The Roman Catholic Church today is the pits. It is sinking in a quagmire of child abuse; it is denying the spectrum of sexuality originating in the Creation itself; it is promoting a rigid top-down hierarchical structure; and, it is stubbornly clinging to a pre-atomic scientific view of matter. The daily news from this quarter must be depressing for all but the most enthusiastic aficionados.
By way of contrast, I would like to bring a small ray of family history sunshine to bear on this apocalyptic corner of existence. I have to declare at the outset that, while brought up a Roman Catholic, and, having been an enthusiastic advocate of the views of Pius XII in my day, I am completely disillusioned with the whole package. My interest is now simply in observing how the RC Church attempts to extricate itself from its own internal contradictions.
So, to my quest. I was trying to find the baptism records of my grandfather who was born in 1870. They were not available in the microfilm records of the National Library of Ireland and the genealogical service of that worthy institution advised as to the relevant parish church of the day for that area. So I rang the PP, lovely man. “Give Joan a ring and she'll sort you out. Don't ring on Thursday, she'll be busy with a funeral.”
I have to admit I am not a great one for making appointments, so I took my courage in my hands and turned up unannounced at the parish office some days later.
I was very apprehensive. Guilt and baggage I suppose. I was expecting an elderly lady in a knitted cardigan, complete with rosary beads, and I was mulling over my possible defences as to why was I, who had rejected the church, now knocking on their door, and looking for favours, no less? And, by the way, when was I last at confession?
I rang the bell anyway. The door was opened by this gorgeous creature who nearly made me forget why I was there in the first place. “Come in, by all means.” I managed to stammer out my request and was immediately presented with the registers and invited to take photos of the relevant entries and the plush cover of the baptismal registry. Miraculously I didn't muck up the camera settings and eventually went about my way in a daze of divine something or other.
This was an experience totally at odds with what I assume to have been the attitude of the PP of former times who wouldn't let even the National Library of Ireland photograph his precious “confidential” records when that institution was doing its photographic rounds.
Full marks to, and fond memories of, my great-grandfather's parish from 1870.
From my perspective, this beats the apparition at Knock, which also figures in my family history, but which is another story entirely.