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 …


Snowbrush said...

Sometimes, Elizabeth, I don't know what to say. I get a magazine that is really tall and really wide, and every month, it has two solid pages of small print containing the names and stories of ministers--priests, mostly--who have gotten in trouble for indiscretions, mostly of a sexual nature, so this is what I think of when I think of the priesthood. I see them as being like lawyers in that there are surely a lot of good ones, yet it's still a shameful profession.

ellen abbott said...

Abstinence is doomed to failure since it runs afoul of the strongest biological imperative. No wonder the Catholic Church has so much trouble with that particular requirement.

Rubye Jack said...

My ego seems to always be attracted to the forbidden if it is the least bit attainable. Some things like married men should stay forbidden because they only cause harm, but the challenge is a great attraction. I suppose priests are like married men.

Windsmoke. said...

Doom and gloom is everywhere in the newspapers and on the tv news, if you believe it all and worry about it, it will eventually do your head in :-).

Elizabeth said...

Wow. I am so glad to have come here tonight as I felt much the same on my drive back from the beach this evening, listening to the radio feeling the doom and gloom and honestly, how is one supposed to live?

Now I'm obsessed with the name "Assumpta" -- it's just fantastic.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

A writer creates; she may destroy.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, can't do the first.

Penal-Colony said...

Aren't you lucky you didn't grow up over here? We'd have had to be pulling and dragging the padres offa yous.

During our great prophylactic Referendum, it emerged that one of the most vocal opponents of condoms, a certain Bishop Casey, had fathered a child in America and he was spiriting parish funds to his paramour to keep her quiet.

Some wiseacre saw it a perfect opportunity to Up the Dow and make a few bob, so he printed off T-Shirts that read:

Condoms -- I wear them just in Casey

Marja said...

A very close bond with the church. I think clerical celibacy is a bad idea and at the root of many problems.
The doom and gloom is indeed everywhere. Some of my friends and family have exierenced part of the doom. I feel far from it here though in NZ. Our city is munted so we just have to move on with live.

Glynis Peters said...

Interesting post about your family and priests. My friend married one, lost a child and he had an affair with another...priest. Sad times for all.

Doom and gloom here in Cyprus. Not only do we have the electric explosion disaster to contend with, we are also now like Greece in the Eu debt dept. The world is mad and I stopped reading newspapers years ago. The press exacerbate snippets of the truth and create havoc. I bury my head in the sand with topics I cannot control and muddle through.

Enjoy your weekend.

cheshire wife said...

Novels by definition are escapism.

The greatest story of a priest and pregnancy has to be The Thorn Birds which did not have a happy ending but would could resist Richard Chamberlain.

Frances said...

Your older sister, "most endowed with womanly attributes", was pursuing the priest? Although her own father was having sex with her?
Your family of origin is amazingly tolerant about the disclosure of them anchedin your posts, Elisabeth.

Jim Murdoch said...

I find myself not particularly troubled by who wrote what or who plays whom in fact it is only in recent years I’ve taken much interest in the private lives of writers and artists. I knew more about composers, quite a bit actually, and I’ve often found the more I’ve known the less I’ve appreciated their work. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is loved the world over without many knowing a thing about its subject matter or how unlikeable Orff was as a man. I feel the same about actors. I’ve never felt the need to find out about what they’re like off stage. Home movies of people like Peter Sellers feel intrusive. There have been exceptions. One in particular.

I was not brought up as a Catholic but there are plenty of opportunities for non-Catholics to develop crushes on unattainable folk; teachers are popular and I did have a crush on my Speech and Drama teacher but the worst one was on the actress Cheryl Burfield.

