Fr Brian D’Arcy – The Turbulent Priest: Is There any Room for Dissent in the Catholic Church?

_63686830_fatherdarcy_473Is there any room for dissent in the Catholic Church? For me, that was the question at the heart of Monday’s BBC One documentary on Fr Brian D’Arcy, The Turbulent Priest.

As I wrote in my post yesterday, D’Arcy’s 50 years in the priesthood have been controversial, culminating this past year with his censuring by the Vatican for his views on issues such as the church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, mandatory celibacy, the ban on women priests and contraception.

Click here to watch the documentary.

The documentary is a brutally honest portrayal of D’Arcy’s struggles to remain true to his conscience and vocation to the priesthood, while chaffing inside an ‘institutional’ church which he believes is wrong on so many issues.

That struggle of course intensified this past year as a result of his censure, which prompted him to question just what he had dedicated his life to for the past half-century. As he explains in his Sunday World column, it was also a year in which he had to cope with his brother’s death.

On the one hand, the documentary demonstrates how many of the ‘ordinary’ people hold D’Arcy in high regard, as illustrated on the day he got word of his censure.

He was due to say mass in the Graan, and as he started mass, he was interrupted by a woman who came forward (see 8 min, 10 sec into the documentary). Saying she was speaking on behalf of everyone there and from miles around, she said:

‘You’re an inspiration. All of us want to say, we’re with you.’

On the other hand, D’Arcy said that he felt he had been something of a lone ranger throughout his life as a priest, whose commitment to speaking his mind had seen him an outcast from the ‘clerical club’ and without a support network.

D’Arcy’s isolation was presented in stark contrast to the experience of Monsignor Helmut Schuller of the Austrian Priest Initiative, who D’Arcy travelled to Austria to meet. Although demoted by the church, Schuller had gathered a network of priests around him and with this strength in numbers felt much more confident to express his ‘dissident’ views.

While I can understand how D’Arcy’s heavy emotional burdens may have contributed to him feeling isolated and depressed, I was surprised that the documentary made no mention of Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).The ACP has criticised church policy on many of the same issues as D’Arcy, and several priests from the ACP have been censured.

The ACP website has identified D’Arcy as a member and after his censure, two priests wrote on the website in his defence: Jimmy McPhillips and Brendan Hoban. Indeed, the ACP seems quite similar to the Austrian Priest Initiative. It is not only D’Arcy – and the laity – who are asking whether there is any room for dissent in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

For those who are dissenting from what they see as the ‘institutional’ church’s hard line, it is clearly not dissent for dissent’s sake.

If the dissenters are following similar paths to those tread by D’Arcy, as illustrated over the course of the documentary, it is dissent prompted by an earnest quest for truth and for a more vital spirituality.

D’Arcy ultimately decides to stick with the institutional church, albeit admitting that if he continues to speak about what he honestly believes, he may be expelled from the priesthood. It’s a risk he’s willing to take – or as he reflects in the last lines of the programme:

Did I give hope more than despair? Did I give life more than death? So – leave the rest to God. Feck it, enjoy it!

Finally, I was surprised by one answer to the question I asked in this post – is there room for dissent in the Catholic Church? It was provided by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.

D’Arcy reads from a letter he received from Brady (53.24 into the programme), in which Brady affirms D’Arcy’s role in the church.

Reading from and commenting on the letter, D’Arcy says:

[Brady writes that our role is to] “share our reflections with people in our preaching to give them the gift of acceptance and patience.” He’s saying to me – I think that’s your role. To encourage patience in suffering, and encourage people to reflect in a patient way and to come to terms with suffering.

… He specifically says that the way I use the media I am well-placed and well-gifted to make a contribution to the future of the church. And there should be a place for me. And that’s the first time that’s happened to me in my lifetime.

While those who work for changes that they believe are right and just almost always shudder when those in power urge patience and suffering, it would be churlish not to recognise the graciousness in Brady’s words. For me, that’s a sign of hope.

8 thoughts on “Fr Brian D’Arcy – The Turbulent Priest: Is There any Room for Dissent in the Catholic Church?”

  1. Every suggestion is not necessarily a defiance of Church authority. Some Catholics seem to suspect the motives of anyone who dares suggest the least change in any regulation. Give Fr. D’Arcy the benefit of the doubt; perhaps,in his own unique way, he cares just as much for the Church as you or I. I certainly do not agree with everything he says, but his heart is in the right place. sean mcelgunn

  2. Check my blog at for various comments on life today. sme

    The poet Alexander Pope wrote a couplet, ‘He who’s convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still’. Arguing is fruitless; we Irish love arguing, and it gets us nowhere. Try asking questions instead, of others, but of yourself first. Aquinas always asked questions; then stated the other’s case; then he discussed it point by point. So did Socrates.
    Another thought; if people have lost their faith in God and don’t pray or read anymore, they use the internet. Suggest they look up Jesus Christ on the web. sme

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