Sunday 22 October 2017

Father Joe, the pragmatic priest who falls in love twice a year

Fr Joe McDonald speaks to Donal Lynch about his liberalism, loves and the moment he forgave the man who sexually abused him

Modern: Fr Joe McDonald of St Matthew’s Church, Ballyfermot, wants to make the Church more welcoming. Photo: Tony Gavin
Modern: Fr Joe McDonald of St Matthew’s Church, Ballyfermot, wants to make the Church more welcoming. Photo: Tony Gavin
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Ireland has a long and storied tradition of maverick priests. During the theocracy we designated celebrity status to Michael Cleary and Eamon Casey, charismatic clerics with mistresses and unlikely youth appeal. Sadly Father Joe McDonald, of St Matthew's parish in Ballyfermot, doesn't have any secret love children to tell me about, and he anticipates and winces at the inevitable 'Father Trendy' jibes.

Still, he seems like a man made in this tradition of clerical iconoclasts. He's more liberal than you would expect of a priest; he speaks of making the Church a more welcoming place for gay people and those who have had, or are considering having, an abortion. In this era of suspicion around priests, he's a survivor of sexual abuse himself. He tells me that he is bisexual and falls in love twice a year. And despite his age - he recently turned 50 - he only became a priest a decade ago, during the worst days of the Church scandals.

We met, recently, on the set of Claire Byrne Live. On air I had expressed the view that 'my' side - who want the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution repealed - fail to deal effectively with some key arguments of pro-life debaters. I had expected Joe to be vehemently disapproving of abortion but he surprised me by saying he could see how a young woman would make that tough decision. It seemed something short of cheerleading for repeal, but it did make me think that perhaps there was room for progress in the debate, a thread of compromise to be pulled at.

Please sign in or register with Independent.ie for free access to Opinions.

Sign In

Don't Miss