17 December 2019, The Tablet

Compulsory celibacy 'damaging' says censured priest

Compulsory celibacy 'damaging' says censured priest

Fr Brian D'Arcy
YouTube screenshot

Broadcaster and journalist Fr Brian’ D’Arcy has said the Church’s discipline of “compulsory celibacy is illogical” because “a compulsory gift” is a contradiction in terms.

Speaking to The Tablet as he celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his priestly ordination this week, Fr D’Arcy said that though there was a great value to celibate witness, he thought “compulsory celibacy is damaging”.

The Passionist priest, who was censured by the Vatican in 2011, said companionship and having somebody else in your life is “a very maturing thing”.

Describing the Church’s theology of sexuality as “well past its sell-by-date”, he said he based his views on compulsory celibacy on the experiences of his many friends who are former priests.

“I saw how hard life was for them before they left the priesthood and I’ve seen what fantastic people they are now, both spiritually and socially and within their families, and I just ask why did we lose those gifts over celibacy.”

Fr D’Arcy, who was awarded an OBE in 2019 by the Queen explained that “nothing has changed” in relation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s censure.

Under the terms of the censure, Fr D’Arcy is supposed to have all of his articles vetted by a theologian-censor prior to publication.

“I just ignore it and I hope they keep ignoring it too. There has been no public pardon or anything like that, but I am taking my own freedom,” he said.

Of his recognition by Queen Elizabeth, he joked, “As the Vatican was trying to get rid of me, the Queen was trying to honour me” and he said the award was a recognition for those working to build up “cross-community relationships” in Northern Ireland.

He also echoed Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin’s criticisms of the Apostolic Visitations sent to Ireland by the Vatican after the publication in 2009 of the Ryan and Murphy reports.

The Archbishop has said the visitations stalled renewal in the Irish Church, and reached only vague conclusions.

Fr D’Arcy likened the bishops’ silence over the visitation to that of priests who failed to condemn clerical abuse.

“Silence and saying nothing, in a serious matter of injustice, can actually mean that you agree with the injustice. Not enough priests stood up and condemned their colleagues for what they did. I think people saw that and thought if you don’t condemn it, you must condone it. The same could be said about the visitation to the church and the Irish bishops.”

Though the Vatican concluded that the Irish Church was dogged by laxity, liberalism and poor training in the seminaries, Fr D’Arcy believes the real problem in the Irish Church was a culture of clericalism and elitism that gave some to believe they were “untouchable and they could do what they liked”. 

The problem was “a misuse of power,” the Co Fermanagh-native suggested and added, “The biggest programme that has yet to be undertaken by the Irish Church is the absolute criminal and sinful misuse of power in the affairs of the state and of the country.”

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