Book burning and protests at Dublin midnight mass

St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin*

DUBLIN — Outside midnight mass tonight, a man was burning books. At least two copies of the Murphy Report into Child Abuse in Dublin went up in flames. The mass was no ordinary Christmas ceremony, but a tense affair, with hecklers and an Archbishop in full, golden regalia, who seemed humble and eager to please.

Although we’re not practising Catholics, my family has always gone to mass on Christmas eve. This evening my mom and I arrived late to the ceremony at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin (it began at 10pm, not midnight, we belatedly found out), but a sense of suppressed excitement was in the air, and we could instantly tell something odd was going on. I don’t remember gardai being at the service before but this year two or three of them stood at the back of the church. After the Palestrina choir’s gorgeous rendition of “Oh Holy Night,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has been navigating the tortuous waters the Catholic Church now faces in the wake of the Murphy Report, thanked the singers and all those who had helped prepare for the ceremony. Everyone clapped.

Then, he added that he had spoken to auxiliary Bishop Ray Field and Bishop Eamonn Walsh before the mass, and they had offered their resignation to the Pope. The congregation clapped, again (my mother says with less enthusiasm but it was hard to tell). The archbishop looked worn and his cheeks were puffy and red.

“Pray for them,” he asked the congregation. And he added, “pray for me.”

The clergy made their way down the aisle in a long procession, accompanied by Dublin’s mayor Emer Costello and other dignitaries. They rounded the corner to return to the top of the church along a side aisle, but the archbishop and a priest swerved away and went straight outside instead, going down the cathedral steps and onto the road.

I could’t quite see what was going on — whether Martin crossed the street to the man burning the Murphy Reports. Cameras were snapping, people craned their necks to get a glimpse of the drama. Martin and the priest came back up the Pro-Cathedral steps and stood by the doors greeting those who came out.

I went over to speak to the protester. He said he had just completed a seven-day hunger strike outside the Dail. Both he and his brother had been abused, he explained. When his brother was a boy priests who were his teachers had broken his arm in two places and locked him in a shed for two days. The man said the Murphy Report is a cover-up and does not go far enough. He wants the bishops, and Archbishop Martin, to go on trial for concealing facts.

There was something obscene about the whole thing. People came out from the Pro-Cathedral in throngs and while many stared, nobody wanted to talk to the book-burner. One man called over, “the Nazis did that too.”

My mother and I eventually made our way to our car, which was in a desolate and now empty car-park. A drunk, short-haired, spotty guy in his twenties was loitering unsteadily near our car, and he requested money for “looking after” it. When we refused he held my 68-year-old mother’s door open and wouldn’t let her close it. We somehow managed to get quickly into the car and lock the doors, after which he spat a big glob on the window and kicked my mom’s door.

Dublin feels strange at the moment. On the drive home my mother said it’s a terrible time for Irish history, when all the horrors of abuse are coming to light. But even though it is terrible — and this may be why the city feels frightening and unsettled — it surely was worse before, when people couldn’t say anything.

*I got the photo of the Pro-Cathedral from a blog called Clerical Whispers — which itself reports that a woman knocked over the Pope at the Vatican’s Christmas Eve mass.


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