Feeding the Hungry Sheep

Food for the Soul, by Brian D’Arcy CP (Columba Press, €14.99 / £12.50)

Anthony Redmond

Fr Brian D’Arcy is a member of the Passionist order and perhaps one of the best known priests in Ireland. Through his newspaper columns and broadcasts he has reached hundreds of thousands of people. He is known to be an excellent communicator.

In 2010 hefound himself formally censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF.) The then head of that Congregation wrote to the Superior General of the Passionists that Fr D’Arcy’s writings and broadcasts had been “a source of great scandal to the faithful”. He received a formal canonical warning to cease being critical of the Vatican and he was ordered not to question the Magisterium or the discipline of the Catholic Church. 


Fr D’Arcy writes: “At this point let me emphasise that I’ve always been at pains not to contradict the formal teachings of the Catholic Church, in my writings and broadcasts in the secular media. For that reason I requested to the publisher that the text of this book be given to a theologian to comment prior to publication. As a matter of record I need to clarify that the CDF never communicated with me directly and never indicated who was ‘scandalised’ by what I wrote. I was warned that I could be excommunicated if I didn’t abide by the CDF’s rules.”

Now, we are all familiar with the fact that quite a long list of priests and theologians have been investigated and criticised by the Vatican over the years. One thinks of Frs Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Hans Kung, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Teilhard de Chardin to name just a few.

In fact, in 1962 Teilhard de Chardin was posthumously criticised by a decree of the Holy Office under the authority of Pope John XXIII which expressed grave concern about the writings of Teilhard de Chardin and referred to his “serious errors”.  Strangely enough, Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II did much to restore Teilhard de Chardin’s reputation. 

Condemn quickly

I believe the Church has a perfect right to defend its teaching against serious error and what it sees as false doctrine, but the manner in which it sometimes deals with those it regards as its critics leaves a lot to be desired at times. The French Dominican, Yves Congar, who for a short while also came under Church investigation, made the point that the Church authorities tended to condemn quickly and without explanation.

Brian D’Arcy’s book, Food for the Soul, is at times very funny and deeply moving. He tells us that much of the material in his book is gleaned from his broadcasts and writings.

There are some truly wonderful, inspirational pieces and among my own personal favourites are a delightful story about the Seattle Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and a short piece called ‘The Lonely Ember’. There is a heartbreakingly moving piece called ‘The Taxi Man’. There is a marvellous quote from the comedian, George Burns, who once said: “The trouble with the world today is that those who know how to run it are, unfortunately, otherwise engaged cutting hair and driving taxis.”


It is clear that Brian D’Arcy is a very compassionate, sensitive man with a deep love of God and a genuine interest in and concern for people and their problems. He is more concerned for people than for the rules for their own sake.

He quotes Pope Francis who said: “If a person said that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then that is not good … if one has answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.” 

Fr D’Arcy says that the election of Pope Francis fills him with hope. He says: “As a matter of interest I rechecked the letter of censure which my Superior General received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2010.  Five issues which they condemned me for, and warned that if I did not change my opinion on I would be silenced and eventually excommunicated, are now being proposed by Pope Francis himself. I have not felt so much peace in over a decade.”

Whatever one’s views on the subject, Brian D’Arcy’s book is thought-provoking and well worth reading.