22Apr Brian D’Arcy reflects on the recent ACP survey

There was consensus on at least one point when the Association of Catholic Priests published the survey they commissioned on the religious views held by practicing Catholics in Ireland. The findings merely confirmed what most people already knew. If there was a surprise, it was that 35% of Catholics on the island of Ireland still attend Mass at least once a week and 50% once a month – surely one of the highest percentages in Europe. The survey shows that 87% believe priests should be allowed to marry; 77% believe women should be ordained; and 72% believe that married men should be accepted for ordination. Another 78% support allowing divorced and separated Catholics, now in second relationships, to receive Communion. Anyone with an ear to the ground appreciates that these figures accurately reflect what practicing Catholics in Ireland believe could happen.

These views have become acceptable to many over the last fifteen to twenty years. The majority of the people who have thought about their religion have come to these conclusions as a result of their lived experience. They neither see themselves as lapsed nor liberal. Neither is it the result of predatory priests abusing innocent children nor is it a result of the cover-ups which followed. Rather life itself has enabled many committed Catholics to have an adult relationship with God. The figures would, of course, be different if the large number of former believers, who now view Catholicism with apathy or, worse still, hostility, were taken into account. In other words the facts are not our problem but rather what should we do now.

Some, though not many, argue that the Catholic Church should change its rules because the people have spoken. It is is vital that we deal with the facts and don’t ignore them. This survey should help us to focus our dialogue.

Others are convinced that ‘ la cart Catholics’ are the real problem. They argue that because so many believers favour changes to structures and regulations, the Church must instead stick to its guns and dump those misguided ‘dissidents’ out of the Catholic Church altogether, Rome should then fight a rearguard action using the might of the ‘Real Catholics’. For these ‘Real Catholics’ the church is a club with its own rules and regulations. If you don’t like the rules, get our of the club. Priests like me, for example, should have ‘the party whip withdrawn from them’ as one prominent Catholic woman so smugly put it on a radio programme recently.

But we know that our beautiful church is not a club or a political party. Our church is the life of the Trinity on earth. Our church, Christ showed us, can never be limited by human small-mindedness but instead reaches out to the marginalized with the Good News of salvation. Our church is always in need of renewal. Christ’s true church cherishes the people of God and thrives on respectful dialogue. It is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. Our church is above all a listening church because we believe the Holy Spirit is alive in all its members.

Sadly, in our church now, it has become impossible to be open and honest about what good people are convinced of. It’s as if merely stating unpalatable facts is in itself disloyal. For years I’ve tried to point out the perils of the growing disconnect between church leaders and the ordinary people. It’s not as if the Association survey figures apply only to the Irish church- surveys of believers in many countries in the developed world have come up with similar results.

Whether or not we agree with the survey’s figures it would be sinful not to welcome the genuine dialogue being offered to us. As mature believers we should use this graced opportunity to renew our church and to take heart from the experiences of genuine believers searching for truth in this changing world.

11 Responses

  1. Gertie Fagan

    Delighted to read Fr Brian D’Arcy’s comments on your site.
    For years he has been the lone voice of reason, understanding and common sense for ordinary Catholics and no doubt he has been encouraged often ‘to leave the club’
    I, for one, am delighted he never took that advice.
    His pleas for respectful, genuine dialogue must be listened to if the church is to have a credible presence in the lives of people in the future.
    Brian D’Arcy and Peter McVerry have always given me hope and belief in the compassion and love of Jesus Christ. What else could we want from our Church leaders ?

