Fr Brian D’Arcy’s latest book, A Little Bit of Healing (Columba, 2010), is a compilation of his Sunday World columns and radio broadcasts. As he explained in an interview on the Late, Late Show some weeks ago, he decided to go ahead with the book at the urging of fans who felt that they had benefitted from his perspective on all that is happening in the Irish Catholic Church.
I’ve written about D’Arcy’s perspective on this blog before, and I must admit that I broadly agree with most of what he says. He is a self-consciously critical voice from within the church, one who has called for meaningful apologies from the church hierarchy for the sexual abuse scandals and for a radical re-formation of the church’s structures.
My previous posts on Fr D’Arcy have attracted an above average amount of comments. Most of the comments have been from people I would call traditional Catholics. They think that D’Arcy’s critiques of the church have gone too far. Some have even told me that because I am a Protestant, I can’t really understand how D’Arcy is betraying the Church. Others have suggested that D’Arcy leave the Catholic Church and become an Anglican.
My perspective is that every Christian denomination can benefit from internal critics, especially if those internal critiques are made from a position of genuine compassion for the church. While some of the commentators on this blog may disagree with me, I think that D’Arcy comes from the position of a compassionate critic and that is very much reflected in the content of this book.
For example, he could have published a book consisting only of his critiques of the church’s handling of the sex abuse scandals. But this is not what A Little Bit of Healing is. Yes, it does include some of D’Arcy’s hard-hitting columns on the Irish Catholic Church. In a substantial section called ‘The Crisis in the Church,’ readers can find uncompromising words such as:
Too many are still afraid to stand against the Roman centralisation policy about to be foisted upon us. This is symptomatic of an institution which has lost its way and which has little or no connection with anything for which Christ died. A power-hungry institution which claims to be answerable to God alone, yet which persistently and deliberately acts in a sinful and criminal way, needs to be radically re-formed. Re-arranging bishops on a board is simply too pathetic to take seriously (p. 56).
But three out of the four sections consist of hopeful Christian reflections, ranging from inspiring stories of ‘people who help me heal’, such as St Brigid, John Henry Newman, Nelson Mandela, Jean Vanier, and even the Simpsons and Elvis Presley. A large part of D’Arcy’s popular appeal is his ability to take examples from popular culture such as the Simpsons and Elvis Presley and relate them to a wider audience.
The other hopeful sections are ‘healing our wounded church’ and ‘healing our wounded world.’ Healing our wounded church includes some columns in which D’Arcy identifies some ‘green shoots of Christian living’, despite the difficult times in the church. He also introduces contentious subjects such as the ordination of women (p. 101-105) in which he presents his own perspective (in favour of it), and a letter from a reader who is opposed to it. He concludes this section with cautionary words:
When we discuss some of the central issues facing us in the church, we will have to deal with opinions, positions and prejudices in a mature, positive way. It will not be easy. We need to learn to live with uncertainty in a healthy way. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need healing. (p. 105)
A Little Bit of Healing offers short, digestible and ultimately encouraging ‘good news’ stories for Christians of all denominations – especially in Ireland – who fervently hope that the present crisis can give birth to re-formed, genuinely inclusive church structures that do not hinder the spread of the gospel.
One fault I do find with the book, however, is that it does not include the original date when the columns were written or broadcast. The date, and a few introductory remarks about the context during which the columns were written, would have been helpful – especially for anyone picking up the book a few years down the road