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Column: Cardinal Rules - On priests versus geeks

This week, the (not) Primate of All Ireland went to a Reclaim the Faith Conference. It was all going to be suitably pious – until the hotel was double-booked with a sci-fi convention…

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

THIS WEEK I attended the Reclaim the Faith Conference. This is the Catholic Church’s annual attempt to get various interest groups together to find out ways to stem the tide of people leaving the Church. Why would they leave, I hear you ask. I don’t know is my reply. But why, I hear you ask again, and again I would turn your attention to my previous sentence.

Sunday 2p.m.
We arrive at the hotel. There are priests, nuns, and bishops galore. I have never known such an air of piety.

In the midst of all this excitement, we are greeted with the sight of hundreds of people (mainly young men) arriving into the hotel. It is quite perturbing. Most of them have very bad skin, and weight and hygiene problems seem to be to the fore. The manager is summoned, and he explains in a rather embarrassed fashion that the hotel has been double booked, and that we are to share the conference facilities with a sci-fi convention.

“This is outrageous,” splutters Bishop Brophy who has been scarred by past experience with such people.

“I took one look at them and thought it was a leper convention,” says Fr Brennan.

A young man covered in acne and dressed as a Jedi Knight passes by. “It is a leper convention,” says Fr Lawlor.

Monday 10a.m.
The keynote speech “Get back” is delivered by Bishop Brophy. It is his clarion call for people to return to the church and to “get back” to first principles. Fr Lawlor thinks cuing up the speech with the old Beatles song of the same name will be a “masterstroke.” It isn’t, because he cues it up with “Twist and Shout” instead. By the time he has corrected his error, Bishop Brophy is too flustered, loses his place in his speech, and finishes fifteen minutes early. Fr Lawlor uses the extra fifteen minutes to play a Beatles medley. Despite this, everyone is left feeling a strange lack of fulfilment.

Sister Catherine’s talk “You can depend on nuns” is interrupted by a young man asking in which room are they playing the new six hour extended cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He is given short shrift by Bishop Brophy and is told to get out. That said, he provides a momentary distraction from the unsettling sight of Sister Catherine’s abnormally large hands.

Bishop Brophy and I are sharing a lift with Fr O’ Neill when a group of young nerds steps on. They mistake the rather tall Fr O’ Neill for Chewbacca the Wookie actor Peter Mayhew. Despite his quiet protestations they insist he is who they say he is. Finally he can take it no more and he lets a roar at them.

“The Chewbacca roar! It is you! It is you!” they gibber. One of them drops his inhaler on the floor, and we use it as an opportunity to escape through the bedlam.

Tuesday 2p.m.
The panel discussion “Should we re-open the Vatican Embassy? Like, duh” is cut short by an hour because Bishop Brophy finds it impossible to play devil’s advocate.

In an effort to spread our message a little more, attendees are encouraged to mingle “just a little bit” with people from the sci-fi convention.

Fr Ryan is raging because he only came second in the “Who looks like Fr Karrass from The Exorcist” competition. His anger is further compounded by the lacklustre response to his “Take me! Take me!” speech, which culminated in him charging the dining room window, and bouncing straight back off it.

“I lost, and I blame the fad for triple glazing,” he tells me later, as he rubs his sore arm.

News filters through that Enda Kenny is in America again. A jovial off the cuff remark from Fr Lawlor that “maybe he has a teleportation machine” leads to an intense three hour lecture from a rather earnest young man about the scientific improbability of such a device.

Wednesday 10a.m.
More integration is attempted as some of the sci-fi fans are allowed to attend the panel discussion “Judas and the art of treachery.”

“Can you imagine the feeling? Particularly when someone turns their back on the church?” bellows Bishop Brophy.

“Is it like when Buffy had to kill Angel to save the world?” asks one of the nerds.

“The look of betrayal in his eyes,” says Fr Lawlor. As he breaks down and cries the rest of the nerds join in.

“That’ll do me,” says Bishop Brophy rubbing his hands.

Fr Deegan is thrown out of the “Who shot first, Han or Greedo?” panel discussion for calling Fr Lawlor a nerf herder. Two Hail Marys for him.

We are at the action figure stall in an attempt to understand the strange world these people inhabit. The stall holder is having a “patent your own action figure” session. Before we leave, Fr O’ Leary has already patented an idea for an Enda Kenny doll with a few stock phrases, and a extremely stiff karate chop action. He also comes up with an idea for an Eamon Gilmore doll that does a lot of indignant huffing and puffing, until finally it runs out of steam and doesn’t do anything for ages.

The conference is at an end. Final tally: ten sci-fi fans converted to Catholicism, and Fr O’ Brien now thinks that Star Trek is better than Star Wars.

“We should really come to things like this filled with social misfits who dress funny and talk about imaginary beings more often,” says Bishop Brophy. Everyone agrees.

We have to drive back to the hotel because Fr Lawlor forgot his light sabre.

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(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

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