Articles since 1995

Any of these articles that are not the copyright of a specified publication may be freely copied and distributed.

Articles are listed in inverse chronological order – i.e. more recent articles first.


Challenging the Murphy Report?
© Doctrine and Life  February 2014
A critical examination of the argument made in Unheard Story by Padraig McCarthy for challenging aspects of  the Murphy Report on the handling by the Dublin Archdiocese of cases of clerical child sex abuse.   I argue in reply that the era of ‘cover up’ will not finally be behind us until the Catholic Church leadership has sponsored a thorough independent inquiry into its failure to deal responsibly with this issue over seventeen centuries.

Keeping it in the Family
© Irish News, 21 Nov 2013
How Irish bishops failed to persuade Irish Catholics they knew much about the family, in the wake of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968). And why they need to consult Irish families now if they are to become wiser.

We need to face up to five dysfunctions of the church
© Reality March 2013
There cannot be real Catholic renewal in the West, or a ‘new evangelisation’ without a radical change in the management style of the church’s leaders – a shift to stressing their own fallibility.

The Spirit of Vatican II
© Reality September 2012
The spirit of confidence with which the church faced the world at the ecumenical congress of Vatican II, 1962-65, must be recovered if the church itself is to recover from its current crisis.

Trusting the Gifts of the Spirit among the People of God
© Doctrine and Life May/June 2012
The questions posed by the moral failure of so many Catholic adults to protect children, and by the curious omissions in the summary report on the Vatican visitation to Ireland.

Endless deference or integrity?
Blog April 2012
This was a reaction to the empty summary report of the Vatican visitators to Ireland in the aftermath of the Murphy report of Nov 2009. The summary report, published in March 2012, revealed clearly that the Vatican visitation by four high-ranking clerics had been a holy show designed to hide the most important questions raised by the failure of the church’s governing system.

The Church isn’t the only institution in the dock
© Reality Jan 2012
Recent colossal mistakes have established that the Irish media can also abuse power.

Can Morality be taught without ‘Myth’?
© The Irish Times Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Is the new atheism truly empirical in its insistence that morality can be taught empirically, without recourse to an over-arching narrative or ‘myth’?

The crisis in secular society offers an opportunity for the church
© Reality Nov 2011
How well prepared is the Irish Catholic Church for the kind of social turmoil seen in Britain in the summer of 2011? It may require a shock on that scale to bring home to Irish Church leaders the complete inadequacy of the church system they claim to lead.

The Disgracing of Catholic Monarchism
This article, a contribution to a book focused upon the implications of the Murphy report, argues that the current crisis of the church is essentially a crisis of government, centred on the failure of the monarchical power of bishops to protect children.

The Church needs structural reform
© Reality Mar 2011
Last year’s consultation on the papal pastoral letter to Ireland has highlighted a growing desire for structural change in the Irish church – but when will Irish bishops respond?

Rethinking Catholic Formation
© Reality Feb 2011
With so many young people falling away from faith, we need to rethink our whole system of catechetical and sacramental formation.

Is unaccountable leadership worthy of the public’s respect?
© Irish News, Jan 13th 2011
As a papal visitation of the Irish Catholic church got under way, it was time to ask if church leaders had really understood the import of what had happened on their watch.

Of Good and Evil
© Reality Mar-Jul 2010
Why do we humans so often let ourselves down, and cause one another such pain and disillusionment?  Can we connect the many human failings we see around us today with what the Bible says about this problem? This short series states a very personal view.

Authoritarianism and Moral Cowardice
© Doctrine and Life, May-June 2010
Reading the Ryan and Murphy reports, where must we look for an explanation of the moral cowardice of Catholic officials and police who failed to challenge clerical child abuse? This article argues that a major cause was Catholic clerical authoritarianism, which left too many Catholics confusing deference-to-clergy with loyalty to Christ.

Goodbye and Good Riddance to Irish Catholic Serfdom
© Doctrine and Life, October, 2009
The disillusionment that has followed the CICA (Ryan) report must be recognised as a liberation from moral serfdom, the medieval habit of deference to those who wielded clerical authority but ignored the sufferings of thousands of children in the residential institutions.

Why the Show Mustn’t Go On
© Doctrine and Life, September 2008
How the story of Michael Cleary revealed the great danger of the illusion that underlies Catholic clericalism – the belief that ordination confers virtue and holiness on those who receive it. It revealed also a huge gap in Catholic moral education, leaving us all unwarned about the greatest danger presented by electronic media.

Secularism and Hesitant Preaching
© The Furrow, July/August 2008
Why the hesitancy that has overtaken the Sunday homily in Ireland in recent years needs to be discarded. All of the most intractable problems that currently threaten us – from abuse to addiction to climate crisis – are related to the central problem addressed by the Gospel: our inability to love ourselves and one another. To wait for effective government-led policies to deal with these problems is a profound mistake.

