Life

Fr Brian D'Arcy: 'Nobody can stop me doing good'

As Fr Brian D'Arcy publishes his 15th book and continues to stir debate and challenge the Catholic Church on big issues, Brian Campbell profiles and speaks to the popular 70-year-old Enniskillen-based priest, writer and broadcaster

Fr Brian D'Arcy has published his latest book, And Catch The Heart Off Guard. Picture by Bill Smyth

FR BRIAN D’Arcy is many things – a priest, a writer, a broadcaster, a loyal Fermanagh GAA fan and a deep thinker.

The Enniskillen-based cleric became headline news in 2012 when the Vatican censured him because his journalism and radio broadcasts had allegedly "scandalised" the Catholic faithful.

His views on celibacy for priests, contraception and his vocal criticism of the Church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse led the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to censure him and insist that his Sunday World column be checked by a Church censor before publication.

When the story came to light, Fr D’Arcy said he had been "living with the pain of censure for 14 months”. He went on, “I remain a priest in good standing and I have continued to carry out my priestly duties with the same dedication as before.”

He said he had continued to write and broadcast “since the news of the Vatican's displeasure was filtered down to me” in 2011. "I shall continue my ministry in communication because I believe that the Church cherishes freedom of speech as an inviolable principle.”

The word “godsend” perhaps perfectly summed up how the priest viewed the resignation of Pope Benedict and election of the more liberal Pope Francis to lead the Catholic Church in 2013.

Speaking to Weekend, the 70-year-old says he could have left the priesthood had the new Pope not come along at the right time.

“Pope Francis is the reason I’m still a priest. I don’t think I’d still be a priest had [the current Pope] been another man like the last two, particularly like Benedict. I think I would have been forced out.

“I feel more at home now. It’s not as simple or peaceful or as black and white, but it’s marvellous now because it’s real. The realness is the struggle and the struggle is the journey. I’ve always said that you have to choose your own dignity; it will never be given to you. Because of the Vatican trying to silence me and all that, I knew that.”

Fr D’Arcy’s journey began in 1945 and took him from Fermanagh to Dublin, Sligo, America, South Africa and back to Enniskillen, where he is a popular priest at St Gabriel’s, The Graan.

He has just published a book, And Catch The Heart Off Guard (the title is borrowed from the Seamus Heaney poem Postscript), which features bite-sized chunks of musings, stories and views on faith based on his sermons.

He hopes the it will enable people of all faiths (and none) to “get in touch with a God that is friendly, understanding and merciful”.

At one point in the book he poses the question, “Is this a good or a bad time to be a Catholic?” So what is his answer now?

“I think it’s a great time to be a Catholic, I really do. We have the future in our hands and we don’t have the burden of centuries of ritual and liturgy, which was an excuse for religion and which got in the way of us having a relationship with God.

“For the first time now, people are thinking for themselves. They’ve discovered that the props of religion are not enough to keep you going; you must have a faith and strength behind it.”

Fr D’Arcy is a popular radio presenter on Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Two and he clearly loves broadcasting. He has always loved music and wrote for pop magazines in the late 60s.

No stranger to dance halls in his Dublin days, he has had the title of “chaplain to the Irish entertainment industry”. He confirms to Weekend that the late Dermot Morgan (of Father Ted fame) based his comedy character Father Trendy on him.

“Father Trendy was definitely based on me. I knew Dermot quite well. It was based on my name rather than on me. So he used the name as a vehicle, but the problem was that everybody believed the character was me and would call me Father Trendy. I used to slag Dermot, saying `You made more money being me than I made being myself!’”

Fr D’Arcy says the hit comedy series Father Ted grew on him, even though the entire concept was making fun of hapless Irish priests: “In the beginning I couldn’t see it but as it went on it became a cartoon and if you look at it as a cartoon it’s absolutely wonderful.”

In what could have been from an episode of Father Ted, Fr D’Arcy tweeted in July to announce that Masses in The Graan would be celebrated “to give thanks” for the Fermanagh GAA team’s win over Westmeath in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Sure enough, someone replied to the tweet with “Now now father. Down with that sort of thing!”

He jokes that his new book – the proceeds of which will go to charities involved with the global refugee crisis – is a perfect gift idea for his parishioners to buy their loved ones for Christmas: “There’s my book and then there’s Daniel O’Donnell’s album. And Daniel has enough money!” he laughs.

On a more serious note, he speaks out in the book about how “religion can be an addiction based on duty”.

“It’s wrong to think that because you have fulfilled a set of rituals that that somehow makes you better,” he says now. “If I go to church and pray, it’s not to satisfy God – God’s fine.

“God has been saving people long before any religion. So we shouldn’t replace God with religion. All of it is supposed to lead to God, not to submitting yourself to a church.”

Before Pope Francis came along, Fr D’Arcy said he was sure that he would be “pushed away” from the priesthood by his superiors.

“I’d more or less come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t go to remain in the priesthood. But nobody can stop me being a priest – nobody can stop me helping people, end of story. They [the Catholic Church] don’t have that power over anybody. Nobody can stop me doing good.”

:: And Catch The Heart Off Guard is out now, published by Columba Press. Fr D’Arcy will sign copies of the book at Easons in Enniskillen on Saturday November 28 at 1pm.

THE LIFE OF FR BRIAN

1945: Born and brought up in Bellanaleck, Co Fermanagh.

1962: Becomes a novice at the Passionist monastery in Enniskillen.

1963: Moves to Mount Argus Monastery in Dublin and enrols at University College Dublin, studying scholastic philosophy.

1967: Begins a career in journalism, writing for various pop magazines.

1969: Ordained a Passionist priest in St Michael's College, Enniskillen.

1975: Appointed production editor of the Catholic Communications Centre in Dublin.

1989: Returns to Enniskillen as superior at St Gabriel's Retreat, The Graan. After leaving to become Superior in Crossgar, returns to The Graan in January 2001.

2009: Awarded an honorary degree by the University of Ulster in Coleraine, alongside actor and fellow Fermanagh native Adrian Dunbar. Fr D’Arcy speaks out to say that the Catholic Church needs to re-examine its celibacy rule: "Compulsory celibacy, I think, is not only a contradiction in terms but has outlived its use by about 1,000 years and it should be changed."

2010: Appears on The One Show on the BBC to discuss Pope Bendict's impending trip to the UK.

2012: Censured by the Vatican authorities because his writings and broadcasts had allegedly "scandalised" the Catholic faithful. Speaks out publicly in support of former billionaire businessman Sean Quinn.

2013: Describes the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis as “a miracle”. "The election of Pope Francis filled me with the kind of hope which can only come from God. Almost instantly the darkness lifted as Pope Francis displayed a compassion which was life-giving.”

2015: Turns 70.

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