Censures of priests in Ireland mark divisions in church

Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — A series of censures has brought to the fore the divisions within the Irish church between those who seek a leaner and smaller church that adheres more strictly to the magisterium and those who seek space to discuss church issues.

Up to 250 nuns, priests and laypeople held a silent protest outside the Vatican Embassy April 29 to protest the doctrinal congregation’s censure of five Irish priests over their stance on issues such as the ordination of women, the ban on artificial birth control, mandatory clerical celibacy and homosexuality.

A spokesman for the Irish bishops’ conference declined to comment on the situation of the five priests, saying it was a matter for their congregations.

However, Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, has recognized that a “real gulf” now exists within the Irish church. In an article submitted to the Sunday Independent newspaper for publication April 29, he wrote: “On the one hand there are those who champion the assumed optimism, creativity and relational vision of the Second Vatican Council. These look askance as the smaller number of very active and more conservative young members who, for their part, blame that very lack of clarity for the current problems that afflict most churches. Truth and love risk being depicted as alternatives rather than as two complementary principles, dedicated to journey in an inseparable covenant, whatever the tensions.”

Father Kevin Hegarty, former editor of the Irish bishops’ magazine, Intercom, wrote in March that the Vatican is increasingly seen “as a cold place for liberals.” Father Hegarty was removed as Intercom editor in 1994 after assigning articles on subjects like clerical sexual abuse, women priests and compulsory celibacy.

In late April the story broke that Passionist Father Brian D’Arcy, one of Ireland’s best-known media priests and a contributor to BBC Radio, was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in March 2011. His writing must be cleared by his superiors before publication.

Four other Irish priests have also been censured: Redemptorist Fathers Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney, Marist Father Sean Fagan and Capuchin Father Owen O’Sullivan.

Officials of We Are Church Ireland, the lay group that organized the rally outside the Dublin home of the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, said they were looking for a meeting with him to discuss the seriousness of the situation. Archbishop Brown worked at the doctrinal congregation for nearly 18 years before being named nuncio to Ireland earlier this year, and the group said it wanted to know if he played any role in the investigations of the five Irish priests.

A letter handed in by the group and seen by Catholic News Service stated that their actions, which included gagging their mouths in the papal colors to symbolize the silencing of the priests, was meant to show solidarity with the five who are “articulating the views of the majority of Irish Catholics” as evidenced in a recent nationwide survey.

The group demanded the revocation of the doctrinal censure, which it claimed “punished these men without due process and through secretive procedures with no right of appeal.”

The doctrinal action against Father D’Arcy, who celebrates 50 years in religious life this year, followed an anonymous complaint in relation to four articles he wrote for The Sunday World, for which he has been writing a weekly column for almost 38 years.

The Passionist superior general, Father Ottaviano D’Egidio, was summoned by Cardinal William Levada, head of the doctrinal congregation, in March 2011. Cardinal Levada conveyed his dismay at the content of the articles, which Father D’Arcy revealed dealt with the church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse, why U.S. Catholics were leaving the church and homosexuality.

In an RTE Radio interview broadcast April 28, Father D’Arcy said he could not be silent about the protection of children.

“I speak strongly about this and I will make no apologies. I don’t mean it to be an offense to anybody when I say this, but if people expect me, who was abused twice in my life, to be silent about issues and about the protection of children, I can’t do that,” he said. He was abused as a 17-year-old seminarian, a fact he revealed in his best-selling autobiography, “A Different Journey,” last year.

Meanwhile, a leading campaigner on social justice, Jesuit Father Peter McVerry, told CNS that the doctrinal congregation’s censure of the priests was distressing because the five had been very committed to the church and had given their lives to it and had been a great inspiration to many people.

He said they were now being treated “as pariahs or as a cancer … that has to be shut away.”

He said the main issue for him now was how the church authorities deal with people who are asking questions and want discussion around issues such as women priests and contraception and clerical celibacy.

John Murray, a lecturer in moral theology at Mater Dei Institute in Dublin, said in an interview with BBC Ulster that he was “bitterly disappointed in these priests who are trying to make things difficult for the church.” He added that he expected priests of the Catholic Church “to be people who will promote the teachings of the Catholic Church” because there was already “plenty of criticism of the church and no shortage of critics.”