I didn’t watch RTE’s Late, Late Show this week, so the first I heard about Fr Brian D’Arcy’s latest interview on the programme was when people started commenting about it on my blog. On Monday two people referred to this new interview when leaving comments on a post I had written about D’Arcy back in March.
Both commentators came down hard on D’Arcy, which compelled me to tune in to the programme online (interview starts around 1 hr 28). After watching the interview, I think the commentators, Ed and Eric Conway, are so harsh because they disagree fundamentally with D’Arcy about the sort of changes that should be happening in the Irish Catholic Church.
Ed and Eric Conway say that he tells the media what it wants to hear and doesn’t represent the views of real Catholics. They suggest that if he doesn’t like the Catholic Church, he should just leave. I disagree.
D’Arcy was on the programme in part to promote his new book, A Little Bit of Healing (Veritas, 2010). The proceeds from the sale of the book go to charity.
D’Arcy explains that he was inspired to write the book in response to the feedback he received after his Late, Late appearance in March. In that interview, which I analysed at the time, D’Arcy spoke passionately about the grief that the Irish Catholic Church has inflicted on its people through the abuse scandals, the failures of the institutional church, excessive clericalism, and the need to get Jesus back into our consciousness and the public conversation.
D’Arcy told presenter Ryan Tubridy that he received more than 1,000 hand-written letters after that interview – a veritable miracle in the days of email. He said that people told him that he was able to articulate what they were feeling: a mixture of faith in God but disappointment and anger with the church hierarchy.
Some people even told D’Arcy that they had begun going to mass again after watching his interview.
D’Arcy strikes a chord with people because he is himself a survivor of clerical abuse. What that says to me, at least, is that D’Arcy loves the Catholic Church. If he didn’t, he would have succumbed to the pain and left long ago.
D’Arcy also suggested that the Irish church would be better off today if it listened to its people in the pews at least as much as decrees from the Vatican.
His misgivings about Rome were clear when he remarked that Ireland was a good Christian country before it became more involved with Rome. I understood that comment to refer to the ancient, pre-Reformation Celtic Church, which had a surprising amount of independence from the centralised Christian authority in Rome.
I’m not Catholic, so I of course speak from a different – but still Christian – perspective than either Ed or Eric. I also haven’t read D’Arcy’s new book yet.
But one important and often overlooked aspect of the healing process is the need for acknowledgement of wrongs done. I think this is true especially when people have been abused or hurt by people they trusted and who held power over them. They need to hear those responsible for allowing the abuse to continue to say sorry, to sound like they really mean it, and demonstrate that they won’t let it happen again.
I think that many Irish Catholics feel that their pain hasn’t been sincerely or adequately acknowledged by the most powerful figures in their church. In D’Arcy, they see someone who acknowledges them. This gives them hope.
Another important but often overlooked aspect of the healing process is that people become empowered again in their own lives. D’Arcy calls on ‘ordinary’ Irish Catholics – both laypeople and the priests working ‘on the ground’ – to shape the future of their own church.
It seems to me that he thinks they can do this with or without Rome, maybe even in spite of Rome. This perspective also gives some Irish Catholics hope.