DOCTOR NOEL BROWNE AND THE BISHOPS
The following is an extract from a review of Noel Browne's biography "Against The Tide" by James Kavanagh, then Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin. It appeared in the Catholic Church monthly "The Furrow" in February 1987.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the review is the tone of moderation adopted by Bishop Kavanagh, especially when you contrast it to the hate-filled diatribes in the book - most of them directed at the Church. Some people will say; "Well that is the new humble post-Conciliar Church. In Noel Browne's day the Church was vicious and arrogant". Actually Browne's chief antagonist Archbishop McQuaid left extensive and well organised records of his career behind him. It is clear that he NEVER used Doctor Browne's style of venomous language even in private. Still less did he do so in public.
Nor was Archbishop McQuaid exceptional in how he treated opponents. In 1968 the Bishop of Cork, Cornelius Lucey felt obliged to discipline theologian Father James Good because of his views on birth control. Father Good went to work as a missionary in Kenya and when Bishop Lucey retired in 1980 he went to the Turkana desert to join Father Good. Like his Arch-Episcopal colleague, Bishop Lucey was very much a pre-Vatican 11 man.
No greater contrast can be imagined to the way in which our sanctified "liberal" Doctor Noel Browne treated HIS opponents.
Extracts from review of "Against the Tide" by Bishop James Kavanagh Feb. 1987
"Mr. de Valera was, without doubt a fervent Catholic. But he always managed to keep firm independence of episcopal or clerical control. Also during his days in Government he had complete control of his Cabinet..........But then, he never had to deal , as Mr. Costello had, with a Minister of Health, not from his own party, who was young (only thirty two as I have already noted), when he became Minister on his first day in the Dail in 1948), energetic, filled with a genuine concern and compassion for the underprivileged, but politically immature and in some respects naive.
"He was immature and naive in ignoring the political process of ensuring the support of his Cabinet colleagues. He antagonised the leader of his own party, Sean MacBride, on other issues than the Health Bill. The savage portraits he paints in 'Against the Tide' of some of his cabinet confreres, while masterly in their satire, are not in accordance with reality, and anyway, while having these views of these men, it is hard to conceive how he could win their support when the chips were down.
"Here I might interject a comment on his delineation of some other people in his book. His description of Bishop Browne of Galway, while marvellous in its phraseology, seemed to me when I read it as not being true to the bishops character at all. ....... And his housekeeper has written to the newspapers: 'The Bishop never smoked cigarettes rolled in Bond Street or any other street. He only smoked a pipe. Also he did not drink champagne or any kind of spirits. I should know the truth because I worked for the Bishop for nearly forty years'."
"Dr McQuaid is pictured as a severe Torquemada-like cleric. In public he did often present a cold exterior and he was not a person I would choose to go on holidays with. But as regards compassion and concern for the underprivileged, in groups or as individuals, he was supreme. Unfortunately, his extraordinary kindness has not been adequately recorded in history.
"I feel sorry for Willie Norton's relations. I did not know him but those who knew him well are pained by Dr Browne's description of him. I also was very upset by his description of David Thornley in his last days. I knew David well and had a great affection for him. A brilliant scholar, it was a pity he ever left the Groves of Academe for politics. I think Dr Browne should not have written so savagely about him.
These portraits and others diminish the sympathy one should have for Dr Browne and his own sorrows and tribulations. But they do help us to understand how he could antagonise his colleagues if his later portraiture of then reveals his attitude towards them. He became isolated from those whose support he would have to rely on."
"The great fault of Dr Browne is that he has allowed compassion (a truly genuine compassion, let me repeat) to be all-consuming and over-selective in his approach. I believe every person, wealthy or poor, sick or healthy, is very dear to Almighty God and that we must temper condemnation of anyone with a profound sense of our own inadequacies and even a compassion for those who in our opinion have caused injury to others. "Love your enemies" is a difficult commandment but it is the only sure basis for peace in our troubled world.
"Finally, I would urge Dr Browne to continue to write in the autumn of his life. He has a felicity of style which is wholly admirable and all too rare. If he could allow the sense of humour which he only very fleetingly displays in this book to emerge more abundantly and if he were to cogitate on the criticism often levelled at Marxist socialists - that by loving humanity as a whole they come to love individuals less - then what he comes to write could be a very worth-while addition to Irish literature."
IT WAS A VAIN HOPE. DOCTOR NOEL BROWNE CONSUMED HIS CAREER - AND HIMSELF- IN THE FIRES OF HIS OWN RAGE. HE DIED ON 21 MAY 1997. BISHOP KAVANAGH RETIRED IN 1990 AND DIED ON 8 AUGUST 2002. I'M SURE THE BISHOP WAS THE HAPPIER MAN BUT OUR SOCIETY HAS CHOSEN TO FOLLOW THE PATH BLAZED BY DOCTOR NOEL BROWNE.
15 September 2006