Saturday, August 06, 2011

Falling in love with priests

‘Down down down,’ the headlines read.
‘The newspapers shit me,’ I say to my husband after he has peeled off the gladwrap that protects said newspaper from the rain.
‘It’s starting to shit everyone, I think,’ he says and walks back to the bedroom to read the details.

I cannot be bothered with the details. All this doom and gloom and soon we will be ruined. Endless talk of disaster in the economy. The newspapers perpetuate it and feed on it and feed it back to us as if to guarantee a spirit of hopelessness and despair that might or might not sell newspapers.

It is easy to get caught up in the generalised anxiety but for a long time I have told myself it is better to worry – if indeed I must worry – about things that I can improve or at least have some impact on. I can do nothing about the Dow Jones Index.

I am now more than half way through the Ballykissangel series and my heart has gone out of it.

Assumpta Fitzgerald is dead and her would be lover the priest, Peter Clifford, has disappeared in his grief.

The scriptwriters decided to electrocute Assumpta just at the point where she and Peter Clifford are ready to acknowledge their shared love for one another, just at the point where a romance might be possible, between Assumpta, a married woman, and Peter, a Catholic priest.

What of it? All these transgressions then tragedy strikes.

I had to keep telling myself after the end of the third series that this is just a story. There is no actual Assumpta Fitzgerald. Even so I kept wanting to bring her back to life.

I Googled the actor who plays the part and reading about the real life Dervla Kirwan helped ameliorate some of the pain.

I had a similar experience reading AS Byatt’s Still Life. Byatt also kills off one of her central characters, a young woman who has not long earlier give birth to her first daughter. Byatt also destroys her character’s life through electrocution. I could not bear it any more than I could bear the pain of Assumpta’s accidental death by electrocution and the town’s grief, but most of all, I could not bear Peter Clifford’s grief.

And then I read through Google that the man who plays Peter Clifford, an English actor Stephen Tomkinson, was once engaged to the woman who plays Assumpta, Dervla Kirwan.

Maybe sparks flew while they were filming. It seems to happen: actors who play lovers on the screen become real life lovers, at least for a while. Dervla Kirwan married someone else in the end as did Tomkinson.

I find this double identity difficult to deal with. I so want to lose myself in the story as if it is real. The knowledge that a certain actor plays the part spoils the illusion.

Maybe it’s my way of escaping from the ‘Down down down’ of the Dow Jones when I enter whole other worlds in which I have no care and no responsibility.

And then I find an entire blog dedicated to Assumpta Fitzgerald. An Australian, I might add, named Sarah Turner has written about Assumpta Fitzgerald almost as if she were real, and she is real in our imaginations.

If you’re interested she tells the story. And so I’m cleary not the only one hooked into this story.

My sisters and I have a long history of falling in love with priests. You could call it Oedipal if you like. Attraction to the unattainable one. The forbidden one.

The priests, the young priests at least, the ones straight out of the seminary exuded an innocence and charm that set my heart racing as a young adolescent.

The three of us, my older sister and my younger sister competed for their affections or so it seemed to me. My older sister had the best chance with them. She was the oldest and therefore most endowed with womanly attributes, although my younger sister worked hard to be attractive – and she was – she remained too youthful I imagine to stir the hearts of the local curates, but my older sister drew him in.

This was in the days when we lived in Cheltenham and attended Our Lady of the Assumption. The then curate came from a large family of boys, several of whom were significant in public life, one a renowned barrister, another a journalist and this youngest was the priest.

But he was a larrikin. I sensed it always and he flirted with the young girls from the YCW. In the end he married one of them, but not before he enchanted my older sister who at that time was also being courted by the priest from our old parish, the one we called Father Willie. He was Irish, like Father Clifford.

I am struck by my deep desire for Assumpta Fitzgerald and Peter Clifford to get together even as I know such a liaison would most likely be doomed to failure, though not necessarily.

There have been successful marriages between ex priests and women over the years. I think of Greg Dening who married out of the priesthood, but I also think of my oldest brother, admittedly only in training to be a priest but some way down the track when he met and married his first wife. Their marriage lasted only a year.

I suspect my brother stayed priest-like in his manners. The story goes he continued to welcome homeless and desperate people into their home and his new wife could not take it any more.

And then there is my sister who married a priest. Her marriage lasted the length of five children but in the end he strayed off with another parishioner. My sister has stayed faithful to the church in a manner of speaking. My brother I believe has not.

Before they married, my once brother in law needed to get a dispensation from Rome and to do so he was told to think long and hard about his calling and his behaviour. By then my sister was pregnant with their first child, even as her husband to be, fresh out of the seminary and newly ordained, continued to say Mass and hear confessions.

My sister went into labour with toxaemia at seven months and lost the first baby, which my mother saw as a sign from God that my sister and the priest should desist, but it did not stop them.

My sister was again pregnant within a year and all this before any dispensation had been granted. All this in the days when single motherhood especially within the Catholic church was frowned upon.

And pregnancy to a priest, well …
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