You won’t know her unless you were a fan of the children’s TV series, Timeslip, which ran from 28 September 1970 until 22 March 1971, a total of 26 episodes covering four storylines, one set during World War II, the second in the future, the third in an alternate future and the fourth primarily in the present. It was supposed to be ITV’s response to the popularity of Doctor Who, a more science-oriented show; they even went so far as to have the science journalist, Peter Fairley, introduce the show we a wee talk on time bubbles. It was an intelligent, well-written show, even if the acting wasn’t always top notch. But that wasn’t what really interested me. I became quickly besotted with the female lead. I learned everything I could about her, which wasn’t an awful lot. When the show ended I would have been almost twelve and although she wasn’t my first crush and not even my first crush on an actress (that honour goes to Debbie Reynolds with June Allyson a close second) but she was the first who was conceivably attainable (okay in my wildest dreams) as she was about my own age – she was eighteen at the time although she was playing younger girl – and lived in the UK.

She only acted in a couple of things after that and there was no Internet back then for me to try and pursue her (lucky her) and so I had to let her go but I was bereft. A few years ago the DVD collection came out and I bought it right away and made Carrie sit and watch it with me. It stood up well, far better than some of the other shows that were on at the time. And I was not surprised to find myself still attracted to her. Of course now I’m a man in my fifties and it feels creepy since the girl on screen is only eighteen but in my head I’m still twelve; it’s that twelve-year-old who’s come back to life and I get to relive what he felt. I thought after forty years I might be more objective but I wasn’t.

To go with the show was a website and I finally got to see how Cheryl looks now. Old, like me. That made me sad. She was always unattainable but now even more so. The girl I thought I was in love with no longer exists. Getting to England is no problem but travelling to the past… Ah, if only Timeslip was real but then I’d still be fifty-two and she’d still be eighteen and I guess that would be even worse than being twelve and turning up on her doorstep professing my undying love.

Frances said...

At my catholic school we were often told that nuns took a vow of chastity. On other occasions we were often told that priests took a vow of celibacy. No one ever asked about the difference between these words, but I now assume that priests were required to be unmarried, but not required to be chaste.
At my catholic school I experienced words, music and philosophies that were sublime, and that still illuminate me decades later. So, I have to disagree with Glen Ingersoll.

Antares Cryptos said...

The sensationalist doom and gloom approach of the media is successfully keeping susceptible minds busy with doom and gloom.

Novels offer a healthy diversion from such tactics.

persiflage said...

Priests were often charismatic, as well as authority figures. This was a combination bound to make it difficult for women and girls, who were educated and trained to be subordinate and submissive. Yet at the same time they ere expected to keep the males on the rails. Heads you win, Tails I lose.
Frances, you are right. Despite all the difficulties I still treasure much of my Catholic heritage.

Elisabeth said...

I suppose every profession shares its load of shame, especially those professions that tend to be most highly exalted.

We put them on pedestals - doctors, lawyers, priests and even movie stars. Invariably some fail, and then become the worst of the worst, tarnishing the reputations of the rest, and I don't say that lightly.

Thanks, Snow.

Elisabeth said...

I agree Ellen abstinence imposes a heavy toll given our biological drives. Abstinence not only on the levels of celibacy but also voluntary poverty and obedience. These things do not sit well with the best of us.
Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Linda, priests are like married men - forbidden - and to me they are also like fathers. We call them Father after all. They are authority figures and they are hands off. They can therefore stir up incestuous desires.

Funnily, we don't often hear of nuns stirring up incestuous desires in men, or at least I haven't. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Thanks, Linda.

Elisabeth said...

I don't want to do my head in Windsmoke, for which reason, like you I choose not to believe all that I read in the newspapers.


Elisabeth said...

I'm not quite sure what you mean in your comment, Glenn. that a writer creates and therefore may destroy makes sense to me, but I'm sure there are those who would argue the Catholic church has also created things, in a manner of speaking, over time, however destructive it may have also been in the process. I think here of things like glorious architecture.

Perhaps you intended something else here. Thanks, Glenn.

Elisabeth said...

Assumpta is a name that derives from the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as you most likely already know, Elizabeth. The name appeals to me, too, in some strange way.

As for the doom and gloom, all we can do is weather it.
Thanks, Elizabeth.

