Fr Brian D’Arcy on Terry Wogan: Rebuilding Ireland’s Shattered Faith?

image The recent two-part BBC series, Terry Wogan’s Ireland, chronicled Wogan’s return to this island to explore his Irish roots. Christianity featured prominently in the series, including a visit to the school where Wogan had Catholicism hammered into him (it didn’t stay put, apparently) and his appearance on Gay Byrne’s The Meaning of Life, where he admitted he no longer believed in God, heaven or hell.

So far, so expected of a cosmopolitan media presenter who was clearly not all-together comfortable on his return to Ireland. He said himself he no longer feels completely at home here.

The most positive portrayal of religion came in Wogan’s encounter with Fermanagh-based priest Fr Brian D’Arcy, who was for years featured on his Wake up to Wogan programme on Radio 2. You can watch the segment by clicking the play button below:



Wogan summed up his segment with D’Arcy with the words:

With people’s faith in the Catholic Church at an all-time low in Ireland, it needs ambassadors like Fr Brian D’Arcy more than ever before.

What is it about Fr D’Arcy that caused Wogan, an agnostic at most, to find some hope for Christianity on this island?

I think there are two main things:

  1. D’Arcy’s willingness to criticise the Irish Catholic Church, and the Vatican, for the way it has handled the clerical sexual abuse scandals. D’Arcy’s criticisms are tempered by frank discussion of his own doubts.
  2. D’Arcy’s conception of the church as existing beyond our present denominational institutions.

Criticism and Doubt

It’s impossible to know at this stage how much the clerical sexual abuse scandals have affected Irish Christians, but D’Arcy puts it to Wogan like this:

‘The Irish people – I think their faith has been shattered.’

D’Arcy has spoken openly before about how the scandals, as well as being a victim of abuse himself, have affected him, and he has been criticised for this (not least by commentators on this blog). He was just as forthright talking to Wogan:

[the scandals] shook me to my roots not only in the priesthood, but in faith itself, that so much had been hidden. And in the middle of all that you had abusive priests who joined the priesthood so they could abuse children.

There’s something powerful about people, like D’Arcy, who can admit their doubts and their struggles with faith. It resonates with people who have found themselves in the same position, struggling to come to terms with what can only be described as the evil that was allowed to fester inside the church.

I’m more suspicious of those who claim they have no doubts, or criticise the people who – having good reason to doubt – want to talk about that and what it means. One of my favourite characters in Scripture is the man who asks Jesus to cast a demon out of his son. When Jesus asked him if he ‘believes’, he replies:

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) Or, as the old King James Version puts it, I believe, help thou my unbelief!

A Christianity Beyond Religion?

The most beautifully shot, and theologically interesting, part of the segment includes Wogan and D’Arcy’s discussion in a boat on Lough Erne. D’Arcy explains that the Lough has been a sacred site for thousands of years, long before Christianity reached Irish shores. When Christianity arrived, Lough Erne served as a site of prayer and reflection for many of Ireland’s greatest saints and scholars.

This leads Wogan to describe D’Arcy as:

‘drawn back to a time before organised religion, to a time before Catholic and Protestant churches.’

Indeed, D’Arcy confides that the Lough has been his refuge for the last twenty years, where:

The tension, the stress of the modern world, particularly the modern Catholic Church, drain out of you and you get filled with a spirituality that is more ancient and beautiful than anything organised religion has to offer.

He also says that his time on the Lough helps him to experience:

A kind of spirituality that’s missing everywhere else in Ireland.

These comments resonate with the theme of my blog, Building a Church without Walls, particularly the idea that many of our present church institutions (be they Catholic, Protestant, or Other) are no longer enabling people to live the ancient Way of Jesus and honestly explore their faith and their doubts.

Most clerics, I admit, wouldn’t get away with putting it as bluntly as Fr D’Arcy does. And of course, many clerics wouldn’t agree with his diagnosis of our church institutions.

But if it is true that the faith of the Irish people has been shattered, I think the first question we should be asking is how (or whether?) our church institutions should be rebuilt?

24 thoughts on “Fr Brian D’Arcy on Terry Wogan: Rebuilding Ireland’s Shattered Faith?”