  2. Joe O'Leary

    Martin still thinks missing Mass on Sunday is mortally sinful. But please note that the Sunday obligation is a matter of canon law and canon law is very malleable to custom as its interpreter. Many very good Catholics are not sticklers about attending Mass every single Sunday. Martin would have them feel that they are not good Catholics at all. He lays an unnecessary burden on their consciences and undermines their selfconfidence as Catholics. In general making Mass attendance the essence of Catholicism has been a form of tokenism that has covered over the real phenomena of vitality and lack of vitality in our Church. As to Martin’s repeated question, “how could the Catholic Church overturn over 2000 years of constant Judeo-Christian Tradition against, for example, same-sex acts?” he does not realize that people are interpreting these acts (or rather relationships) in terms of the basic Judeo-Christian tradition of creative and faithful divine and human love. Such appeal to basic tradition has often enabled the Church to overturn particular teachings that did not quite do justice to the tradition (such as the teachings on slavery, religious freedom, salvation outside the Church, the Jews, the dignity of sex as unitive, and a wide array of teachings on marriage and divorce). To be sure such changes in church teaching offend a group of diehards, such as the Lefebvrites in our own day, and they should not be made without the widest consultation and the deepest theological reflection (which is why the Church waited until the last nation, Catholic Brazil, has abolished slavery before changing its teaching, and waited until the 1960s before declaring slavery intrinsically evil).

  3. Eddie Finnegan

    “Sadly, in our church now, it has become impossible to be open and honest about what good people are convinced of.”

    Are they trying to terrorise the Religious Orders first: Marist, Redemptorist, Passionist? I suppose we should have known that Fr Brian must be one of those who, if not actually silenced, must now have his every word parsed and pored over and sifted through the censor’s riddle before being allowed into the light of day, lest his ‘Sunday World’ readers be scandalized, led astray or passed off with something more readable than a papal encyclical.

    There will be a few hugely self-satisfied chortles of “Told you so!” in some of our hier-echelons and even among some of the safer clergy not a hundred miles from Brian’s base at the Graan in Enniskillen. Just a week short of twenty-one years ago, in his fond appreciation of Tomás Ó Fiaich in the local history journal, “Creggan”, he wrote: “Every time I met him, he had some words of encouragement. When most Bishops were bemoaning the fact that I wrote for the ‘Sunday World’, he always affirmed me in what I was doing. So much so that when the Pope came, he very willingly wrote a piece himself for the ‘Sunday World’. His (Tomás’s) description of the Pope was a classic: ‘I could easily imagine him playing centre-half in an All-Ireland in Croke Park,’ he wrote.”
    Innocent days. But I suppose we must be grateful that Brian can still rise to his weekly “little bit of religion” for ordinary folks, even if through a censor’s spyglass, darkly.

  4. Mary Wood

    “Sadly, in our church now, it has become impossible to be open and honest about what good people are convinced of. It’s as if merely stating unpalatable facts is in itself disloyal. For years I’ve tried to point out the perils of the growing disconnect between church leaders and the ordinary people. It’s not as if the Association survey figures apply only to the Irish church- surveys of believers in many countries in the developed world have come up with similar results.”
    .
    Too true. And now the TABLET tells us that Fr Brian is censured – and censored – by the Vatican. And they want those [supply your own noun] from the Lefebvrist sect. At the present headlong rate of destruction, that type will be the only ones left.

  5. Mary O Vallely

    After reading about Pupils at state-funded Catholic schools in England and Wales being asked to back campaign against same-sex marriage
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/25/catholic-church-schools-gay-marriage
    and now hearing that Brian Darcy has been added to the list. “We’ve got him on our list/And it’s not a little list/And he never will be missed/He’ll surely not be missed, tra la”,(apologies to the late Gilbert and Sullivan) unfortunately, I’m afraid I reacted angrily and emotionally with a “I’m outta here!” How can you defend the indefensible? HOWEVER I then read about the LCWR who are to meet in May regarding the Vatican order.
    “The board will conduct its meeting in an atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue and will develop a plan to involve LCWR membership in similar processes… The conference plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment. We will engage in dialogue where possible and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We ask your prayers for us and for the Church in this critical time.”
    What an example to us all! Let us all learn from the sisters how to treat each other (with the help of the Holy Spirit). I feel uplifted by this – a little.
    Jim Stack,I thought your last comment so gracious and add my own plea that you keep challenging us and sharing your honest, Spirit-filled thoughts on this forum.
    Mary V

  6. Damien O'Dwyer

    I am saddened (even more) today to hear that Brian Darcy has been censured by Rome.
    I once partook in a retreat by his order and found it most enlightening and a positive experience both in terms of spitituality and emotion and have witnessed that positivity over the years in Brian’s contributions to our Church and broader public debate.
    Brian Darcy is a much needed voice in the Catholic community and his grounding in the reality of everyday life and the struggles many of us have with our faith and our Church, for me, gives him an authority far above many of those who profess to be his senior.
    Yet again, a case of the powers that be showing weakness in the face af independent thought which (for me) they appear to view as some form of challenge to their authority.
    I am attending a First Holy Communion celebration this weekend and will have Brian and the other fine people who have been censured in my thoughts and prayers.

