By Sarah Mac Donald - 17 July, 2019
“Priests in Ireland have more than most borne the heat of the day.”
Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests has hit out at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over his “mocking and stereotyping of Catholic priests”.
During angry Dáil exchanges recently, Mr Varadkar compared Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to “a secretly sinning priest”. He later apologised for the comment.
In his Rite and Reason column for the Irish Times on Tuesday, Fr Hoban said priests in Ireland “have more than most borne the heat of the day”.
The Co Mayo-based parish priest said that despite extensive media coverage of the Church’s child abuse scandals, at parish level there is still huge respect for, appreciation of, and solidarity with the local priest.
He recalled that for many priests the nightmare question at the time of the revelations about clerical abuse was what to say to their parishioners after what had been in the papers and on television. Many priests worried if their parishioners wondered if they too were abusers.
There has been widespread condemnation of the Taoiseach’s comments.
“[It is] not just that the Church had a lot to answer for (as we do); or that we should apologise for our failings (which we have) but that behind the facade of condemnation priests were living lives that contradicted what they were preaching,” Fr Hoban said.
“We know that’s the worst possible accusation against a priest. And we know that tarring every priest with the brush of child abuse is unfair and unconscionable, but this is what the Taoiseach speaking in the Dáil chamber seemed to be implying.
“Whatever he said, whatever he meant, whatever the provenance of his words, I think this was why the response was so instinctive,” Fr Hoban suggested.
The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests said that what Mr Varadkar didn’t seem to understand is that very few people in Ireland now have no difficulty with lambasting the Church for its real or perceived sins and failings; but that attacking the local priest is for many a step too far.
“Not that priests are not criticised. We are, constantly. And sometimes by our own parishioners. But for others, it’s a no-no.”
He said that while the Church has lost much or most of its authority in Ireland, and while criticism is devastating and ongoing, at local parish level there is still huge solidarity with the local priest.
In his Rite and Reason column, Fr Hoban said the inclusive Ireland that voted for gay marriage and legalised abortion came about because Catholics in their thousands voted for the marriage equality referendum and the abortion referendum.
“But the reality too is that most of the roughly one-third who voted against them were Catholics – and they, along with many Catholics who voted for it, weren’t at all impressed, for example, by the cheering in Dublin Castle for an abortion regime in Ireland.”
He said the difficult truth for Mr Varadkar was that while the new, inclusive Ireland where the marginalised are being brought into the centre has the support of many Catholics, many see the current demonisation of Catholicism as an unfair price to pay for it.
“What the Taoiseach’s remarks have achieved is that they will awaken and give a focus to the sleeping giant of traditional Catholicism,” Fr Hoban said.