THE POWERFUL INFLUENCE of the Catholic Church in Ireland was starting to wane by 1990s.
Enter Father Ted. First aired in 1995, the programme added to this, taking more of the edge off the powerful position of the church in society.
Editor of the Irish Catholic, Michael Kelly, said the programme shifted the public’s perception.
“People were now able to look at it in a different way, and that it’s okay to have a laugh,” he told TheJournal.ie.
At that time Kelly said there “wasn’t a lot of grumbling” in the public reaction to the programme, and no official condemnation from the church itself. He said that this partly due to the fact that the programme doesn’t make any grand statements on Catholicism.Source: Channel 4/YouTube
“It’s quite a benign portrayal of the church,” he said, “All the priestly characters are quite likeable, but very few of them have redeeming features.”
However, Kelly said there are some very realistic elements in it:
I’ve been in that kind of parochial house, and a lot of priests probably see so much reality in Father Ted.
This softened the impact of the programme, allowing it to be more widely accepted, along with people seeing that it wasn’t simply the writers having a go at the Church, but more making “a very honest attempt at comedy”:
From the Church point of view, to be able to laugh at itself is important. Really good comedy allows you to do that. It holds up a mirror.
This is viewed shared by those on the other side of religious spectrum.
Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland (who, as it happens, is a good friend of writer Arthur Matthews, to extent that the pair cooked up a fake religious organisation in 1991 and began lobbying members of the Oireachtas and printing satirical magazines – but that’s another story) believes Father Ted was far ahead of its time in its attitude towards the Catholic Church:
The key to it, in retrospect, is that they were treating the church then, as we treat it now.
“Ireland was coming out of the 1980s, a horrendous times in terms of Catholic influence, with the pro-life elements from referendum still damaging society,” Nugent said.
He notes that Father Ted came at a time when becoming very apparent this veil was lifting, and people were starting to question the church, and ‘seeing through it’.
And the vehicle for that? Dougal.
“The irony of Dougal is that although he was the stupid one… he was actually the wisest of them all,” Nugent said.
He understood how ridiculous the church had become.