Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Really Don't Want to Pick on Father Brian D'Arcy..

..since it seems a little like kicking a man when he's down. (Although being lionized and back-slapped by the Irish media and a good chunk of the population might be a strange way to be "down", but even so...)

I have to say I found some aspects of his interview on Marian Finucane's radio show today refreshing. He denied being a "liberal", and he insisted that he had never and would never question a "defined dogma" of the Church. It's true that his view of Church teaching seems far too minimalist to me. (He mentioned as examples of defined dogmas the Assumption of Our Lady and the Immaculate Conception. Of course, there are very few dogmas in that sense of the word, and the authority of the Magisterium extends beyond ex cathedra declarations.) For me, if the Pope declares that the subject is closed-- as he has on clerical celibacy and women's ordination-- then the subject is closed.

But at least Father D'Arcy (and he said it explicitly at one point) accepted the principle that there are perameters beyond which you cannot go and continue to be a Catholic. Not all of those dissenting from Rome would be so clear. One dissident priest I heard on the radio, when challenged by the claim that a lot of Catholic dissent had strayed into the region of Protestantism, essentially replied: "So what?"

Another claim Father D'Arcy made was that he was simply accepting that his parishioners were flawed human beings, in the same way that Christ accepted sinners like the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. "Of course he said go and sin no more", Father Brian added. "But who can say they're never going to sin no more?" He then described being put outside of a confession box at nine years of age because he refused to promise he wouldn't commit some childish sin again. "I didn't want to make a promise I couldn't keep." His mother, on hearing the story, told him he was right and, since then, he has accepted her word over any theologian's.

But this is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity; that the same Saviour who said "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners", also said, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." And, if this demand seems utterly hopless to us (as of course it must), we also need to remember those infinitely comforting words: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Look at this another way. Racism is today considered one of the worst of evils, and yet it is also considered to be so all-pervasive that we are all, more or less, racists. (Personally, I think the prevalence of racism is greatly exaggerated, but I am simply using this as an example.) Would a professor of Equality Studies, after telling his class that we are all inevitably afflicted with racist assumptions, go on to say: "So, you see, trying not to be racist is futile. It's OK to be a little bit racist"?

Or would a journalist who admits that there is no such thing as complete objectivity, then boldly declare, "So I aim to be only a wee bit biased in my reporting"? Of course not! She would aim at total objectivity, even if she knew she could never reach it, just as the Equality Studies professor would try to completely avoid racism.

I have read very little of Father D'Arcy's writings. But in this interview he seemed like a reasonable and well-intentioned man, and a dedicated priest. Let's all pray that these fissures in the Irish Catholic Church are soon healed, and that all of the priests and faithful of this country submit themselves to the teaching of the Magisterium and the guidance of the Holy Father. We do, after all, have a country to re-evangelise.

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