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Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland says Déarbhla Clarke story highlights need to examine celibacy issue

Fr Arty McAnerney passed away last month

THE organisation representing Catholic priests has praised a woman for speaking publicly about her life as the child of a Catholic priest.

The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland said Déarbhla Clarke's story might "encourage others who may be in similar circumstances".

In an exclusive interview with The Irish News Ms Clarke told the loving relationship she enjoyed with her father, Armagh-born Fr Arty McAnerney and said she believes he benefited from the "love of a child".

The Drogheda woman (33) told her remarkable story in a bid to highlight why priests should be allowed to have children.

"He had what a lot of priests wouldn't be able to have, he had his God that he loved and respected and did all his work but then he also had the love of a child and a lot of priests cannot say that," she said.

"Quite honestly I think the rules in the Church at the moment are extremely archaic - you cannot expect a man to spend 60/70 years on their own, total celibacy, it is extremely cruel."

When joining the Catholic priesthood, clerics take a vow of lifelong celibacy.

But Fr Gerry O'Connor from the Association of Catholic Priests said they believe the issue of celibacy should be examined by the Church.

"I think firstly, we would recognise that there are very good priests, many of whom feel the rules on celibacy should be examined, but also there are very many more who feel that it should be accepted as part of the package of being a priest," he said.

"There are many who give much thought to it, but on the other side there are many who don't.

"You have to recognise that for hundreds of years there was a married priesthood within the Catholic Church, but there were also those who chose to be celibate.

"We, in the association, are interested in the Church addressing the issue and examining views.

"There are many priests who have left the Church to get married and have children and we believe they should be welcomed back. They could offer much support and guidance to parishioners, in particular many young people.

"What we feel is that celebrating the Eucharist is so important, but the way things are going we won't get to celebrate the Eucharist, the crisis is so large with numbers of priests decreasing that we will soon have nobody to celebrate the Eucharist.

"The whole question is that compulsory celibacy should be explored."

Fr O'Connor said he believed it was important that Ms Clarke was able to tell her story.

"From what I have heard, it sounds like a healthy family relationship," he said.

"I think this is something that is good for us all to hear and encourage others who may be in similar circumstances.

"Her story shows that they were able to overcome the potential difficult issues, they were able to overcome the rules and still be able to maintain a relationship.

"For that to not be able to happen, is far less healthy and it is good that Déarbhla has been able to tell her story."

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