  7. George Winkley

    I have followed Fr. Brian as a result of his media presence in the UK for some time now. How sad that the CDF should seek to rein him in. Is our Church, of which Jesus himself is the head, so frightened of dialogue and debate that it attempts to silence someone on the basis of an anonymous complaint? How ironic that, when this website is pondering over whether anonymous comments should be allowed, a man who, in my view, is a true ambassador for the Christian faith should be, as The Tablet puts it, censured and censored.

  8. Eddie Finnegan

    Finally tonight, some GOOD NEWS from Vatican City.
    Circulation figures for The Sunday World’s local edition, Il Mondo Domenicale, a mere two years after launching, have now outstripped the combined sales for L’Osservatore Romano and L’Avvenire, the latter from the stable of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. From its initial niche sales of a few dozen copies at the CDF in 2010, Il Mondo Domenicale is now a sine qua non in every office across the Vatican State. An editio Latina, Mundus Diei Dominicae, is in the planning.

  9. Paddy Scully

    There seems to be a lot of agreement among those commenting here. I for one would like to dissent. 
    Just one or two comments, what would Saint John Viennie say about the approach taken by the ACP?  Would he approve of changing Catholic teaching in favour of the prevailing sentiment? I wonder if an ACP minded individual went to him for confession, would he/she receive absolution?
    Might I suggest the problem is not with Catholic Teaching, but that it has not being taught by the shepherds for some time, and now that the flock has made up it’s own rules some of the shepherds are following suit. 
    But I’m just one of those harsh, unloving, un-compassionate, old fashioned Catholics, who loves Christ, His Church, and his selected ruling structure. 
    Those who quote scripture in their criticism of those they disagree with, should be careful, as some have used this method against Christ Himself. 
    The whole church is praying for the ACP and such organisations around the world. We certainly need the intellect and service of all those involved. But a secularised priest preaching the dogma of secularism, which is relativism, is a danger to his flock. Come back to Me with all your hearts…  Humility is a hard business. 

  10. Louise Murphy

    Perhaps Paddy, it might be worth pondering another line from scripture…Judge not and you shall not be judged. It’s always a danger that we see the faults and limitations of others and miss our own.
    Humility is not the issue. I think it’s courage and at last these priests are showing courage and speaking with authority, kindness and respect.
    As a young catholic the ACP gives me renewed hope that Christ can be heard speaking to his people again.
    May God bless them in their ministry.

  11. Paddy Scully

    Hi Louise, I hope there is a difference between judging and having an opinion, or indeed between disagreeing and condemning. I am all too aware of the planks in my own eye. Their priesthood gives them authority, and going with that responsibility. For many of us in the church who are orthodox, we feel the bishops have exercised excessive patience in demanding their priests teach only the churches truths as revealed by Christ and interpreted by the magisterium; and reserve personal dissent or opinions for where they are unlikely to lead the flock astray. The humility I referred to is the humility required to submit ones own views to the discernment of ones bishop, and even if not convinced to be willing to serve. This is the courage of saints, and God knows we need saints. 
    One of the difficulties with the ACP is that issues which are not up for debate, such as women priests, have been added into the mix with everything else. In addition to this the priests involved all seem to qualify their participation by saying they do not agree with all of the issues promoted by the ACP. 
    Fr D’Arcy is no doubt a good and holy Father, and deserves much respect. I don’t know the man personally, but I was disappointed when I heard him questioning whether he would give up his priesthood rather than give up his journalism. Perhaps I misheard him, and if so I apologise.
    May God indeed bless them in their ministry