Alison O’Connor: Fr D'Arcy is victim of mafioso treatment by Vatican bullyboys
Pope Benedict is a Catholic, but is the man a Christian? That's the question going around in my head as I sit here in a rage after hearing the news that Fr Brian D'Arcy is the latest Irish priest to get the mafioso treatment by the Vatican.
These bullyboys certainly have ways of making you not talk. Brian D'Arcy is the fifth Irish Catholic priest to have been censured recently. For well over a year now, his writings and broadcasts have had to be submitted in advance to a Vatican-appointed censor.
Where, you have to wonder, do the Pope and his henchmen in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith get off? Here they are silencing good, decent men who are excellent representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least the kind of church you would wish it to be.
These are priests who are intelligent and questioning and who genuinely appear to have the best interests of their church at heart.
Ireland may have tolerated this sort of behaviour from the Vatican in the past, but as Taoiseach Enda Kenny made clear in his speech in the Dail last year, this is a different country and the rules have changed.
I'm wondering why I feel so cross about all of this. As a casual enough Catholic who attends mass on "special occasions", I shouldn't really care that much. But being born a Catholic in Ireland means that it's in your bones, really, and in your psyche. It's almost impossible to escape, not unless you do so vehemently, as some have, and actively renounced their Catholicism. Even then, though, it's all around you in various ways. If you have children and your only available local primary school is a Catholic one, you are thrust right back into it. At that point, it is unfair on the child not to embrace it in some fashion.
Brian D'Arcy is a decent man who has clearly struggled with his faith and gone public on that struggle. He has spoken eloquently and movingly about what he believes should be happening in the church, not least that priests should be allowed to marry. He has said (to the obvious rage of the crowd in the Vatican) that there should be women priests.
I don't know the other priests who have been silenced, such as Fr Tony Flannery, and in fact we don't even know how many of them there are -- they are the silenced in our midst.
Quite obviously Fr D'arcy spoke out too honestly and too often. It shows the enormous power of the Vatican and the fear it can engender, that someone such as he has kept silent on that censure for the past 14 months.
Remember this is a man who has laid bare his soul on practically every other subject, from his own abuse at the hands of a priest to how lonely it is for a priest not to have a partner to give them a cuddle at the end of an emotionally trying day.
There is further irony in this censuring in that Fr D'arcy, as a journalist, is a lifetime member of the National Union of Journalists.
We already know of how, following our recent "Vatican visitation", our visitors noticed a "certain tendency" here toward paddling our own doctrinal canoe, as it were. As far as the distinguished visitors are concerned, this signalled a type of mutiny among the natives. This, they made clear, would be stamped out. Toe the doctrinal line was the clear message.
We are now aware that even prior to the visitation a number of priests had already been told to zip it. It is obvious, then, that the Vatican has enough "informers" on the ground, without ever needing to send their inspectors on a country visit. Ah, but that is to forget the "real" reason they were here. It was to examine the state of the Irish church in the wake of the clerical abuse scandals.
It's gas really, they come over ostensibly to see what sort of shape things are in after a number of their priests raped Irish children and they were involved in a subsequent cover-up. Really, we now know, what they were about was cracking that doctrinal whip and whipping those liberal thinkers into shape.
It's a pity really because so many decent Irish people really would like to return to the church, but find that in conscience they cannot do so. They were appalled at the clerical abuse and its subsequent handling, and they are now appalled at the treatment of priests like Brian D'Arcy. They feel inhibited from renewing their faith in a formal way because of the shockingly un-christian behaviour of the Vatican.
Then there are those parishes around the country that are thriving with lots of lay involvement. From the outside it looks as if these "successful" parishes often happen because of the presence of a parish priest who moves with the times, and doesn't get too caught up with what is going on at Vatican level.
But if we look at the direction things are going in, who's to say that this sort of "free wheeling" situation won't be under threat with this new ruthless approach. It may seem far fetched to imagine such things, but up to a few weeks ago who would ever have imagined there were priests in our midst -- holy, sincere men -- who had been silenced by the Vatican?
These latest moves may well see even more people decide they have had enough of the Catholic Church. They better move quick. This could well turn into a "I'm breaking it off with you first situation", where the church, with the staunchly orthodox wing firmly in control, turning its sights on what they view as the not-so-faithful and making it clear that it's their way or the door.