Fr Seán Fagan ‘paid a high price’ for his beliefs, Mass hears

Marist priest ‘dared to imagine how Catholic church could be different’, funeral told

The Marist priest Fr Seán Fagan “paid a high price” for daring to imagine “how things could be different” within the Catholic church, his funeral Mass has been told.

Fr Fagan died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Friday, July 15th.

The priest was a leading theologian who was repeatedly censured by the Vatican, beginning in 2008.

In 2010, he was informed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he would be laicised should he publish anything it considered contrary to church teaching and should he disclose this censure to the media.


In 2012, he was one of five Irish priests silenced by the Vatican, along with Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Brian D'Arcy and Fr Owen O'Sullivan.

In April 2014, Pope Francis had all sanctions against Fr Fagan lifted.

The lifting of the sanctions happened after the intervention of a number of people, among them former Irish president Mary McAleese.

Requiem Mass

Recalling Fr Fagan's life at his requiem Mass in Milltown on Tuesday, Rev Prof Declan Marmion said Fr Fagan was "essentially a Vatican II Christian.

“He wanted a new kind of church, one that was more open to the world.

“He tried to implement the vision of Vatican II ministry that included those that were marginalised.”

Rev Marmion said Fr Fagan’s “difficult days with the church authorities are well documented” and his “final years, unfortunately, were not easy”.

He said Fr Fagan had been physically and emotionally unwell.

“The sanctions he received from Rome as a result of his books What Happened to Sin? and Does Morality Change? hit him particularly hard.

“I think one of the reasons for this was that, at the end of the day, Seán was a man of the church, he loved this church of ours, warts and all, and he knew it had plenty of warts.

“His critical comments ultimately sprang from a deep love of the church and desire to imagine how things could be different.

“He paid a high price for proposing a different way, but here he joins a long list of theological luminaries.”

Banned books

Rev Marmion also spoke of how Fr Fagan had been delighted to find “one of his banned books” selling on the internet for hundreds of dollars.

When Fr Fagan told his confrères this, they slipped away to their computers to ensure they got a copy.

However, Rev Marmion said “God surprised us” with the unexpected arrival of Pope Francis, whose approach was similar to that of Fr Fagan.

He said Pope Francis shared “Seán’s pastoral approach”.

“The way of the church is not to condemn people forever, it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy.

“Seán would agree even if he did not experience that healing and reconciliation in this life. His life’s work was not in vain,” said Rev Marmion.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist