04May 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.

10 Responses

  1. Joe O'Leary

    Brian D’Arcy came across as a very good priest.

    The Vatican is not in the least bothered about the teachings of the Church. It just wants to suppress voices perceived as threatening to its authority or power.

    The heart of democracy is open discussion, and open discussion is dreaded by all undemocratic institutions.

    It does not matter what you discuss — the crime is that you discuss at all.

    Before Luther many a mighty figure battered at the doors of the Roman Church — Catherine of Siena, Wycliffe, Huss, Savanarola — in vain. When Luther pushed, the doors flew wide open. Why? Because a new medium, the printing press, exposed the Church to open discussion in an unprecedented way. (Later the Index of Forbidden Books kept at least Spain and Italy in blissful ignorance of such discussion for another few centuries.)

    Today again, a new medium has arisen — the internet. Perhaps it can achieve what apostles of reform and open discussion such as Küng and Drewermann and Fox have attempted in vain.

    No Vatican figure can take part in internet discussion, for it would compromise his authority. How will the Vatican handle this disadvantage? An index of forbidden websites? The ACP might have the honour of topping the list.

  2. Eamonn Keane

    In the interests of truth and to ensure a fair go all round, I believe the ACP needs to admit that Fr. Flannery in his published works has in fact contradicted definitive and dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church. Here I will cite just a few examples from his book Keeping the Faith: Church of Rome or Church of Christ (Mercier Press, Cork 2005).

    In assailing Catholic teaching on the reservation of the ministerial priesthood to men alone. He says: “I am convinced that the present form of priesthood is one of the main bulwarks of the power structure that is oppressing the church. The office of priesthood needs to be opened up to married people and to women” (p. 14).

    In reference to the Catholic dogma of Papal Infallibility, Fr. Flannery says: “It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that papal infallibility was defined, in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, as an exercise in power, in an effort to increase the power of the papacy” (p. 54). Later, in outlining what he believes to be necessary criteria that must be met before a statement by a pope can be regarded as infallible, Fr. Flannery says: “The pope needs to be seen to have received the opinion of the church. And then, when the pope has pronounced on the particular topic, the pronouncement, in turn, needs to be received by the faithful. If either of these conditions is not present, then infallibility is impossible” (p. 57).

    After recounting how for many years he had preached “about Mary as a woman of faith,” Fr. Flannery goes on to say: “But now I have many questions about the use the church has made of Our Lady down through the centuries, and how issues like her virginity and her submissiveness, probably based on ancient myths rather than historical reality, have shaped attitudes and teaching about women and marriage, and have been used to oppress people, and restrict their freedom” (pp. 12-13).

    In reference to Mary’s Virginity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says: “Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation. Jesus has only God as Father. He was never estranged from the Father because of the human nature which he assumed. . . He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures” (CCC, 503). It adds that Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is ‘the handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38)” (CCC, 510).

  3. Joe O'Leary

    Those are shibboleth issues. Papal Infallibility is the Cheshire Cat doctrine, for the more you try to pin it down, the less use it is. Fergus Kerr argues that neither of the surviving two candidates for papal infallibility meet the criterion of a pre-existent fluctuatio that the pope ends by his decision. While infallible statements are so ex sese, non ex consensu ecclesiae (the phrase said to be suggested by Cardinal Cullen and regarded as “the feather in Ireland’s cap”), if an attempted papally infallible statement had no basis in the existing deposit of faith or if it was universally rejected by the faithful, then it would not have attained the status (which if attained would imply the intrinsic infallibility specified in the text). So Fr Fagan is quite right: “The pope needs to be seen to have received the opinion of the church. And then, when the pope has pronounced on the particular topic, the pronouncement, in turn, needs to be received by the faithful. If either of these conditions is not present, then infallibility is impossible” (p. 57).

    The Index Situum Intertramae Prohibitorum should be with us any day soon.

  4. Joe O'Leary

    “The office of priesthood needs to be opened up to married people and to women” — where is the “definitive and dogmatic teaching” contradicted here? All we have is an unargued stalling operation from the Vatican.

