Brendan Hoban writes with sadness on the censoring of Brian D’Arcy
There was something indescribably sad about Fr Brian D’Arcy’s interview with Marian Finucane on RTE Radio One. It came on the back of news that Brian D’Arcy had been censured by the Vatican over a year ago and that his writings now have to go through an official church censor before they can be published. Sad – for a variety of reasons.
Sad, because Brian D’Arcy has made an extraordinary contribution to church and to priesthood for over 40 years. Sad, because after writing a column in the Sunday World for 38 years, the evidence against him amounted to no more than a few questions about 8 articles, one of which was a letter from a reader and some others that had to do with headlines that he wasn’t himself responsible for. Sad, because the allegations were made anonymously and a basic right to fight for a reputation was accordingly denied. And sad above all, because Brian D’Arcy has no problem at all with the teaching of the Catholic Church.
I accept that the perception is that priests like Brian D’Arcy and others (including myself) are at variance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. But nothing could be further from the truth. As Brian D’Arcy made abundantly clear in the Finucane interview he says the Creed at Mass every Sunday and he accepts the defined teachings of his Church.
What he also says and says with some justification is that, after reflecting on more than 40 years service of the Church and distilling whatever wisdom that experience afforded him, he believes that we need to have a REAL conversation about the future of our Church. The dogs in the street know that the Catholic Church in Ireland is in crisis and the vast majority of priests and people would feel that Darcy’s position is sensible, reasonable, necessary, warranted and wise. We need to talk. And we need to listen. The faith-family that is the Catholic Church needs to look at a number of elephants in the living-room.
Despite the clarity of that position, there is effectively a conspiracy to deny Brian D’Arcy and others the right to discuss issues that patently need to be discussed. The Vatican doesn’t want them discussed; a predictable list of self-appointed lay media church experts clearly wants anyone asking difficult questions to be disciplined; and those who ask the questions are accused of heresy, disloyalty and all the rest of it.
As ever, the fundamental problem is fear. Fear of what might happen to those asking the difficult questions. Fear of what might happen if we don’t ask the hard questions now. And fear of the questions themselves. Fears that need to be named and shamed because they are paralysing the Church and damaging the gospel message.
The survey of Irish Catholics carried out by the Association of Irish Priests (ACP) brought a deluge of criticism on the ACP. Some journalists presented the findings as if those interviewed were all priests and that the findings reflected the views of the ACP. What the survey revealed was what Catholic people are actually thinking and saying. Those findings are particularly uncomfortable for those who hitherto believed that Irish Catholics are a conservative, traditional constituency uncomfortable with change and anxious for a return to the past. Clearly the ACP survey has shown that that’s NOT the case. So the response was to attack the ACP and ‘dissident’ priests and to effectively encourage the Vatican to move against them. We’ve seen this cheer-leading in representatives of the Iona Institute lining up to suggest that priests they regard as ‘dissident’ should leave the Church. We’ve seen it in the comment of Senator Rónán Mullen who feels Tony Flannery ‘needs to consider his position’ and we’ve seen it in the editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, Garry O’Sullivan, asking, rhetorically and (I would suggest) mischievously, ‘Why the surprise after the visitation that things would be tightened up? That’s what audits do. For instance, why was Redemptorist Fr Flannery singled out and not Fr (Brendan) Hoban or Fr (Seán) McDonagh?’ A Catholic newspaper effectively naming priests to be disciplined (while ironically at the same time asking priests to sell their paper in parishes) because they have decided that these individuals are ‘dissidents’ is not just bizarre but, I would respectfully suggest, defamatory.
Gabriel Daly, the eminent theologian, made the point that what ‘the teaching of the Church’ is and what people are saying the teaching of the Church is can be quite different. Nicholas Lash, the Cambridge Catholic theologian, has said that we need to be clear about the difference between church teaching and church governance. And it’s obvious that a lot of people are using the word ‘magisterium’ in an attempt to bludgeon into submission or out of the Church people with whom they disagree. What’s really irking the Iona Institute and papers like the Irish Catholic is that there’s a big gap between what Iona/Irish Catholic are saying Irish Catholics want and what the ACP survey definitively shows Irish Catholics want. What’s disturbing is that a gallery of traditional Catholic voices, who feel free to infallibly define church teaching, has become a kind of Greek chorus encouraging church authorities to discipline priests who are surfacing questions that these self-appointed authorities seem unable to deal with. It is as disturbing as it is shameful.
At a personal level I stand where Brian D’Arcy stands. I have no problem with the Creed or the defined teachings of my Church. But I have a responsibility to say – because I believe it to be true – that we need to listen to what Irish Catholic people are saying, that there are issues that need to be dealt with if we are to find a way forward for our Church and that the ultimate disloyalty, at this critical juncture in our history, is to shoot the messengers.