  1. Terry Wogans programme was testament to a very shallow, superficially informed world view. I’m not condoning excessive corporal pubnishment, but Wogan has essentially based his critique of Catholicism on a cane happy teacher. Very childish. The entire programme was equally puerile. The love-in with Gay Byrne was beyond parody. [This comment has been edited for breaking the house rules – moderator.] As for Brian Darcy’s contribution – I’ll restrain myself in keeping with Glady’s comment policy. Believe me, it is’nt easy !.

  2. Regarding moderation. Fair enough. However why are’nt the same rules applied to Brian Darcy’s highly offensive comments on the Catholic Church. I’m extremely surprised that you are not more sensitive to the feelings of the Catholic community in quoting Darcy. We have feelings after all. It would appear that our’s don’t count !.

  3. Brian D’Arcy is also a member of the ‘Catholic community’ and like yourself, is free to talk about his church.

    What is difficult about your comments, and those of others, is that you seem to assume you speak for the entire ‘Catholic community’ and you shout down those who disagree with you – in a way that often forces me to moderate your posts (and those of others).

  4. He most certainly is not free to talk as offensively as he does, & thereby offend the religion of my parents & previous generations. As a fellow christian I’m surprised & disappointed that you would quote him so frequently given the offence & hurt he causes. I have never shouted down anyone in my life. But I will defend the Church I love against the gratuitoulsy offensive barbs of Darcy & Co. It would be un-Christian not to do so. God Bless.

  5. Give me a break, Eric. Gladys can write whatever she wants – this is HER blog. I think someone wrote on a thread awhile back, suggesting those of you who use her comments sections as personal platforms might want to start your OWN blogs. Then you won’t have to visit Gladys’s site and be offended!

    I too ‘love’ the church and I’m personally more offended by the bishops and archbishops and whoever who have tried to cover up the sexual abuse scandal than I could ever be by Brian D’Arcy. I think what they have done is far more offensive than anything Brian D’Arcy has said or done. A lot of Catholics, like me, aren’t offended by Brian D’Arcy. Stop pretending you speak for us. We agree with him and think the church would be better off if it changed its ways.

    To blindly defend the church, all the time, even when it acts in an un-Christlike way, as it clearly has done with the sex abuse scandals, is what I call offensive.

  6. Yes, we have feelings, all of us. It hurts us when we read and hear criticism of the Catholic Church and it hurts Fr. Brian when he has to make it. But compare our hurt to that of the children who were raped by men they were taught to call Father, men who represented our Lord Jesus to them, men who told them that their eternal salvation depended upon their silence. And for those who dared to speak, the hurt of being told that they were liars, fantasists, of seeing the men who had abused them moved on to destroy the lives, the faith, the trust of other children, of seeing the bishops who should have been shepherds protecting their vulnerable lambs lying, hiding the truth, protecting their own positions . . . Yes, these abuses happen in families, happen in other churches, more often, maybe than within our own. Is that supposed to excuse us? All of us who choose to remain in the Catholic Church must bear some part of the responsibility for the horror that happened and for doing our utmost, as Fr. Brian does, to try to make sure that it never happens again. And if our part in that burden is so tiny as just to suffer having our feelings hurt, we should be humbled and grateful.

  7. Brian Darcy & his apologists are’nt the only ones who suffer & feel ashamed by the acts of some of our fellow religious, & by the Church’s appalling response. But at this stage, it’s a definite case of overkill. The Church, largely due to the efforts of Good Pope Benedict, has made great efforts to correct things, & should be encouraged/congratulated rather than constantly attacked. By constantly beating the Church over this proves that the critics don’t give a damn about abuse, but merely see it as a weapon to attack the Catholic Church. I look to the wonderful work of the Church ( particularly the loyal women religious – e.g. Sr. Miriam Duggan ) in caring for aids victims & the many wonderful local/loyal ( & non attention seeking ) Priests one meets in the course of ones daily life. These are the real Catholic Church, under the guidance of our beloved Holy Father. Given human nature, abuse will definitely happen again. It’s a naive fallacy to think otherwise. We must insist when it does, that Canon Law is rigidly enforced. Proud to be Catholic. God Bless.

