Jimmy McPhillips defends Brian D’Arcy.
Good Shepherd Sunday has Jesus show us a leader’s true character, for a true leader is concerned for those in their care, and not in their own self-interest.
Sadly, for the second time in a few short weeks, I find it necessary to pen these words in support of a fellow priest, who finds himself censored for expressing his views on Church discipline.
Fr. Brian D’Arcy is a fellow Fermanagh man, a colleague and member of our Diocesan Branch of the ACP. Brian is a much loved and respected priest, who always comes across as warm, caring, honest, and courageous. Brian’s unique ministry has touched many Catholics and priests down the years, meaningfully and successfully evangelising where very few others has ventured.
Many Catholics comment on what a different Church we could have in Ireland, if priests, freed from fears and jealousies, would strive to emulate Fr. Brian. Then the Gospel would take precedence over the institution, and compassion would come before regulations and man made rules.
There is without doubt a great crisis within our Irish Catholic Church today. Many priests are struggling to remain faithful to a Church that they genuinely desire to bat for every day of their ministry. Alas! this cherished Church is now experienced as disconnected from pastoral relevancy and many of the faithful. Many of our people now speak of remaining faithful to Jesus, not Church leadership, as they seek to live out what it means to be a Catholic in Ireland today and so amongst the faithful, a redefinition of what it means to be Catholic is happening before our very eyes. Regretfully many in leadership roles are simply not listening, not heeding what is actually going on before their eyes.
Our Church at times comes across as hostile and cold towards those in second relationships, distant from many of the unemployed, the working class, from women, and those whose sexual orientation differs from the accepted sexual mores. The majority of our young people now seem to feel disconnected from our Church. They feel we don’t know them, and we are not interested. When they join us, they experience a yawning gulf between what we celebrate in Church, and what they experience in their lives.
Many of our lay faithful also experience this crisis, as they see separate groupings seek influence, vying for power and control. It appears conservative Traditionalists, driven by fear, the opposite of faith, now hold sway. They seem more interested in conformity and control than in Gospel values and humanity. Their main target seems to be anyone or anything that promotes the vision, aim, and processes of the Second Vatican Council. Anything that empowers people threatens their clericalism. The saddest truth is that these attitudes and practices are not confined to the Vatican.
Fr. Brian D’Arcy and other censored or silenced priests are not calling for a discussion on creedal statements, articles of faith, or dogmas. They seek respectful and mature debate on issues of Church discipline and practice that are now perceived as counterproductive to faith. These issues have largely developed for historical, rather than religious or spiritual reasons.
Our Irish Catholic Church urgently needs greater leadership from our Bishops. Many of them have invaluable experience, academic ability, pastoral awareness, and could offer much needed inspiration and direction at this time of crisis. It is said that the weakest members in our Catholic Church are those in positions of authority. They are kept isolated, have more to lose, and are more vulnerable to Vatican control. Whatever happened to Vatican Two Collegiality, and the authority of the local bishop? Silence is the safest option and course, but not the defender of truth and victims. It does little to promote Gospel values. We need not a silent leadership, but a more listening and respectful Church, willing and able to discuss differing views, with less judgement, censoring, or silencing.
Instead of digging into the trenches and erecting defence barriers, we need to work together out of the Manual Jesus gave us, and accept the challenges of evangelisation in our times. The reality of a clerical Church that now seems so out of touch, out of ideas, and as some would suggest almost out of time, being the best channel for the Holy Spirit to lead us in modern times, is the subject of another urgently needed debate in our Church.