    “issues like her virginity and her submissiveness, probably based on ancient myths rather than historical reality”

    It is even more probable when you note that Philo, a contemporary of the infancy gospel composers Matthew and Luke, wrote of the virginal conception of Isaac by Sarah.

  5. Mary Burke

    Yes, Mr Keane. That’s exactly what Tony has done. And what he has done is an ecclesial service.
    Belief is a statement of how Christians understand their faith at any one time. That understanding changes, grows and develops, with developments in the human sciences, so belief needs to keep up. Official statements of what Christians believe are always open to review for that reason, and because no single articulation of belief exhausts the mystery it seeks to explain.
    That’s what’s meant by the development of doctrine. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s what happened when the translators of the Jewish Bible produced Greek versions. And so on down to our own day.
    As the new translation of the Missal shows clearly, the declarations of the official wing of the church need to be evaluated, critiqued and when they are as bad as this translation is, replaced.
    The daft thing is that those who are engaged in such a service, like Brian Darcy, Seán Fagan, Tony Flannery, Gerard Moloney et al. are demonised by the control freaks and power moguls in the Vatican.
    Isn’t it time we reordered the dysfunctional relationship between the centralised Roman stranglehold on the Church and local bishops, the successors of the apostles and restored a biblical model!
    What model of faith and belief are you working out of?
    We would do well to investigate the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox and Anglican models of independent churches with, in the case of the former, a looser connection with a Patriarch who is primus inter pares.

  6. Soline Humbert

    Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (retired but not silenced!) has some very interesting information on how collegiality was deliberately ignored by pope John Paul II in his teaching on women’s ordination http://www.thebodyissacred.org/body/reform.asp
    He is the author of” Confronting Power And Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus”

  7. Kyle

    Fr Hoban criticises “a predictable list of self-appointed lay media church experts”. Sounds like clericalism to me. But, of course, whey liberals want to silence voices who dissent from liberal orthodoxies they see no problem with it.

  8. Clare McGoldrick

    I too would like to say how sad I am that Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brian Darcy are now in trouble over their preaching and writing.

    Both man are clearly gifted media communicators.

    What a pity to have wasted this talent by not using it to proclaim the whole gospel.

    But I truly believe God is all about second chances, and third and fourth, and have no doubt that, if they hear this as a wake up call from those in the Church who have a duty of care towards them, they will be able to turn around this difficulty and become all they should be.

    As someone who has been troubled by their actions for many years, but felt there was no way to communicate this to them, I am delighted there is now a chance for public discussion of their behaviour. I pray for Fr Tony very often.

  9. Garry O'Sullivan

    Fr Hoban accuses me of being mischievous and defaming priests by naming them as people to be disciplined. Utterly ridiculous and laughable from Brendan. Fr D’Arcy rang me to thank me for what I said about him on UTV and Fr Sean McDonagh is a regular contributor to the paper and both I consider friends. The Irish Catholic newspaper under my editorship was supporting priests and justice for priests long before the ACP came into being.
    I was merely trying to understand why ‘one was taken and one was left’ with regard to the Vatican’s silencing of liberal views. It seems there is little tolerance from Fr Brendan for exploration of what is going on if it doesn’t fit snugly with his analysis. Isn’t that what the Vatican is also doing?
    As for ‘self appointed lay media church experts’ I was interviewed for the job of Editor and appointed based on my qualifications and experience as a professional journalist. My professional performance gets reviewed every year, one might say every week by readers. Is Brendan subject to such rigorous appraisal? Let’s talk about the issues and leave out the personalised attacks Fr Brendan or if you still feel the need to personalise it at least get your facts right. THank you. Garry

  10. Darlene Starrs

    While going through some of the postings of websites on We Are Church Ireland, I found this profound and moving film, really, entitled, Father Brian D’Arcy, The Turbulent Priest. If you haven’t seen it, it is a must see….The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u04BHcY7PkQ Throughout the film, I was moved to tears with Father Brian’s genuine love of people and his forthright honesty. If there was ever what I call an “Irish Heart”, that could inspire me so, it was the life and words of Father Brian D’Arcy….


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