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'If I had kept silent it would have been cowardice' - Fr Brian D'Arcy


“The clerical church is dying and it’s not such a tragedy,” says Fr Brian D’Arcy. Picture: Mark Condren

“The clerical church is dying and it’s not such a tragedy,” says Fr Brian D’Arcy. Picture: Mark Condren

“The clerical church is dying and it’s not such a tragedy,” says Fr Brian D’Arcy. Picture: Mark Condren

Tough words about the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland are delivered by Fr Brian D'Arcy in his new book It Has To Be Said.

The serious shortage of priests is "a gift" and he would rather see women being given real leadership in the church instead of relying on a dwindling band of male celibate priests.

"The clerical church is dying and it's not such a tragedy," said Ireland's best known priest.

"A gift of the Holy Spirit is the clerical church is dying so that out of it can come the seeds of a new life," he told the Sunday Independent.

It is hard to imagine that this energetic priest, honorary chaplain to Ireland's showbusiness industry and well-known writer and broadcaster, is now 74 and is marking 50 years as a priest this year.

"For as long as I live - and I am in the departure lounge - my job is to plant seeds and let future generations harvest them," he said.

He welcomed the public declarations of former president Mary McAleese who sharply criticised what she recognises as an anti-women bias among the celibate males at the heart of power in the church.

"I think Mary McAleese is putting words on what the vast majority of semi-disillusioned believers, and especially semi-disillusioned women believers, are trying to articulate," he said.

"She is saying we simply can't hang around forever waiting on a male-dominated clerical club to decide to allow women have a place in God's house and in God's church," he said.

There are some humorous stories in this new memoir of his eventful life. But It Has To Be Said also resonates with anger about the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church.

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He painfully recounts being regularly sexually abused by a Christian Brother at school and later, when studying for the priesthood, being sexually assaulted and harassed by a priest.

He was immensely relieved when Pope Francis at the Mass in the Phoenix Park in Dublin chose to use the word "crimes" rather than "sins" when speaking of sexual abuses perpetrated by those in roles of responsibility within the church.

Fr D'Arcy said the Pope declared that church authorities should not be freeing themselves from shame but should "increase the sense of its own shame" and work for justice.

The priest's statements in favour of the ordination of women and married priests landed him in trouble with the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of The Faith during the tenure of Pope Benedict. Instructions from Rome declared he must stop criticising the church in his writings and submit everything he wrote for publication to a reputable theologian.

He recalled being "flattened" at this move to suppress him. He said: "I couldn't sleep at night… I walked around wondering if life itself was worth living. I recognised that, if I didn't take care of that, I could end up thinking in suicidal ways. So I knew then I needed counselling."

While receiving counselling, he was helped to realise that this attempt at suppression by church authority figures was similar to how he was silenced in the past about the sexual abuse he suffered.

"It was now coming out in me that here I was being abused again by the church authorities. One was a reflection of the other.

"Through counselling I had come to the conclusion that I had to claim my own life and suffer the consequences and if I was thrown out of the priesthood then that is what had to be. I hoped it wouldn't happen.

"But claiming my own life and taking care of my own decisions was ultimately more important than being an active priest with a seething mentality. I had to ensure as a person I was OK so that as a priest I would be OK, whether I was allowed to practise or not," he said.

The priest told his superiors he would not adhere to the instructions from the Vatican.

He informed them he was a life-long member of the National Union of Journalists and would only submit his writings, as usual, to editors and lawyers before publication.

"Luckily enough, Benedict retired and even more luckily, Francis came in and nothing has been done to anybody since Francis came in," he said.

In his book, he wrote that if he had kept silent, it would have been cowardice and a denial of his vocation. He stated: "It's a rule of life for me that I do not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.

"Wisdom is not so much about knowing what to do in the long term as knowing what to do next."

Despite a shortage, Fr D'Arcy indicated he was not encouraged by the conservative outlook of most young men joining the priesthood these days.

"The younger priests are coming because they are disillusioned with the world and so they are looking for certainty somewhere else. The point is we need people who will bring about change, not people who run from change.

"We are not attracting the people who have enthusiasm - those people who give their lives for a couple of years to work for Trocaire or Concern," he said.

The only way of getting around the ''clerical club'' outlook of clergy was by listening to the laity and realising that ministers are there to serve the laity, not the other way around, he said. He wrote: "I want this book to encourage those interested in our church to question constructively and purposefully from within. I mourn for the good people who needlessly walk away from the spiritual support which is rightly theirs through baptism, when all they need to leave behind is dysfunctional clericalism."

Despite his many struggles, he declared: "I know there is an enormous treasure of goodness and grace contained in the church I love and belong to. I refuse to deprive myself of that gracious treasury."

'It Has To Be Said' is published by Sliabh Ban Productions

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