Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fr. Brian D'Arcy: my battle with cancer, the Catholic church and how my faith survived trauma of being abused as a boy of 10

Belfast Telegraph
July 28, 2014

Q. You are one of Ireland's best-known priests, but was religion always a part of your life?

A. I was born in 1945 and, growing up in the 1950s and 60s, not many families weren't religious. By modern standards, there were exceptionally religious families back then.

It was a culture. It didn't matter what religion you were, you went to church on Sunday, you had respect for your parents, the law and your community.

We weren't a family that was always in church or highly religious. We were a very normal family.

We were highly involved in GAA affairs – my father was a famous footballer – and that was almost as big a religion as Catholicism.

Did we believe in a God, did we pray, did we keep the Commandments? Yes, we did that as simply as you breathed because there was no other way of life.

Q. When and why did you decide to become a priest?

A. I had no notion of being a priest at all, even though it would have been on the list of possibilities for most Catholics growing up at the time.

I went to confession as a young boy one Saturday and the priest asked me if I had thought of becoming a priest. I said no, and he said I should consider it.

It was like a command, it was almost the voice of God speaking to me.

My mother and father said absolutely no way – I wasn't good enough. They said I was too fond of football and pop music and I would never make it.

I kept coming to confession, and the priest kept saying I should join the priesthood. Eventually I decided to give it a try, not expecting to go through with it.

I entered the Passionist monastery near Enniskillen on September 1, 1962.

Q. You were abused as a child – did that shake your faith?

A. I was abused when I was 10 and at school in Omagh. I didn't realise what was happening at the time, but I still knew it was wrong. It had a great effect on me. It made me very nervous and insecure, unsure of what religion was or wasn't because it was a religious brother who abused me for almost a year.

As a teenager, after I entered the priesthood, a priest tried to involve me in abuse as well.

I had more sense at that age and was able to get out of the situation much quicker.

I hadn't the wit to tell my superiors because he told me that if I ever told anyone I would never be ordained.

It was only 35 years or so afterwards that I was even able to think about it.

Abuse affects you to the day you die. It leaves you very insecure, very hurt. You never actually get over it. You have to live with it.

Q. You could never imagine it had been so widespread in the church?

A. I thought I was the only child in the country that it had happened to. I genuinely thought that, which is why I convinced myself I wouldn't be believed.

It was such a uniquely awful experience. Being abused by an adult who you trusted, especially by someone in religion, destroys your relationship with people, it destroys your relationship with others and it threatens to absolutely destroy your relationship with God.

Q. Pope Francis recently said he believes one in 50 priests is involved in child abuse – do you think that's accurate?

A. He is underestimating it. It is more than that. At the very minimum, I would say three to five per cent, and I would say nearer 5%. But that is only the reported cases – I would contend that less than 50% of cases are ever mentioned or reported. So what is the real figure? It's probably nearer 8% – about one in 12 priests. Certainly one in 15 have either abused, assaulted or had dysfunctional sexual relationships.

Q. It has been very damaging for the Catholic Church.

A. It has, but I would rather have the church now, with its less arrogant, less perfectionist attitude than a church which said there is no room for sinners.

You always have to accept that you have to live with sin, not necessarily in sin, but with sin.

Q. Do you think it will ever recover its old image?

A. I hope not, because when its image was best, its sinfulness was greatest. Its image now is far more healthy because the good will survive and the hypocritical will perish.

Q. Would you still have joined the priesthood if you knew the scandals that were going to rock the church?

A. I honestly don't know. I think I probably would join the priesthood in any era if it was a priesthood of service to people, where you try to help people in trouble and walk with them.

That is what the priesthood is about – it's not about the image of the church.

It is about living an honest life, not pretending to be a saint when you're like everyone else – a sinner who needs forgiveness.

What would make it very difficult to be a priest is where the church pretended that priests were better than others, that it had to be clerically dominated and where sin was hidden in case it damaged the image of clerics.

Q. Have you ever regretted joining the priesthood?

A. Yes, of course, such as when I haven't been free to speak what is obviously the truth.

I've never regretted being a priest when it meant helping people by sacrifices we have to make such as not marrying.

