Fr Brian D’Arcy was the inspiration for the character that would eventually become comedian Dermot Morgan’s Fr. Trendy which later morphed into Fr. Ted. The recent clamp-downs on him and other Irish liberal priests can only be described as ‘Tedesque’ such is their bizarre nature and timing.

But there is nothing ‘Tedesque’ about Fr. D’Arcy, perhaps Ireland’s best known priest, a celebrity in his own right. Brian is an intelligent, articulate man and priest, who knows his people and whom his flock know as a warm, caring, loving and above all honest and courageous figure. This is a priest who physically got sick when he read the Murphy report on abuse. Who could forget his strong performance on the Late Late some years back when he clashed openly with Cardinal Daly on church teaching especially on sexual morality.

And to be fair to Cardinal Daly, as far as we know, he took it on the chin. However, it seems now that the time of tolerance has ended.

Now those views, which are part of a regular newspaper column and are broadcast on a regular basis, will be, according to the Vatican, subject to censor before they get the stamp of approval. When I heard the news yesterday afternoon as it broke, I could hardly believe it and at first thought I was being set up for a prank. But it’s no joke and Brian is now the sixth priest to receive censure. Apparently the process began last year.

The crackdown by the Vatican has highlighted the long standing fractures in Irish Catholicism and Twitter summed it up where one person greeted the news tweeted by me with “Yay” and another with “Boo”, reminiscent of the language used by opposing sides in the House of Commons and the divisions are as clear as that, Conservative Catholic versus Liberal Catholic.

The ‘Boo’ lobby, Liberal Catholics, want a discussion and a debate, based on the freedom Vatican II ushered into the Church in the 1960’s and it concerns issues like women priests, priestly celibacy and sexual morality. They want change. It appears a large number of Catholics, agree.

What is not well known are the arguments on the other side, mainly because the Irish Bishops are too busy fighting a rear-guard action with the Vatican on its plan to reduce the number of Irish diocese and de facto the number of Bishops, 26 in total. The ‘Yay’ lobby are the people who cheered the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope over 7 years ago and were bitterly disappointed when the man dubbed by the media as ‘God’s Rottweiler’ failed to bark or bite into the liberal wing of the Church. For these conservatives the Vatican has turned a blind eye for too long to those who refuse to get in line and support Catholic teaching. If the laity supports the priests, it is because these priests are leading them astray, goes the thinking. Conservatives see this as a pressing battle between the church and values against rampant secularism which appears to have no values at all.

Of course it isn’t as simple as either side would have you think. While it might feel flattering that Papa Ratzinger is finally getting ‘stuck into’ the liberals and conservatives cheer him on, the truth is more likely that the Pope is not involved at all, being more concerned with a damning report on American nuns and getting them back into line. A senior Vatican source whom I rang after I heard the news about Fr. D’Arcy told me that the reason this clampdown is happening is very simple.

The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) is preparing to leave his post and return to the US. The CDF is the department of the Vatican that oversees adherence to Church teaching and led the Inquisitions in the distant past. Its head, Cardinal Levada is clearing the backlog of complaints against priests and is working through his Irish file at the moment. The process is simple. The head of the religious order to which the ‘errant’ priest belongs is summoned to the Vatican to meet Levada for a dressing down and that religious superior has to take action.


Spero columnist Garry O'Sullivan is Editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper.

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