Book Review: And Catch the Heart off Guard

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Book Review: And Catch the Heart off Guard

Priest on the verge of quitting now thinks that under Pope Francis it’s great to be Catholic

Fr Brian D’Arcy is one of the few high profile priests in Ireland to have retained – and even enhanced – his credibility.

Being censured, and censored, by Pope Benedict can only have contributed to making the man, once lampooned by Fr Ted actor Dermot Morgan as Fr Brian Trendy, the acceptable face of the Irish Catholic Church.

As readers of the Irish World will already know Fr D’Arcy was on the verge of quitting the Church but his vocation has been given new zest and energy by Pope Francis whom he believes can heal the Church and even the world – or at least a significant part of it – with our help.

The man whom Pope Benedict wanted censored now has a residencey on BBC Radio on Chris Evan’s Breakfast Show and BBC Sunday Half Hour.

The 70-year old Enniskillenbased cleric, a loyal Fermanagh GAA fan and pastor to the showbands of yore, has found himself in conflict with orthodox Vatican teaching for his more tolerant and understanding views on celibacy for priests, contraception and his public criticism of the Church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse.

It led to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, aka the Spanish Inquisition, to censure him and insist that his writings be checked by a Church censor before publication. He wasn’t told directly, either, as word “trickled down from on high” as he put it.

Book Review: And Catch the Heart off Guard

It is a mark of the man that because he told no-one word didn’t leak out until 14 months in.

Pope Benedict’s resignation was, he said in 2013, ‘a miracle’ and a gift from God as the darkness lifted.

“Pope Francis is the reason I’m still a priest. I don’t think I’d still be a priest had [the current Pope] been another man like the last two, particularly like Benedict. I think I would have been forced out.

“I feel more at home now. It’s not as simple or peaceful or as black and white, but it’s marvellous now because it’s real. The realness is the struggle and the struggle is the journey. I’ve always said that you have to choose your own dignity; it will never be given to you. Because of the Vatican trying to silence me and all that, I knew that.

“The Catholic Church is a big ship and it will take a long time to turn it around.

“He has given new life to some of the clergy, who felt that they were being pushed out because of their views. In time that will have some effect. “I don’t think Pope Francis’s views have got through to the Church leadership, however, because most of them were appointed in Pope Benedict’s era.

“They have not bought into the community values advocated by Pope Francis.

“Even if the Pope is successful, we are never going back to the dominant Church of the past. In fact, I don’t think I would want it,” says Fr D’Arcy.

“The Church is at its healthiest when it is with the marginalised, rather than the powerful.” His new book, And Catch The Heart Off Guard (from the Seamus Heaney poem Postscript), features views, and even the odd epiphany, that form the basis of many of his sermons. He hopes it will direct people to “a God that is friendly, understanding and merciful”.

“It’s a great time to be a Catholic. We have the future in our hands and we don’t have the burden of centuries of ritual and liturgy, which was an excuse for religion and which got in the way of us having a relationship with God. “For the first time now, people are thinking for themselves.

They’ve discovered that the props of religion are not enough to keep you going; you must have a faith and strength behind it.”

The proceeds of the new book will go to charities involved with the global refugee crisis: “There’s my book and then there’s Daniel O’Donnell’s album. And Daniel has enough money.” In the book he takes a swipe at piety for its own sake and says “religion can be an addiction based on duty”.

“It’s wrong to think that because you have fulfilled a set of rituals that that somehow makes you better. “If I go to church and pray, it’s not to satisfy God – God’s fine. God has been saving people long before any religion. So we shouldn’t replace God with religion. All of it is supposed to lead to God, not to submitting yourself to a church.”

“I’d more or less come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t go to remain in the priesthood. But nobody can stop me being a priest – nobody can stop me helping people, end of story. They [the Catholic Church] don’t have that power over anybody. Nobody can stop me doing good.”

And Catch The Heart Off Guard is out now, published by Columba Press. Profits will go to helping refugees forced to flee violence in their homelands.


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