wife and I have decided that our daughter doesn’t need extra ‘moral guidance’ and will not partake in any religious rituals until she is old enough to grasp the concept of what they entail. Then, if she wants to, she can have at it. We will explain our position to her, for example the lunacy that a 7 year old child has to confess ‘sins’. If after that she still wants to go I’ll take her but the decision will ultimately be hers. For now she'll have to trust our judgement.

I know that we will face similar moral quandaries in a few years when her classmates are due to make their communion and confirmation. I expect to be emotionally blackmailed with the “....she’ll be the only one in the class who won’t have a bouncy castle....” line rattled off ad nauseum; an ace up the sleeve which the church deploys with maximum effect.

For generations we willingly led our children by the hand into the arms of monsters. May we never be so blind again.

Paul Kelly is a Tuam based writer.


  1. Well done, Paul

    No child should be forced to take part in religio-tribal ceremonies (FGM lies at the extreme end of that continuum) that they do not have the capacity to consent to.

    1. Thanks Barry. If we conceded on this one where will it end? Paul

  2. Paul,

    your rage with the Catholic Church is justified. The dilemma you face in wanting what is best and sociable for your daughter is understandable too ... have you considered Educate Together?

    For an infant I'd contend, it'd be more useful to prioritise her social needs in the playground ahead of foisting positions upon her, positions which are currently way beyond such a young mind's comprehension.
    In a couple of years when it comes to 'Holy Communion' she'll be better able to integrate difference and choice.

    All that's a challenging negotiation no doubt. I wish you well with it.

    1. Henry Joy, thanks for support. We did consider ET but convenience and distance had to be factored into our decision. We are very happy with the school and our daughter is thriving. But if we conceded on this where will it end? Paul

    2. Good man, HJ. We considered ET but proximity and convenience was a factor. We are very happy with the school and our daughter is thriving. I'm sure other parents feel as we do and maybe we've started the ball rolling. We defeat the church by ignoring it

  3. Paul, seems you may have made the correct call... 73 Catholic school pupils are left with 'chemical burns' after priest smudges cross on their foreheads with contaminated ashes at Ash Wednesday assembly

    Parents have been left outraged after 73 pupils and 16 staff suffered chemical burns while having ash crosses smudged onto their foreheads during an Ash Wednesday assembly.

    At least two children from St Augustine's Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, were taken to hospital following the religious event.

    Parents said the ritual was performed by a priest and two older children and was stopped half way through when people complained of 'tingling'.

    One concerned grandparent said children were burned - and parents are now considering legal action against the school.

    A parent who took her son to hospital for treatment said medics told her it was a chemical burn that would likely leave a scar.

    Traditionally the ash for the ceremony comes from leaves burned in last year's Palm Sunday services......................

    1. Frankie, I won't lie to you but I never considered any of the above! Another good reason, I suppose? Buíochas

    2. Thanks Frankie. I won't lie to you but I never considered any of the above..... another good reason, I suppose!!