  8. Catholicism perpetually struggles with its positive self-perception as ‘one’ but struggling not to confuse that with the more negative ‘monolithic’. Simply put, the Church is ‘one’ but there is still a diversity of opinion on issues.

    Here’s one Irish Catholic who thanks God for Brian D’Arcy.

  9. I think what Father Darcy wants is a nature religion under the guise of Christianity, but which doesn’t actually demand any change on our part. That is why nature worship and wicca and all that sort of thing is popular – these pagan religions seem to offer some vague ‘spirituality’ but make no demands for us to give up what we would call sin.

    There is a big difference between ‘spirituality’ and a living relationship with Jesus Christ. A big difference. Much of what masquerades as Christian spirituality is not actually authentic Christian spirituality.

    True Christianity involves dying to self, to our own wills, to our sinful ways, desires, and actions, and having a new life in Jesus Christ.

    There is a rich mystical tradition in the Catholic faith, from St. Terasa of Avila and St. John of the Cross to St. Faustina and so on. We need to delve into that and forget about nature worship or celtic mystical nature spirituality.

    I’m not gonna say any more about Fr. Darcy. Except that I find it offensive that he always criticises the Church. Everybody is upset at what happened as regards abuse, but Fr. Darcy and his kind use that as a platform to attack the teachings of the Church on faith and morals, and that, to me, is pretty low.

    Paul: The priest who abused sinned grievously. The bishops who covered up failed their flock and they also sinned grievously. But what has any of that got to do with changing the teachings of the Church on faith and morals, particularly sexual teachings? Answer: nothing. It is easy to pick on the Church, but I suggest we all take a good hard look at ourselves and look at how we are attached to sin in our own lives. It’s easy to look outside myself and criticise what I see.

    annonjonny: Diversity is merely an excuse for sin.

  10. I just watched that clip again. Fr Darcy said the following:

    ”You get filled (on Lough Erne) with a spirituality that is far more ancient and beautiful than anything religion has to offer.”

    So here we have a Catholic priest who offers Mass each day and eats the very body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet he says that a boat trip on Lough Erne offers him something far more ancient and beautiful than anything religion has to offer, even the true religion of Catholicism, which allows us to eat God, the God who gave Himself to us as food from heaven?

    I love a boat trip and a breath of fresh country air as much as the next person, but I find it strange that Fr. Brian would speak this way. It suggests to me a deficit of some sort in his own Catholic priestly spirituality that he thinks this way.

  11. Spot on Martin. While other comments quite rightly say that there is room for flexibility/variety in relation to certain aspects of Catholicism, the core teachings, sacraments etc., are timeless/sacrosanct. For example if I am weak in relation to a particular sin/sins, the Church does’nt do me any favours by condoning/celebrating my sinfullness. That’s just cheap grace. By the same token neither should it come down heavy on me for my weakness ( obviously certain misguided Clerics & others may do so ). But it does’nt. It encourages me to try to overcome my sin, & via the sacraments ( confession particularly ), it gives me the means to start afresh. I would say that Brian Darcy’s heart is probably in the right place, but he needs ( like a lot of people, including Terry Wogan ) ) to move on. We all had bad experiences. For example, I’ve come across many ill mannered Doctors, etc., but you don’t label/reject everyone because of a particular bad experience. The chip on the shoulder/self-pitying syndrome ultimately leads nowhere.

  12. Martin and Eric

    I am a non-Catholic and broadly would identify myself within the he liberal Protestant tradition….my faith is dear to me and I would call myself a Christian even though I am very aware of my human faults and failing.

    Through your traditional Catholic perspective would you say that in am in error/sin/or heresy for not being a Catholic and thus destined for hell? I know and am saddened that many of my contemporary Protestant brethern such as the free Prebyterians would say this about you

    Just curious


  13. Rodney, it’s absolutely not part of Catholic teaching that non-Catholics are destined for hell. I would regard that as heresy in the extreme. You are quite right to value your tradition, & don’t let anyone put you down. I think ( hope I’m not being presumptious ) what Martin & I are trying to defend is traditional Catholic teaching, hopefully in the same manner as Pope Benedict. I’m not trying to put down someone else’s belief’s ( even though we would have sincerely held differences with you ; & I’m sure vice/versa ). If I have strayed into offensive territory, it was’nt my intention. Any of Pope Benedicts works would give you a good idea of traditional/sound Catholic teaching in this regard, & also the Cathecism of the Catholic Church. God Bless you & yours.

