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Fr Brian D'Arcy: 'There could be a letter sent in the morning excommunicating me, but I just live in hope'

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Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr Brian Darcy pictured with Herald reporter Joanna Kiernan. Picture:Arthur Carron

Fr Brian Darcy pictured with Herald reporter Joanna Kiernan. Picture:Arthur Carron

Fr Brian Darcy pictured with Herald reporter Joanna Kiernan. Picture:Arthur Carron

Fr Brian Darcy pictured with Herald reporter Joanna Kiernan. Picture:Arthur Carron

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Fr. Brian D'Arcy

I have had a bad year of it, perhaps more than a year, but I am fine now I think," Fr Brian D'Arcy tells me over a pot of tea in Bewleys on Grafton Street.

"You never know when you are fine and obviously it could re-occur at any stage, but I have had treatment for cancer of the prostate among other things; I had already had cancer in the thyroid.

"So it was done and thank God I am doing well," he smiles. "As far as I know I am out the other side, but to be honest if I were a car, you'd trade me in! I'd never get the NCT."

Fr Brian D'Arcy has always had an innate ability to communicate even in the most difficult of circumstances. Perhaps most especially, he has been a passionate and compassionate voice, which has brought comfort to a large number of Irish people, throughout a time of great turmoil for the Catholic Church in this country in recent years.

However, Fr D'Arcy's straight talking, has not done him any favours with the church hierarchy. In April 2012, it emerged that the Vatican had grown tired of Fr D'Arcy, who had been a staunch critic of the way the church had handled a number of child abuse scandals.

He has also been known to speak out in opposition to the Church's policy of mandatory celibacy for priests. In 2011, the Vatican attempted to censure him through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but Fr D'Arcy chose to ignore the disciplinary measure.

"Nothing has changed on that one other than there is a new Pope," he reveals.

"It's a wonderful consolation to know that the Pope is saying very forcibly, practically the very same concept of church as they attempted to silence me for, but it was a very disheartening time.

"I don't know how I would have managed had another conservative Pope come in," he admits. "Or if Benedict had lasted much longer. I might have survived or I might not have survived, that would have depended on how aggressive they became."

Despite the recent positive changes in the Vatican, the episode still obviously effects Fr D'Arcy.

"I would still be looking over my shoulder," he says. "But I have made peace with it and I am determined to speak the truth. They had a hell of a cheek to think that it could be done," he adds for good measure. "And if it meant that I would have had to leave the priesthood that's what I would have had to do."

So what is the situation now?

"I have no idea!" he sighs. "I just go on as normal. There could be a letter arrive in the morning excommunicating me, but I would just live in hope that as long as Francis is there that won't happen."

Fr D'Arcy describes Pope Francis as "a phenomenal breath of fresh air".

"He is a wonderful example of what you can do by changing the atmosphere," he explains. "He hasn't come out as a big heavy man, he is just an ordinary guy, driving around in a Fiat, not living in a big house, eating with other people, saying mass. Not somebody who dresses up in all sorts of expensive vestments just to go to the toilet!

"I don't know where Jesus would fit in, in the Vatican," he says. "I don't think he would be very comfortable there. Why would he?"

shopping

It is a poignant question, which Fr D'Arcy lets hang in the air. We are surrounded by happy faces, in from the cold, weary from Christmas shopping.

"It's beautiful, artistic and wonderful, but absolutely nothing to do with gospel spirituality," he adds eventually.

Fr D'Arcy's outlook on life and faith is so refreshingly distinct from what has been hammered home to Catholics up until very recent years, that it is almost breath taking.

He is a modern clergyman and in a way he always has been despite the more conservative times he has experienced while following his vocation. I offer the term 'liberal', but he prefers to describe his approach 'pastoral'.

It was this attitude to faith that made Fr D'Arcy something of an unofficial chaplain to the showbusiness community during his early years as a priest. In the 1970s he was renowned for hearing impromptu confessions at various dance halls around Ireland.

"Religion, if it is going to be anything, it must be sensible. If it's not sensible then you can't expect sensible people to follow it or be part of it," he smiles. "A lot of the stuff they are going on with is not sensible. It's not compassionate, the way we treat gay and lesbian people, it's not sensible, the way we treat people in second relationships, it's simply not sensible".

"We have to have a pastoral approach," Fr D'Arcy explains. "As far as I am concerned God is merciful, God came down from heaven to save us so he is not going to be sending us to hell in a handcart as quickly as he can. He is doing everything to show that he can love us no matter what."

As of last Saturday (December 20) Fr D'Arcy has been an ordained priest for 45 years. He entered the religious life 52 years ago, aged just 17.

"I would be very foolish to waste 52 years sending people to hell. You have to think of new models of doing things in new eras," he says.

So how does he feel about the argument for women joining the priesthood?

"The way I have to put it is like this," he pauses. "Whenever it comes I will welcome it with open arms. But I will say this; I think the way that women are treated in many faiths, but particularly Catholicism, is awful," he adds.

"It's this old thing that just because Jesus didn't ordain any women, so therefore we can't ordain any women, but Jesus didn't ordain any Irish men either, so I don't think that's a logic at all. It can only be based on misogyny and I don't think there's any room for that. The Church can't exist without women."

And same-sex marriage?

"I work on the principle, until disproven, that it is a genetic thing and they deserve love the same as everybody else and they deserve companionship and to be able to express their love," he explains.

"And I don't subscribe to this idea of 'living in sin,' either, wherever there is love you can't have sin because all love comes from God," he adds.

"I can't see how the Church theologically can say it's a marriage, but let the State get on with it if that's what they want to do. I don't have a difficulty with it."

Fr D'Arcy is still as busy as ever. As well as his clerical duties, he has had a one-hour show on Radio Ulster each week since 1996 and has been broadcasting on the BBC for over a quarter of a century now. So what does he do to relax?

MASSES

"I am a big sports fan. I work around the Fermanagh team and when they leave the championship, which is usually in May, or early June, I do my two masses and I go wherever there is a good match on a Sunday and I'll 'F' and blind and question the referee's ancestry!"

Tomorrow will be a busy day for Fr D'Arcy.

"It's always busy, but I enjoy it," he beams. "I love Christmas and I love to see so many people coming to mass. Of course some priests will begin by saying 'Well if you're all here today why can't you be here next Sunday?' which, of course is a good way of turning everybody off straight away!

"So I always say: 'Look, I'm delighted to see you all here for the day and by the way, if you don't know when to stand up or kneel down I will tell you!'" he chuckles. "You don't kill the spark of faith, you try to kindle it."


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