Crooked Clerics and Marian Apparitions

 Posted by on January 21, 2013  Add comments
Jan 212013

I suppose the Virgin Mary is the Willie O Dea of demigods,  always ready to slip in a good word for a constituent needing a favour, but at the same time always ready to stand beside the man of influence and claim the credit.

Cast your mind back to 1879, a time of oppression when  the spirit of the Irish peasantry had been broken by the Famine and when landlords were free to evict their tenants wholesale, just as they were doing to Scottish smallholders.

It was Lord this and Colonel that, but the story doesn’t run entirely in accordance with the Catholic-nationalist narrative beaten into every Irish child since the foundation of the State.  Take the example of Canon Ulick Burke, a Catholic clergyman from Knock in County Mayo who happened to be a substantial landowner.  This kind, Christian gentleman raised his rents and threatened his tenants with eviction unless they somehow found the money to pay him.

It was the time of Davitt’s Land League, an organisation hated and denounced by the Catholic hierarchy, and it was the Land League that organised a rent strike among Father Burke’s tenants.  John McHale, the Catholic bishop of Tuam, was not impressed and neither was Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh, who happened to be the parish priest of Knock.  Cavanagh was having none of this opposition to the wealthy and the powerful, especially when the wealthy also happened to be members of his own clergy, and perhaps this is why his denunciation of the strike from the pulpit in Knock was so extreme.  But  Cavanagh miscalculated.  Twenty thousand people gathered outside his church to protest, causing Burke to lose his nerve and to reduce his rents by a quarter instead of increasing them.

It mattered not a jot to Cavanagh, a man who clearly gave little thought to the question of what Jesus would do, and for very good reasons.  Jesus wasn’t his deity of choice.

Three days after the mass protest outside the church, ghostly apparitions appeared on the walll of the church.  Precise, identifiable, ghostly figures, including that of St John the Baptist, even though nobody had the slightest idea what the man ought to look like.  There was a little sheep and a woman, presumed to be the Virgin Mary for no particular reason.

A crowd gathered to see the projection on the wall, but even though one of the visionaries called to the priest’s house to tell him, Cavanagh wouldn’t come outside.  Given that he was, in theory, a fervent believer in the occult and supernatural, it seems odd that a man of the cloth would not at the very least peep out his window and have a look, but not the sturdy Father Cavanagh.  His behaviour seems doubly strange, since it was less than thirty years since Cardinal Paul Cullen had first established the cult of Mary in Ireland, unless Cavanagh already had his own information about what was really happening.

KNock shrine

And as we know, the magic lantern stunt paid off in spades, with Knock becoming a huge international money earner.  No viral internet marketing campaign there.

A hundred years later and a thousand miles away, the Virgin Mary was happy to step in again and look after a different bunch of crooks when the friars of the Franciscan monastery at Medjugorje came under investigation for corruption.  The bishop of Mostar was on to their crooked little games and they were facing dissolution by Rome when suddenly, as if by a miracle, a half dozen local teenagers, incredibly telegenic and Hollywood-ready, began to see images of Mary  and before you know it, Medjugorje was deluged by planeloads of BVM-believing Irish people who can’t get enough of the Mother of God.

It went to such extremes that even during the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995, Medjugorje was untouched, thanks to an agreement between the leaders of the factions in the three-cornered war.  They were making so much money from the Irish pilgrims that nobody wanted to disturb the status quo.

Sometimes, though, the Virgin Mary pulls on a flak jacket and gets right down there with the special forces, as she did when Pope John Paul II was shot.  Afterwards, he gave thanks for his miraculous survival because, of course, everyone else who was ever shot has died and therefore it had to be a miracle.

He thanked Our Lady of Fatima for saving him.  Not Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady of Guadelupe, or Our Lady of Knock.  They were off somewhere else, saving true believers from bad stuff, but not intervening in Turkish earthquakes or Bangladeshi floods, or curing AIDS or getting rid of cancer.  No.  Instead, they were busy doing the Willie O Dea thing by getting constituents special favours in return for the single transferable prayer.  The religious PR system at full throttle.

Is it all harmless?  That’s what I’d have to ask.  Is it any different to the Lord of the Rings?

Well, yes.  It is.  Unless you happen to be a complete geek, you know that Tolkien made all of that up.  And even if you dress like a Klingon, the chances are you know that Star Trek isn’t real.  Besides, if you think it is real, you can get help.

And yet, millions of people not only believe that the Virgin Mary space hero exists, but also that she talks to them.

By what standards is this not a mental disorder?  Fixed, false ideas, impervious to reason.  Isn’t that the definition of psychosis?

We never reached an age of enlightenment or logic, even though we have many logical people in the world today.  Most people have no interest in thinking things through — they just want the sound-bite, the 10-second video clip on Sky News, and that’s what the media feed them, in exactly the same way as the major religions.  We still believe in magic, which is simply another word for nonsense, and it’s possible to persuade people of anything.

That’s why so many people in the world believe that a biscuit can become a man.   Marvel Comics wouldn’t get away with it, but the Vatican does.



Previously on Bock


  12 Responses to “Crooked Clerics and Marian Apparitions”

Comments (12)

    Bock, this is a good sketch on religion and moving statues from Chris Morris of ‘Brass Eye fame’



    I like your use of the word projection on the wall. Because I remember watching RTE about 10 or 12 years ago and the narrator mentioned an Italian that was in Knock at the time with projection equipment. I can’t remember his name, but it certainly
    made sense . . . especially as the apparition in Knock didn’t speak as she did apparently in Fatima and Medjugorge.


