Monday, April 30, 2012
No place for censorship or silence
What if I told you that there is a state which has censored and silenced those in its ranks who have criticised its policies and that denies them the right to express their opinion without first submitting their views to a censor to ensure that it conforms to the opinion of the state!
You might think China or North Korea or Burma or any one of a number of other states which deny citizens their right to freedom of speech.
But you would be wrong. It’s the Vatican state in Rome.
In the last two years five prominent theologians and priests in Ireland and the Redemptorist Magazine ‘Reality’ have been officially silenced and censored by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the Vatican. It is believed that there have been others.
The most recent example to come to light was that of Fr. Brian D’Arcy, a member of the Passionate Order, who was ‘censured’ for four articles he wrote. Fr. D’Arcy, who is based in the Passionate Monastery in Enniskillen, has been writing for the Sunday World for decades, as well as contributing to other publications and to the broadcast media. 14 months ago he was contacted by the head of his order and told that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith were accusing him of being involved in scandals.
Fr. D’Arcy says this is a reference to his criticism of the way the Vatican handled the issue of child abuse in Ireland. He has refused to submit material to the CDF and has said he will continue to write on the issue of sexual abuse.
Fr. Sean Fagan is an 84 year old Marist theologian who was silenced. Fr. Owen O Sullivan is a Capuchin who was silenced because of an article in a Catholic journal ‘The Furrow’. In his article he argued for a more tolerant attitude to homosexuality. He too has to submit anything he writes to a censor.
Fr. Tony Flannery is a Redemptorist priest who helped establish the Association of Irish Priests. He has expressed his support for the ordination of women. And Fr. Gerry Moloney who is the editor of the Redemptorist magazine ‘Reality’ has been accused by the CDF of publishing articles which breach Catholic doctrine on issues such as women priests, celibacy and homosexuality. His articles too must pass the censor.
This blog is a Catholic. I am not a doctrinaire catholic but I do believe that my views in support of women in the priesthood and for a greater democratic process within the Church are shared by many Catholics.
Two years ago I visited Palestine and Israel for a programme on Jesus. It was an exploration of his teachings and his life. One fact was inescapable. He mixed with all of the ‘wrong’ sort of people, the prostitutes, the poor, the sick, and those who disagreed with the established religious leadership of his day.
When I think of Jesus I don’t see someone who would censor or silence but who would welcome dialogue and conversation and embrace all opinions.
My own experience of censorship also confirms for me the stupidity and futility of censorship. It doesn’t resolve issues or differences of opinion but makes finding agreement more difficult.
The desire by an individual or group or state to impose its views and beliefs and opinions on others is as old as human kind. The ancient world experienced this as well as the modern.
In our own time Irish republicans have been victim of censorship. For almost three decades the southern state applied Section 31. It was introduced in 1972 by a Labour Minister Conor Cruise O Brien and banned republicans from the broadcast media. Its effect was pernicious and an attack on the rights of citizens to hear the views and opinions of others.
The British, under Thatcher introduced their own version of this in 1988. Under the Broadcast Ban the voices of republicans were banned. This led to some broadcasters coming up with novel ways of circumventing it. Actor’s voices were used and on one occasion the late Mary Holland produced a Dispatches programme for Channel 4 which had Stephen Rea doing my voice and the programme makers lip-synced it perfectly. It made a nonsense of the ban and was so effective that the British government instructed the media not to lip-synch future interviews.
So frequently Sinn Féin television interviews took on the form of badly dubbed Italian spaghetti westerns!
However the political impact of censorship was far reaching and effective. The frequency with which republican spokespersons were interviewed declined sharply. The Ban ensured that to a large extent only the two government’s version of events was presented to the public. There were honourable exceptions within the media but they were few and far between.
In the view of this blog censorship extended the conflict and facilitated the demonising of one side by the other. It made the possibility of finding a resolution very difficult.
This was especially true when the talks between John Hume and I became public and there was a ferociously critical reaction from the governments and its media.
Censorship is the enemy of truth. It reinforces the conditions for division and conflict. It is an obstacle to dialogue which is essential for understanding and agreement and reconciliation.
When methods of communication were limited and the power and influence of the Church was at its height, censoring and silencing those who disagreed with it might have worked but not today. If it persists in this approach this blog believes that the silencing of priests will ultimately be counter-productive.