Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Belfast, Northern Ireland flickr user The Diocese of Down & Dromore

Censure highlights divisions in Irish Church

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 2, 2012

DUBLIN - A series of censures has brought to the fore the divisions within the Irish Church between those who seek a leaner and smaller Church that adheres more strictly to the magisterium and those who seek space to discuss Church issues.

Up to 250 nuns, priests and laypeople held a silent protest outside the Vatican Embassy April 29 to protest the doctrinal congregation’s censure of five Irish priests over their stance on issues such as the ordination of women, the ban on artificial birth control and homosexuality.

A spokesman for the Irish bishops’ conference declined to comment, saying it was a matter for their congregations.

However, Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, has recognized that a “real gulf” now exists within the Irish Church. In an article submitted to the Sunday Independent newspaper, he wrote: “On the one hand there are those who champion the assumed optimism, creativity and relational vision of the Second Vatican Council. These look askance as the smaller number of very active and more conservative young members who, for their part, blame that very lack of clarity for the current problems that afflict most churches. Truth and love risk being depicted as alternatives rather than as two complementary principles, dedicated to journey in an inseparable covenant, whatever the tensions.”

Fr. Kevin Hegarty, former editor of the Irish bishops’ magazine, Intercom, wrote in March that the Vatican is increasingly seen “as a cold place for liberals.”

In late April the story broke that Passionist Father Brian D’Arcy, one of Ireland’s best-known media priests and a regular contributor to BBC Radio, was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in March 2011. His writing must be cleared by his superiors before publication.

Four other Irish priests have also been censured: Redemptorist Fathers Tony Flannery and Gerard Moloney, Marist Father Sean Fagan and Capuchin Father Owen O’Sullivan.

Officials of We Are Church Ireland, the lay group that organized the rally outside the Dublin home of the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, said they were looking for a meeting with him to discuss the seriousness of the situation. Brown worked at the doctrinal congregation for nearly 18 years before being named nuncio earlier this year, and the group wants to know if he played any role in the investigations of the five Irish priests.

A letter handed in by the group and seen by Catholic News Service stated that their actions — which included gagging their mouths in the papal colours to symbolize the silencing of the priests — was meant to show solidarity with the five who are “articulating the views of the majority of Irish Catholics” as evidenced in a recent nationwide survey.

The group demanded the revocation of the doctrinal censure, which it claimed “punished these men without due process and through secretive procedures with no right of appeal.”

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