The people’s priest, bar none

The people’s priest, bar none Fr Brian D'Arcy
It Has to be Said

by Brian D’Arcy (Sliabh Bán Productions, €24.00/£22.00)

Next month, Fr Brian D’Arcy will celebrate a half century in the priesthood. This book is a second tranche of his life story, at the beginning of which he thanks his Passionist brethren for all their understanding since he entered their order in 1962, understanding and sympathy from others being things he could not always count on in the course of that long career.

He was seen as a ‘Fr Trendy’, often said with affectionate malice in the usual Dublin way by some, though with genuine dislike by others. Yet was it not better to ‘be on trend’ as we say now, than be what some would have called a ‘Monsignor Stuck-in-the-mud’.

Everyone in Ireland is familiar with the changes in life and attitude over the course of that half century. But Fr Brian, largely thanks to his weekly column in the colourful Sunday World, over some 43 years managed to reach parts of the nation other priests would not go near. As with the gospel model of the Lord himself, his words of truth mixed with those the public saw as scoundrels and sinners.


His column answered a need among people that the Church didn’t even know existed, let alone could assuage.

Perhaps, like priests in the pre-Gregorian church, Brian D’Arcy lived closer to the people than was later allowed – in a sense that distance between pastor and people has widened as the active clergy have become fewer. Perhaps his delight in football and pop music helped out with all that.

This is a very honest book, as was to be expected from a man who speaks as he sees.

It contains some deeply affecting chapters about the incidents of clerical sexual abuse as a boy and a student that damaged his life. But these are an essential part of the story he has to tell.

Aside from those episodes his account of his treatment, perhaps another form of abuse, by the Congregation of the Faith will leave most of his readers quite dismayed.

He makes a distinction between the priests and the clergy – the clergy being those ambitious professionals anxious to rise. He records that when he was a clerical student the class was told that President Kennedy had been assassinated, the professor’s reaction was: “Oh really. Now let’s go back to discussing why Good Friday actually fell on Holy Thursday…” The class continued as if nothing had happened.

Now he realises that their training was uninfluenced by the real world. Indeed though they were being trained as social leaders they were forbidden to read newspapers.

“In many respects that’s what’s happening in our Church today. Rome comes up with an array of wonderful answers to questions no one is asking. We can still live in an ecclesiastical world as if it is the only world. President Kennedy is dead. Oh, really?”

He had among his readers a congregation as large as a diocese, but few if any bishops have the same contact with their people as he does with his”

Brian D’Arcy is a lively writer, and he also shares the things he has enjoyed and that made his life what it was. But there were clergy who did understand him – like a parish priest in his native Fermanagh, who would not have him on the altar. Fr Brian would never say Mass, he roared, in “my church”.

This book is a great read. Brian D’Arcy’s skill as a writer carries it forward, with easy transitions from the serious to the amusing and entertaining.

He is now conscious of the passing years, but this he says is a book that had to be written. He was accused of giving scandal by those who thought the Church had to be protected even to the extent of condoning what Pope Francis later frankly called “crimes”.

He had among his readers a congregation as large as a diocese, but few if any bishops have the same contact with their people as he does with his.

Anyone seeking to understand what had happened over the half century of his priesthood should read this book. He raises all the issues which need to be faced, and which are all too easily avoided.

But then what Brian D’Arcy has to say had to be said. It also has to be heard.