'There is no going back to the dominant Church... In fact, we wouldn't want it'
Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30
In his long career as a Passionist priest on both sides of the border, Father Brian D'Arcy has seen the ups and downs of the Catholic Church.
When he joined the order in Enniskillen in 1962 as a 17-year-old, there were so many novices that the Passionists did not have rooms for them.
"There was a huge spike in vocations in the 1950s and 1960s. There were so many priests that the church did not have work for them. As a result, many of them went abroad to Africa and America.
"Now there has been an enormous fall-off in vocations, not only in Ireland but across Western Europe," the author says.
"The Vatican does not really see it because worldwide there is an increase in the numbers joining the priesthood and religious orders. The numbers are increasing in the Southern hemisphere and in Asia.
"The situation is already bad here, but the next 10 years will be even worse for religious orders because so many of the priests are in their 70s now. In a decade many of them will not be alive.
"In our own order we are only getting a sprinkling of vocations."
When Fr D'Arcy was Rector of Mount Argus in Dublin in 1970, there were 83 students and priests in the monastery - now the numbers have dropped to below 20.
The Passionists have closed centres in Sligo, Wicklow and Scotland.
Fr D'Arcy says Pope Francis has brought new hope to the faithful, but his attempts to reinvigorate the church at a community level are slow to take hold in Ireland.
"The Catholic Church is a big ship and it will take a long time to turn it around.
"He has given new life to some of the clergy, who felt that they were being pushed out because of their views. In time that will have some effect.
"I don't think Pope Francis's views have got through to the Church leadership, however, because most of them were appointed in Pope Benedict's era.
"They have not bought into the community values advocated by Pope Francis."
"Even if the Pope is successful, we are never going back to the dominant Church of the past. In fact, I don't think I would want it," says Fr D'Arcy.
"The Church is at its healthiest when it is with the marginalised, rather than the powerful."
Having worked on both sides of the border, Brian D'Arcy says faith is much stronger among the Catholic communities in the North.
"A lot of priests who work in dioceses that straddle the border find it devastating when they go South to find that faith has fallen off so much.
"Perhaps it is because people in the North have a stronger sense of Catholic identity. The Church gave them solace in time of trouble, and that has carried over into the present."