  14. “Diversity is merely an excuse for sin” – so if someone holds a different view from you, they are sinning? I am glad that Jesus wasn’t such a harsh judge. I’m glad he didn’t let that stop him from having relationships with the publicans, the Samaritans, and other ‘sinners’ …

  15. I don’t see why Father Darcy’s comments
    “You get filled (on Lough Erne) with a spirituality that is far more ancient and beautiful than anything religion has to offer.” should cause such angst for some commentators. Have they no sense of the Celtic soul ?
    The Irish people and other Celts are familiar with the liminal spaces where it is easier to draw near to God. Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote
    The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; …..

    Christ was just as comfortable outside the temple as he was preaching in it and nature is always I think Father Darcy’s comments are understandable too in the wake of the clerical abuse history and other repressive parts of Irish clericalism.

    I am a Catholic but I think that my church faces enormous challenges in the years ahead if it is to get togrips with issues that need change e.g on gender equality and sexuality in particular.
    The old patriarchal views that God consists of only two men and a bird has to change to incorporate a more feminine worldview.

    Neverthless, to return to Gerard Manley Hopkins all i hope for these days is that “the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”.

  16. Eric Conway’s comments are spot on. [Comment has been moderated, it violates house rules]

    In truth the (disastrous) Second Vatican Council smashed Irish Catholicism to pieces. I hate it so much.

  17. Thanks Shane. I think the Second Vatican Council was held at a time ( as some wise secular commentators described it – ” the silly 60’s ) when a lot of juvenile ideas gripped society, & the Church was’nt immune from the fall-out. The idea was that the Church would open itelf to the world ( not a bad idea in principle ), but in reality, a large number of religious took on board the silly ideas of the time, & the result was a lot of embarrasingly juvenile innovation ; resulting in – naff architecture ; dodgy theology & dwindling congregations. But not to despair. It will take some time, but slowly but surely common sense & a degree of liturgical beauty can be restored. God bless.

  18. Eric, I completely agree.

    An extract from an editorial in the (excellent) Church and State magazine – organ of the now defunct Campaign to Seperate Church and State:

    [Note from the Moderator: it is not acceptable to publish such a long extract in the comments section of this blog, especially since the extract is getting away from the point of the original blog post. I will allow the link to stay up.]

    BTW have you ever signed up to the Irish Catholics’ Forum? You’re more than welcome to join.

  19. Phil – Thank you for your comment and especially for the two of my most treasured Hopkins quotations – he is an inspiring role model for us all in navigating the difficult waters of English and Irish Catholicism and in viewing the renewal of God’s creation.

  20. Shane, just read article re. separation of Church & State. Very interesting perspective. It certainly undermines the credibility of the great anti-Catholic media warriors of the last 20 odd ( very odd ) years.

  21. For me, I think that the point about the catholic ‘organised religion’ is that it simultaneously accepts the necessity of the ‘organised’ bit while at the same time insisting that, while the ‘organised’ is necessary, it is by no means sufficient. I’m thinking here (I think!) of Aquinas’s comment on (I think!) Romans, where he writes “The Law is necessary but it is not sufficient”. So by extension there is that – of God – which is not exhausted by the Father and the Son but which as the Spirit blows where it will.

    I can’t help but think that – if represented correctly – Fr. D’Arcy is making a bit of a theological blunder in assuming, as he seems to, that that which is ‘beyond’ – as it were – organisation must also be beyond (or outside of or anterior to) Catholicism.

  22. Good points Peter. I have quoted from him liberally, but with regard to Aquinas, you will see a good summary of the thought processes involved in the book – ” The Victory of Reason ” – by Prof. Rodney Stark. Well worth a read.

  23. Brian Darchy seems to be liberal catholic he seems to think that being a good person is enough to get to heaven if that’s the case no one should be catholic and just be a good person that was obviously not what the early church taught and preached if he claims to represent it although I do agree that the church has bring back the faith which may have shattered some peoples belief in the catholic church by having a zero tolerant policy and engage with 90% Catholic community in the case of Ireland

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