    Bock, I propose we remove the Virgin Mary statue from the grotto in Rathbane and replace it with a statue of Peter Clohessy. We could repaint the plinth and everything in the Young Munster colours, as a sort of tribute to a fine club and due to it’s proximity to the shrine. I think the locals would love it, what do you think?


    A great wording Bock…
    I read that part about the Pope thanking the Lady of Fatima for saving him, on a Richard Dawkins book..
    I laughed my arse off then, and I did it again in reading it in your script..
    The Lady was on the Fatima part of her world tour..
    You forget to mention that she only turns up in Christian states.. prodimantly Catholic ones at that…
    Even though there are more Catholics in Britian.. she still hasn’t toured there with a leg of her tour.. Suppose she has ended up like Elvis, doing the Las Vegas strip… & not going outside to do a world tour…


    The catholic church hierarchy are a despicable bunch.
    They and the Vatican have done many harmful things and continue to.
    Their destruction of so many lives through their great money spinner, the Magdalene Laundries for instance, will not be forgotten.
    The stories you relate are not unusual, history has many examples.
    My own faith in the church is shot to shit but not my faith in Jesus Christ and certainly not my faith in Mary.
    The medal She gave us in 1830 works.
    The paedophilia sanctioned by Rome is not sanctioned by God.
    It is difficult to separate the church from its purpose but the Devil is real too and he has very successfully achieved his goal, evident in the destruction the priesthood.
    Our Lady of Guadeloupe warned of the paedophilia to come. Many disbelieved the visionaries because they said that priests were going to Hell.
    But Her prophecy of the existence of evil priests has been substantiated.
    Who could forget the evil look shown in that photograph of Fr.Smith’s face following his court conviction?
    Unfortunately the current pope looks eerily similar but remember his remit prior to getting the top job concerned damage limitation linked directly to those crimes of the clergy.
    I do not trust him.
    It’s easy to be confused and lose sight of what’s truth is given the success of Satan’s endeavors.
    But we have a means to know.
    Silence and solitude is the greatest tool we possess in finding God.
    And He can only be found in our hearts.
    His instruction – “be still and know that I am”.
    Satan on the other hand loves noise.
    It’s a matter of faith.


    @ Joureyman

    What would your other Lady at Knock say to your Lady of Guadeloupe if they ever met…
    They’d probably tell each other Knock Knock jokes :-)


    Knock: Pilgrims, Prayers, Prams, Priests and Pikeys. Lovely.


    Christianity was a philosophy popular amongst Roman slaves.

    The slave owners found the philosophy dangerous.
    So they made it into a religion with one form of the deity very similar to the in god at
    the time,the emperor/Mithras and the other form similar to Jupiter/Jove.
    All the woo-woo has been appended through the centuries.
    Martin Luther tried his best to modernise and his followers went of to form
    the rational part of Europe and eventually the enlightenment,while the old guard
    kept sway over the idiots. Most Irish people when given the choice decided to
    stay with the cannibals so really they deserve what they get.


    Journeymans, you must thank our lady Guadelope for me for predicting something that was already going on.


    Why do you feel the need to insult the religious beliefs of Catholics?
    Re Fatima: Read the observations of Avelino de Almeida, Editor in Chief of O Seculo, the great “liberal,” anticlerical and Masonic daily of Lisbon:

    “From the road, where the cars were packed together, and several hundred people had remained, not having had the courage to advance towards the muddy field, one could see the immense multitude turn towards the sun, which appeared at its zenith, coming out of the clouds.
    “It resembles a dull silver disc, and it is possible to fix one’s eyes on it without the least damage to the eye. It does not burn the eyes. It does not blind them. One might say that an eclipse was taking place.

    “An immense clamor bursts out, and those who are nearer to the crowd hear a shout: ‘Miracle! Miracle! Prodigy!… Prodigy!…’

    “The attitude of the people takes us back to biblical times. Stupefied and with heads uncovered, they watch the blue sky. Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled; the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos; and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced.’”

    Read the observations of Dr. Almeida Garrett, professor of the Faculty of Sciences at Coimbra, was also on hand to describe the events of that day (see

    Re Lourdes: Can you explain the incorrupt body of St Bernadette? Look at this video: and this:


    Hi John.

    On this occasion, I don’t mock the beliefs of Catholics. I mock the beliefs of people who are willing to swallow any old bullshit as long as it’s wrapped up in Marian magic.

    Bernadette’s face and hands are made of wax, which seems unnecessary if the poor girl is incorrupt. Why did they need to make a false face and hands — the only visible parts of the saint?

    I agree with you that the spectacle at Fatima takes us back to biblical times — an era when ignorance and superstition were everywhere.

    By the way, the Medjugorje scam is not part of Catholic belief. It was rejected by the Vatican, although I will admit that they accept the other scams as being genuine.

    John, could you explain the difference between a miracle and magic?


    Apparitions have always generated tourism and benefited the areas where the appearances happened. Pilgrimages are alternative forms of holiday making. Geoffrey Chaucer bears this fact out quite well in his enjoyable Canterbury Tales. So whether apparitions and miraculous cures are eventually proven true or false (or inconclusive as the case may be) the populations of the areas involved are satisfied. the perpetrators of faked miracles are stuntsmen and criminally inclined, so they merit contempt and possible attention from the police. In times of economic depression there is always a temptation for individuals to fake miracles or apparitions, and there is a widespread latent public gullibility about claims. the institutional church has a duty to act quickly and investigate extraordinary claims. In the matter of the Achill House of Prayer, which draws busloads of pilgrims to Achill every weekends and attracts loads of monetary donations, the institutional church seems to me to have been tardy and indecisive in its response and handling of the phenomenon.

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