Sunday 21 July 2019

Former priest pens book on reforming the Catholic Church

Joe Mulvaney following his first mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph, Rockfield, Coolaney
Joe Mulvaney following his first mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph, Rockfield, Coolaney

Jessica Farry

A former priest has written a book which suggests changes that could help the Catholic Church.

Joe Mulvaney, originally from Coolaney but now living in Dublin, was ordained in 1970. It didn't take long for him to realise that a life in the priesthood was not for him.

"I was in the priesthood for about four years. I was ordained in 1970. After about two years it sort of dawned on me that this may not be for me.

"My parents were annoyed with me at the time and told me to give it a couple of years more so I gave it another couple of years and in 1974 I took a leave of absence.

"I just didn't agree with the celibacy, the loneliness, the birth control, inequality for women, all that sort of stuff."

While Joe managed to leave the priesthood, he says that there were probably many more with the same views as him, but they were unable to quit.

" There would have been lots in the same position as me but they just weren't able to leave. It was difficult back then to leave the priesthood and it still is.

"Most priests back then wouldn't have had a degree or a back-up plan. For a devout family as well it's very difficult. There can be awful pressure on people and it is seen as a tragedy if someone quits.

"I know that's changing quite a bit now but some in the Catholic church are very right-wing and it's very difficult for a man to leave."

He says his relationship with the church didn't change much when he left the priesthood. but he did view aspects of Catholicism differently.

"My relationship with the church didn't change that much when I left the priesthood. I'm still a believer in the fundamentals of the church. It's issues like contraception, homophobia, the attitude towards women that get to me.

"There are clerical issues as well that mean that they have lost authority.

"When birth control was legalised I think a lot of good couples realised that personal, intimate issues were being dictated by the church."

He feels that clericalism 'has diminished us all'.

"People didn't walk away from God but they walked away from clerics. There were some daft readings and daft sermons at the time and that really was an earthquake for the church.

"With equality for women, I'm talking about inequality. You're refusing women their rightful place."

Having voted yes in both the marriage equality referendum and the abortion referendum, Joe says he would often feel conflicted going to mass.

"You would feel conflicted going to church sometimes. I feel like the repealing of the eighth amendment really shook up authority. To me it is still a misreading, it's not that all of us who voted yes are suddenly in favour of abortion but it is more so about the maltreatment of women in the past which continues.

"We have to treat women properly. If clerics could come with us lay people it would change a lot. You need good relationships."

Joe believes that many priests would agree with his thoughts on how to reform the Catholic Church, but they too are conflicted.

"I would say there are quite a few priests who would be thinking along the same lines. But they are conflicted. Even the more progressive priests would be conflicted.

"The enforced celibacy thing, for priests to be married there would be that give and take with their partner, they can't come out of that idea. There is a fear of women and a hatred of women among some."

His book, 'Speak Out for Reform in the Catholic Church' is available to buy from Joe, and some of his family members in Coolaney.

He is hopeful that he will be able to sell his book from a number of outlets in Sligo soon.

The book can be purchased online at or you can contact

Proceeds go to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Joe has already donated €1,000 from book sales to the charity.

Sligo Champion