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Vatican's gag on Fr D'Arcy breaks BBC's guidelines

The BBC has become embroiled in the controversy over the Vatican's gagging of Father Brian D'Arcy.

The censuring of the 64-year-old, Fermanagh-born cleric by the Vatican led to a direct order from Rome 14 months ago that he submit his writings to a religious superior for clearance.

Fr D'Arcy has been a regular contributor to BBC radio's Pause for Thought for more than 20 years, sharing a studio with presenters including Terry Wogan, Derek Jameson and Chris Evans.

However, the revelation that he has submitted his writings to higher authorities for vetting for more than a year appears to breach BBC editorial rules though Fr D'Arcy said yesterday he had told both the BBC and the Sunday World of his problems with the Vatican 14 months ago.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the BBC said: "As with all our contributors, editorial control of Radio 2's Pause for Thought is the sole responsibility of the BBC."

Yesterday, Fr D'Arcy spoke of his hurt about being censured, which he said "came out of the blue".

He said he received a morning call from his superior in March of last year, who told him he had something very serious to discuss and wanted to talk to him in person.

"The first thought that comes into your mind is, 'Holy God, has someone made an accusation against me?' I really was shaking. I knew there was no possibility of an accusation but that doesn't mean there won't be one," Fr D'Arcy told the Marian Finucane Show on RTE radio.

Fr D'Arcy said when they met in a car park, his superior told him that he had been censured by the Vatican on foot of an anonymous complaint about his writings.

"He told me the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were very displeased with me. He said that they didn't like my attitude about the Vatican's way of dealing with child-sexual abuse and they didn't like my attitude with regard to what they called my liberal view on contraception. This was news to me because I haven't mentioned contraception in the last 20 years because in my view people have made up their mind about it anyway."

He said that in the letter censuring him there were cuttings from the Sunday World, and some headlines, which he hadn't even written.

"I am only going on what was said to me. I have never spoken to the Vatican," he said.

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He said his first thought was that this was "the end of me. I would have to leave the order and the priesthood."

He described the way the Vatican had worked as " pretty brutal" and stressed that he has never questioned the defined doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Fr Pat Duffy, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of the Passion, confirmed that Fr D'Arcy had been censured but insisted he remained a priest in "good standing".

"Last year, concerns were expressed to Fr Ottaviano D'Egidio CP -- the Passionist Superior General -- by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about some aspects of Fr Brian D'Arcy's writings," said Fr Duffy.

"Since then, Fr Brian has been co-operating to ensure he can make a contribution to journalism in Ireland."

Fr D'Arcy is the fifth Irish priest to be reprimanded and censured by Rome.

Meanwhile, a key member of the Catholic hierarchy has admitted a gulf now exists between conservative and liberal elements in the Irish church.

Bishop Donal McKeown, the auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, acknowledges the division in an article which ostensibly deals with the issue of vocations.

Bishop McKeown appears to be at pains to even-handedly address misconceptions and caricatures about both sides in the church divide.

"Even within the Catholic Church there is a gulf. On the one hand there are those who champion the assumed optimism, creativity and relational vision of the Second Vatican Council. These look askance at the smaller number of very active and more conservative young members who, for their part, blame that very lack of clarity for the current problems that afflict most churches," Bishop McKeown writes in an examination of the chasm between perceived liberals and conservatives.

"Truth and love risk being depicted as alternatives rather than as two complementary principles dedicated to journey in an inseparable covenant, whatever the tensions. But caricatures are rarely the fruit of either truth or love," he says.

"Some legal changes -- such as those on the granting of marital status to those in same-sex relationships, the legalisation of abortion for those in difficult situations or assisted suicide -- are promoted as self-evident.

"In the absence of any agreed idea of truth, the call to love or compassion is seen as one of the highest criteria for the good. As long as people believe they are acting lovingly, they should be entitled to act as they wish. The same can apply in intra-church relationships. Those who oppose some 'progressive' legislative or ecclesiastical changes are seen as hard-hearted and blinkered."

The other censured priests are Redemptorists Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Gerald Moloney, Marist priest Fr Sean Fagan and Capuchin priest Fr Owen O'Sullivan.

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