'Censuring' D'Arcy might be for good reason

 

I HAVE followed the Fr Brian D’Arcy saga for days in a vain attempt to learn what precise heresies the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith objected to.

But no one seemed much interested in discovering what these were, and Fr Brian was being intriguingly vague. The sense was of a fearless and scholarly dissident whose robust and scorching critiques of Vatican thinking have been cruelly suppressed by forces living in fear of his outspokenness.

We understand from reports that the objections relate to his Sunday World column in 2010. We know from Fr D’Arcy’s account that the letter of “censure” from the CDF incorporated some cuttings of his columns, although he did not say which ones.

On radio last weekend, he said that, when his superior first told him of the CDF’s difficulties, in March 2011, he gathered that the issues were his “attitude about the Vatican’s way of dealing with child sexual abuse” and that the CDF didn’t like “what they called my liberal views on contraception”.

“This was news to me,” he said, “because I haven’t mentioned contraception in the last 20 years, because in my view people have made up their minds about it anyway.”

I sifted through Fr D’Arcy’s 2010 columns on the Sunday World website. Surprisingly, they offer little by way of penetrative doctrinal or theological insight, being mainly anodyne, pious, sometimes wry observations about everyday life, as perhaps befits a column titled “A Little Bit of Religion”. Typical headlines are: “Don’t worry, just be happy”; “Thoughts to bring comfort”; and “Why I think music truly is a gift from God”.

Far from an unrelenting critic of the Vatican, Fr D’Arcy occasionally writes in praise of Pope Benedict. In a column published after the 2010 papal visit to the UK, he describes the pope as “a sophisticated thinker who understands the relationship between faith and logic”.

But Fr Brian’s memory has been playing tricks, because in November 2010 he did actually refer to the church’s teaching on contraception. The headline is “Pope gives fresh hope”, and, underneath: “New condom stance is a glimmer of light from an oppressive regime.”

The article asserts, arising from comments the pope made in an interview, that Benedict has “changed fundamentally the Catholic Church’s view on the use of condoms in the fight against Aids”.

I found one explicit reference to the church’s record on clerical sex abuse – in a review of a book by Frank Crummy, a veteran campaigner against corporal punishment and child abuse. The closest to a judgment on the church is: “He was one of the first people to name who the guilty were – Catholic clergy scandalously abusing power and status, and the spineless politicians who forfeited power to them.”

A column in February 2010 catches the eye for the accompanying photograph of two naked men in a sexual embrace, illustrating a letter from a disgruntled reader who accuses D'Arcy of having "no loyalty to the Church or to the Holy Father". The letter contains no reference to homosexuality.

Perhaps the most plausible candidate for the CDF’s attention is Fr D’Arcy’s column of November 15th, 2010, headlined “Witty mail is gay okay”. Four-fifths of the column is a reproduced viral email, attributed to “James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, University of Virginia”, written in response to a comment by the radio host Dr Laura Schlessinger, who had said on her show that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, she believed homosexuality to be an “abomination” as per Leviticus 18:22.

Essentially the email is a reductive skit on the Bible, identifying several passages that might be cited as justifications for beliefs or behaviours nowadays regarded as unreasonable or archaic. The “wit” is of a sub-Father Ted type.

The following conveys the gist: “Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?”

One of Fr D’Arcy’s stock devices is to quote at length from something – often a reader’s letter – and tail it off with a verbal wink along the lines of “Food for thought there, folks.” Here, having reproduced the email in its entirety, he concludes: “Plenty of room for discussion there. James knows how to make a point or 10.”

Were I in the CDF’s line of work, I might be exercised by several aspects of Fr D’Arcy’s writings. I would certainly be concerned about misrepresentations of the pope’s statements to imply that he was “catching up” on liberal opinion. I would have problems with the apparent acquiescence of Fr D’Arcy in the Sunday World’s “stretching” of his commentaries through the use of headlines and images to cock a snook at church teachings.

And I might well be moved to remind him that it is preferable, when a Catholic priest cites satires or criticisms of the Bible, that this be in the context of defending, rather than deriding, the Word of God. As to whether I would bother my head, and thus further enable the designs of the Irish media’s many enemies of the church – I think, on balance, probably not.

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