The Role of the Priest: Sacrifice or Self-Sacrifice?
© Doctrine and Life, Sept 2007
Why do we associate ‘priesthood’ with ritual rather than with actual service and self-sacrifice – the definitive priestly role of Jesus? The reasons are historical rather than theological. To restore the centrality of actual service in the church will be to resolve the problem of ‘involving the laity’ also.

Catholic Schools: Why They Are Not Maintaining the Faith
© The Irish News, 21st June 2007)
With the future of Northern Ireland’s Catholic schools now in question, I offer an explanation of why they are failing to do what they are expected to do: to form committed Catholic adults.

Clericalism the Enemy of Catholicism
© The Irish News, 9th Nov 2006)
VOTF’s view that the origins of Catholic scandals lies not in Catholicism but in Catholic clericalism, the identification of the church with clergy.

The Story of the West
© Reality, Oct 2006 – March 2007)
As secularism advances in Ireland, so does the myth that Catholicism and Christianity had little to do with the success story of Western civilisation. In this series I set out to show that from the beginning Catholic Christianity played an essential role in the rise of the West. I argued also that the present Earth crisis can be overcome only by a fruitful dialogue between secularism and Christianity.

Western Dominance: A Product of Catholic Theology?
© Doctrine and Life, April 2006
An article reviewing Rodney Stark’s ‘Victory of Reason’, an agnostic sociologist’s defence of the role of Christianity and Catholicism in forming the the West’s cultural ascendancy in the modern era.

After Ferns: The Rise of Christian Secularism?
© Reality, March 2006
Acting on the recommendations of the Ferns report of October 2005, Irish Catholic bishops were reacting to a secular process of inquiry into their own failings. This means that secularism is not necessarily a force antagonistic to Christian values. It’s time for a Christian secularism.

Unaccountability, Patronage and Corruption
© Doctrine and Life, February 2006)
The unaccountability of bishops, who promote and demote clergy in the Catholic church, and who also exercise this power of patronage in Catholic education, is a corrupting circumstance for the whole church. We should not continue to give unconditional financial support to this unaccountable system.

After Ferns: Clericalism Must Go
© Reality, January 2006
The role of clericalism in the sexual abuse of children by a minority of Catholic priests, and the role of clericalism in the cover-up also, as proven once again by the Ferns report. The lesson to be learned? Clericalism must finally be eradicated from the culture of the Catholic Church.

Does Religion Cause Violence?
© Reality, October 2005
The attribution by militant secularists of current terrorist violence to religion ignores the motives that underlie all such violence.

Love Before Knowledge: The Search for Portable Truth
© The Furrow, September 2005
The frequent failure of Catholic adult education in the prioritisation of mere knowledge, leading to indoctrination and alienation.

‘Towards Healing’: A Promise That Must Be Kept
© Doctrine and Life, September 2005
The proposal in the Irish Bishops’ Lenten reflection of February 2005 – the mobilisation of the whole church community to tackle the problem of abuse – would further erode the hierarchy’s authority if it remained merely a paper exercise.

Facing the Dictatorship of Relativism
© Reality, July/August 2005
How an interview given by Pope Benedict XVI in 1996 provides a possible solution to the problem of opposing relativism (the belief that there is no objective truth) without endangering the peace of a multi-faith society.

A Short History of Haute Cuisine Catholicism
© Irish Times, July 2005
The historical tendency of the Catholic hierarchy to cosy up to social elites.

My Kind of Pope
© Reality, June 2005
An appeal for a Pope who can fully understand the need and potential for lay Catholics to exercise Christian initiative in their own space, and who will encourage them to do so.

Is Human Consciousness Evolving?
© Doctrine and Life, April 2005
A review article assessing the argument, presented in Adrian Smith’s book “The God Shift”, that humans are becoming ‘superconscious’.

Revitalising the Catholic Church in Ireland
© Reality, March-December 2004
A series of ten articles examining the crisis of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The Dark Materials of Children’s Fiction
© Doctrine & Life, December 2004
A review article evaluating Philip Pullman’s fiction trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’, currently being filmed. Although this work is an attack on historical Catholicism, parents and teachers should not be unduly alarmed and should treat it as a useful starting point for a discussion with children of the liberating power of Christian faith.

Is There an Haute Cuisine Catholicism?
© Doctrine & Life, April 2004)
A Review of Alain deBotton’s ‘Status Anxiety’, accepting deBotton’s interpretation of ‘worldliness’ as a desire for social status and examining the reasons for the historical failure of clericalist Catholicism to make this connection.

‘Saving Christianity’ by Canon Hilary Wakeman
© Doctrine & Life, March 2004
Review article assessing the argument that the creeds can only be said with ‘crossed fingers’ and the possible contribution of ‘progressive Christianity’ to the cause of saving Christianity.

The Moral Universe of the Creeds
© The Irish Times, January 2004
Short article arguing that the ‘cosmos’ of the creeds is primarily a moral universe that is unassailable by empirical science – in response to a similar piece by Canon Hilary Wakeman summarisisng the argument of her recently published book ‘Saving Christianity’.