I would like to have married, very much, and it would have made me a better priest, but that's a sacrifice I was prepared to make.

Q. Have you ever doubted your faith?

A. Yes – you have to. You never grow in faith if you don't doubt it.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith – certainty is. Because if I am certain of something, why do I need faith?

I can't convince myself rationally that God exists, but I know in my soul that He does, so I take the leap of faith into the darkness.

Faith is matured and strengthened through periods of doubt.

Q. Two years ago it emerged your Sunday World columns have to be submitted to an official censor – that made you very angry?

A. They attempted to censor it, I've never let them censor it.

They were saying from Rome that what I was writing in the Sunday World was contrary to what the Catholic Church believed.

I dispute that to this day. There are some things you can have an opinion on, and I have an opinion which is different to Rome.

I have never, ever disputed what is defined Doctrine.

Nothing has changed to this day, except the fact there is a more benign Pope in place and one can breathe a little easier.

But the letter of censure has never been withdrawn, and I don't expect it to be.

I'm certainly not going to write only what the Vatican thinks should be written.

If they feel I don't deserve to be a priest, well, let them throw me out. I'll survive, somehow.

Q. So what exactly is the current situation – are you submitting articles to Rome?

A. Not at all, they appointed someone to censor my work.

I have an arrangement with them that if there is something that might be controversial regarding faith and the Doctrine, I will ask them about it.

But it won't be the whole article – just that particular point.

They won't censor my thoughts, I refuse to let that happen.

Q. It did cause you some anguish though?

A. After about two years of sheer hell, I realised I wasn't wrong, and that everything I had been saying had been common sense.

I got the courage to realise that what I was saying was right.

Say it, they know where I am – if they want to come and get me then let them, but I'm not going to go around worrying over whether I should say something in case it upsets some guy in Rome.

I'm more interested in what my readers think than what some fella in Rome thinks.

It was a nonsense and a perfect example of how a dysfunctional institution becomes so keen on self-preservation that if forgets it has a mission to tell the truth.


Q. When were you diagnosed with cancer?

A. Earlier this year, but I don't really like saying too much about it. It's prostate cancer, which any man can get at any stage.

I haven't said much about it because it's putting yourself in the limelight, but thankfully I'm overcoming it.

My faith was important through it, it is also a reminder that you're not going to live for ever.


Q. Do you think the priesthood will still exist 50 years from now?

A. It will still be here but I've no idea what it will look like.

It will have to change, of that there is no question, and God is telling us that.

We can't go on looking for male celibates, and having an exclusive club of male celibates.

I can see a time where men can be married and run a family and offer Eucharist at the weekend, there's no reason why it couldn't happen.

It happens in other churches very effectively.

Will people have to go to Mass on a Sunday for ever? I think it will be impossible for people to go to Mass. I regret that because I think the Eucharist is a hugely central part of any believing Christian's life.

I wish the church would lift this idea that it is a sin not to go to Mass on a Sunday because I think it's the wrong way around.

It is such a privilege to attend Mass on a Sunday that anyone with any iota of faith would want to be there, rather than compelled to be there.


Q. Recently it emerged that 800 babies may be buried in a mass grave in Tuam, Co Galway. That really distressed you?

A. It is the kind of thing we would have expected to come out of Germany during World War Two.

I was at Knock and I went to the grave to pray, and I was traumatised for days afterwards.

It seems to me a terrible comment on the church at the time, and a terrible comment on society at the time.

How could the birth of a child not be anything other than a social joy?

Why should parents send their daughter into a home to have a child? Why should parents never want to see or hold their own grandchild?

It is a most horrific comment on basic Christian values.

It is just sickening to think that this society was somehow viewed as Christian and saintly and holy and godly, when everything about it was precisely the opposite.

Q. You're now 69, and as busy as ever, do you still enjoy it?

A. I've always enjoyed priestly work.

I've never actually enjoyed being a priest.

I'm not a stuffy cleric, I can't fit into that scene.

That causes me great grief among other clerics who think I should be a member of the club, but I'm not a member of the club.

I was ordained to serve people, not to keep other priests happy.

full article at Belfast Telegraph

No comments:

Post a Comment