Ireland’s intellectual inheritance of “mental reservation”…

I really enjoyed (if enjoyed is actually the word) Gael gan Naire’s post on the crisis of belief in the Catholic Church this morning. Actually enjoyed is definitely not the word, it’s just that I think he nailed something that if Anne Maire Hourihan is right that plagues all forms of belief in Catholic Ireland, beginning, but sadly, not ending with religious belief as she riffs on a term gifted her by her estimable colleague Breda O’Brien:

…the whole slippery genius of mental reservation just goes to show you the endless creativity of the Catholic Church. It is astounding that it can come up with this sort of thing pretty well ad infinitum. The more we learn about the church’s contortions around the issue of sexual assault of children, the more it seems to resemble something founded not so much by St Peter as by Lewis Carroll.

Mental reservation could be something that Carroll’s Queen came up with in a world where words mean what you want them to mean, and the aristocracy sometimes believes six impossible things before breakfast. The writhing arguments of the church authorities are something to see. It is all quite Alice In Wonderland , and the bishops, up until very recently, had the clothes for it.

And, whisper it quietly, (‘Carson and Craig were right’):

It is the Ryan and Murphy reports on crimes against children, and how that issue was dealt with by church and State, that have finally proved the poor Northern Loyalists right: Home Rule always was Rome Rule. You were right, lads. We couldn’t run the country on our own. We’re going to have to import civic virtue on a massive scale for the foreseeable future.

Not only are we unfamiliar with the truth, we also seem to have a problem when it comes to institutions. We are too loyal to them. We seem to like the tribal aspects of belonging to an institution – us against them – and this obsessive love is not confined to members of religious organisations. There is a certain Irish love for circling the wagons, no matter what rot lies inside the circle, or how many decent and distressed people are left outside it.

And her last line would fit a hundred land disputes from the borderlands to the upper reaches of the Lagan Valley to the Castlereagh/Holywood Hills, only updated to fit the institutions of a modern state with the responsibility to respond to the demands for probity in an international marketplace…

It doesn’t matter who gets the job, as long as it is one of ours. That is how our mansion of mediocrity has been built. Let’s be honest about it: it’s only the phrase mental reservation that is new to us.

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  • wild turkey

    ‘In plain truth, lying is an accursed vice. We are not men, nor have any other tie upon another, but by our word.’


    Mick for what is worth, Ms Fitz ran a post on the report into the Dublin Diocese last week in which my comment included a link to the Irish Times article re ‘mental reservation’.

    Plausible denial is the common, tedious and usual bottom line of many, indeed most, politicos and their PR zipper lickers. In turn, their acts and pronouncements in practising the dark arts of ‘mental reservation’ has directly or indirectly informed many of the topics posted, by a wide variety of commentators, on Slugger.

    So with respect to mental reservation there is really nothing new there.

    But what may be relevant is the claimed theological underpinnings to deceit, disassembly and disingenuity. Apparently, the theology of lying has a long, noble and practised pedigree.

    Althoug I should have realised the practice of ‘mental reservation’ when I saw photos of Terry Keane and Haughey with his cufflinks, silk shirt,
    I actually first became aware of the efficacy and distorting power of ‘mental reservation’ in Blairs lead up to the illegal Iraq invasion.

    It is my understanding that by 2002 Mr Blair was taking, formally or informally, instructions in the Roman Catholic faith. This is not said to badmouth Roman Catholicsm. It is a suggestion on how St Tony saw , in the dogma of mental reservation, a just and righteous way to his destination with, uh, history.

    It could be argued that the ambiguity of the GFA, St Andrews, etc. etc, arises from the practice and adherence to ‘mental reservation’.

    Back to Montaigne. below is a link to Gore Vidals 1992 review of the essays of Monsieur Montaigne

    t’was ever thus?