Notes From the Departure Lounge
© Reality, 2003
Three articles recounting the spiritual dimension of an experience of cancer in 2003.
(i)   “You have possibly incurable cancer!”
(ii)  “Ubi Caritas …”
(iii)  Reprieve!

The Search for Spiritual Intelligence
© Spirituality, 2003
Outlining an understanding of ‘spiritual intelligence’ based upon the Girardian theory of mimetic desire and its origins in the human problem of self-esteem.

The Lost Sin
© The Furrow, 2003
René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and its implications for understanding modern problems such as global violence and environmental decay, and the application to these of the Decalogue.

Northern Ireland: Christians in Conflict?
© Doctrine and Life, Sep 2003
A critical examination of the cliché that attributes the violence of Northern Ireland to religion as such.

Licensed to Kill
© Doctrine & Life, 2003
The connection between the Popeye cartoon, the James Bond films, the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish – and the foreign policy of the Bush administration.

‘Consecrating the World’?
© Doctrine & Life, 2003
What exactly does this mean in 21st century secular society?

Christianity and the Environment
© Doctrine & Life, 2003
The mistaken perception that Christianity is hostile to the environment .

Restoring the Authority of the Church
© Doctrine & Life, 2003)
Authority, integrity and freedom are inseparable.

Ireland’s Moral Ground Zero
© The Irish Times, January 2003
The nadir (or so we thought) of Irish political and ecclesiastical leadership in 2002.

Defining Clericalism
© Doctrine & Life, October 2002
An elderly Irish rural Catholic’s experience of church since Vatican II

Encounters With The Force
© Doctrine & Life, July-August 2002
On the George Lucas ‘Star Wars’ films

The Greatest Scandal
© Reality, June 2002
Recent Church Scandals in Ireland, April 2002

April Epiphanies
© Doctrine & Life, June 2002
On the Church Scandals in Ireland and the US, April 2002

Rethinking Freedom
© Spirituality 2002
On the elusiveness of the ‘Four Freedoms’

What Do We Mean By The Kingdom of God?
© Doctrine & Life, April 2002

Harry Potter And The Disappearing Student
© Doctrine & Life, December 2001
On the JK Rowling stories of Hogwart’s School for Magicians

The Spiritual Dimension of Mental Illness
© Doctrine & Life , November 2001

Is God Dead?
© Doctrine & Life October 2001
Review:  I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, by René Girard

Rehabilitating Satan
© The Furrow 2001
Is there a power of evil, and, if so, how does it operate?

The World of the Wannabe
© Spirituality 2001

The Day the World Changed (9/11/2001)
© Reality 2001

Twelve Steps to Being Christian
© The Furrow 2001

Irish Catholicism: A Church in Need
© Céide, 2001

Towards a New Evangelism
© Doctrine & Life, April-July 2001
I What’s So Good About the Good News
II The Cursillo in Derry
III United Christian Aid and Michael McGoldrick
IV ‘Search’

Understanding the Downward Journey
© Spirituality 2001

Protecting the Absolute Truth
© Doctrine & Life, March 2001
Interpreting the Creeds

World And Church Revisited
© Doctrine & Life, February 2001

The Myth of Materialism
© Doctrine & Life, January 2001

Rejecting the Poison Chalice of Church-State Unity
© The Irish Times 2000

Craggy Island Revisited
© Doctrine & Life 2000

Bishop J.S. Spong’s “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”
A Robust Critique (1999)

Pius XII and the Holocaust: The Real Lessons
© The Irish Times 1999

Disempowerment in the Church
© The Furrow 1998

Why Ireland is Godless: Secularism as Divine Retribution
© The Irish Times 1998
This article, published in the Irish Times 2nd February 1998, was selected by the Irish Religious Press Association as ‘Best Article on a Religious Topic in the Secular Media’ for that year.

Secularism and an Adult Church
© The Furrow 1997
This was selected as ‘Best Article’ by the Irish Religious Press Association in 1998.

Scandals in the Church
© Studies 1995
A response to the first clerical child abuse scandal in the Irish church in 1994.

2 thoughts on “Articles

  1. Hello again Sean – once again I must express a thought.

    Your articles are SO full of insights and practical wisdoms on all sides, that I was wondering if you have contemplated having them published in book form publication? Probably not, given the prevalence of ‘online’ and new technologies, but as one who believes (religiously?) in the role and place of ‘the book’ – its permanence (where would we be today if Magna Carta had been published Online instead of on parchment?) and accessibility – it would be wonderful to be able to go to bed with a collection of Sean O’Connail insights keeping one awake into the night – instead of falling asleep into the computer screen. Thanks Sean – PatriciaMK

    1. Thanks again. I just might get round to a compilation of articles sometime in book form, centred perhaps on the idea of the kingdom of God. Just now all energies are devoted to promoting discussion on the roots of our youth alienation crisis, via ‘The Chain That Binds the Earth’. It is difficult to be constructive without also being highly critical of the still heavy weight of an out-of-touch authoritarianism, so I’m hoping the novel will help negotiate all that – if people know about it. Here’s hoping and praying!

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