Elisabeth said...

I often thought I'd have loved to have been born in Ireland, John for some unfathomable reason, and now as I read it, you're no doubt right, I'd have had been in trouble with the priests and nuns.

As it is many of the religious who taught me here in Australia came from Ireland. So I know the type well.

Those T shirts sound like a must have.
Thanks, John.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, Marja, that the roots of many problems within the Catholic church rest in the business of celibacy. It's too much of a demand on any man.

As for doom and gloom, you in earthquake torn New Zealand can show us all how to rise above it.

Thanks, Marja.

Elisabeth said...

Oh Glynis, your friend's story is so sad. All that confusion and pain and loss.

I hear on the news about the situation in Greece and as much as I try not to let it overwhelm me here in Australia I recognise there are parts of the world where it's far harder to get by. My commiserations to you for this.

Thanks, Glynis.

Elisabeth said...

I read the Thorn Birds years ago, Cheshire Wife and can still remember a certain breathlessness reading it, but I can't remember the ending.

I suppose it is inevitable this sort of sad ending when so much initial conflict is involved, especially in novels. They generally convey the most powerful emotional truths.

Thanks, Cheshire Wife.

Elisabeth said...

I'm not sure of my family of origin's tolerance, Frances. I doubt any of them enter the blogosphere much, but if they were to do so and venture on my blog, they might have things to say. Who knows. Anything's possible.

Thanks, Frances.

Elisabeth said...

The desire for the 'unattainable one' has to be a universal, Jim, but it seems some of us suffer from it more than others. And the experience of ‘fandom’ throughout the world is part of it.

When I was young I was determined not to fall in love with the Beatles or with any of the pop stars of the day. I refused even to take an interest in their music. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be pure. To me the popstars were tainted by their popularity so I tried to cultivate an effected appreciation of the great composers of classical music and of religious songs. And for the same reason I never fell in love with any movie stars.

It’s only in recent years that I have found myself liking the oddest of television stars.

We don’t have a TV so my experience is limited to DVD movies but when my children were little in the 1980s I used to listen with them to songs from a relatively local Sydney singer named Peter Combe. See:

For some godforsaken reason I developed the hots for him. My children still joke about it.

Interestingly in his older age Peter Combe who still lives in Sydney now plays for adults more so than for children.

So perhaps there’s a whole generation like me who fell in love with the man who entertained their children.

We can time slip generations in our imaginations, Jim. I did not think your heroin Cheryl Burfield looked that old from her photo, but people never look as old to me these days, now that I am older. But as a child she’d have looked ancient, now presumably in her fifties or sixties. It’s amazing how young we can continue to feel inside.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

Frances, the pomp and ceremony of the church can be sublime. I think not only of music but of architecture. On the other hand, the dark side of the Catholic religion still rankles for many. I suspect that's what Glenn's on about, however exaggerated.

Thanks again, Frances.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, novels - and poetry - Antares, can offer some respite from the endless 'bad news' of the media.


Elisabeth said...

I well remember the suggestion that we girls were responsible for keeping men on the rails, Persiflage. How often the nuns told us to keep a lid on those inflamed passions, because the boys could not help themselves.

No accounting of course, for the girls' passions which were not supposed to exist. But we all know otherwise, now.

Thanks, Persiflage.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I recall when my mother and father, during my youth, were having marital problems. Their only resource back than was to talk to my dad's priest. (My mother was Episcopalian which added to the family shame).

I remember thinking at the time, what does an (unmarried) priest know about marriage counseling?

Recently I have heard similar stories about nuns who had become pregnant. THAT would be a most impossible indiscretion to attempt to hide!

Elisabeth said...

I used to think like that, too, Robert. I still do to some extent. What does an unmarried priest know about relationship counseling?

At the same time my still devout mother would say when people spoke about the idea that priests might one day marry, she would never want to confess her sins to a married man. He might accidentally talk bout them to his wife. An interesting thought, Robert.