Fr Des takes the Vatican censors to task

Our columnist backs Fr Brian in paper row

By Francesca Ryan

WEST Belfast priest and Andersonstown News columnist Fr Des Wilson has written a stinging letter to the Vatican  over their censuring of an Irish priest. His letter was written just days after it was revealed that Father Brian D’Arcy, who writes a column for a Sunday newspaper and is one of the country’s best known priests, had been censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The disciplining of Fr D’Arcy brings the number of Irish priests censured by Rome to six.

In his letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fr Wilson says that he views with “dismay” the  decision to censor “some of our fellow citizens and fellow members of the Catholic Church”. “We are puzzled – naturally and supernaturally –  by the fact that you and we preach the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then you tell us, so inspired, to stop talking.”

And the popular Springhill priest added: “…when you silence good people that is a shame for you – but  if we allow it to happen that is a shame for us.”

Dear Friends in the  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,

YOU may be aware that we  in Ireland have a special reverence for  our Saint Columbanus. He was one of our saints who disagreed with a Pope and said so. You may be more acquainted with Saint Catherine of Siena, who did the same, although she had the disadvantage of having  to disagree with three possible Popes at one time.

Some of us view with dismay, then, but no great alarm, your decision to censor some of our fellow citizens and fellow members of the Catholic Church who have done nothing at all so serious.

We are puzzled – naturally and supernaturally –  by the fact that you and we preach the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then you tell us, so inspired, to stop talking, as if we had nothing important to say. This is not a matter of doctrine, it is one of logic, and we in Ireland are inclined to judge these things by logic as well as doctrine  and not too often  by emotion. We remember  the Gamaliel Principle – you remember it too; when forced to make a decision, he told his colleagues, if this be of God it’s useless to oppose it,  if it be of human planning it will fade away in any case, so we should not take extraordinary measures for ordinary happenings.

Disciplined

You may be aware that in recent years we in Ireland lost to the priesthood some of our best intellects because priests were disciplined,  sometimes for trivialities, sometimes for making people aware that the Church is a seeking Church, not  a triumphant one. When  the issues involved were trivial – like that of shirts and collars or discussing what we believe – we rightly feared that some important people in our Church were trying to drag us with them on a road which might well lead from mediocrity to obscurity. We Catholics in Ireland have a strong intellectual tradition.  We founded the ancient equivalent of a university in Clonmacnoise centuries before our colleagues in Britain founded Oxford and Cambridge, and we took our part in intellectual leadership in Europe even when the empire  centred in Rome was collapsing; indeed, especially when it was. So you can see we have some experience in intellectual and spiritual leadership. It would be sad and quite unworthy if you were to insist at this time that  we be  reduced to tearing pages out of monthly religious magazines and asking permission not just to change laws but even to write about them.

Serious

As well as this, we in Ireland are wary of anonymous messages to anonymous receivers, we believe  Our Lord was serious when He said people sometimes worked in secret because their works were evil. That is disquieting  anywhere, but especially in the community of the People of God. And most especially to the priests  and others whom you have told to be quiet. I am presuming that this title, the People of God,  still officially applies to us, although I understand that even at the time of the Second Vatican Council there was a desire among some of you to avoid  it. Most of us accept the title with pride and gratitude, but find it impossible to accept that we have to be a Silent People of God any more than we would accept being a silenced people of Ireland.

So for reasons of logic, theology, scripture, history and reason we know it is damaging to us all to try to solve problems by silencing speakers rather than fostering  and freshening  ideas. You may possibly agree that this is so, but  in any case, censors tend to disappear into irrelevance while ideas tend to remain if they are interesting ones, ­ all the more if they are good ones, which is highly likely given that those who have them rely on the Holy Spirit for their spiritual and intellectual vigour.

Courtesy

So I do ask you to join us in our decision not to be afraid of each other but to talk to each other  with courtesy,  remembering that   when you silence good people that is a shame for you; but  if we allow it to happen that is a shame for us.

Looking back on more than sixty years as a Catholic priest in Ireland I think I know the value of those who choose their own silence, but also the emptiness of those who enforce silence  on others.

With great hopes for blessing for you and for a Church which enlightens the world.

Desmond Wilson

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