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“We have to listen to the Spirit guiding us in a different way.”

By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 September, 2018

The Church must radically change the structure of the priesthood if it is to halt the decline in vocations and Mass attendances, according to Sunday World columnist and BBC presenter Fr Brian D’Arcy.

Speaking to the international Catholic weekly, The Tablet, the Passionist priest said, “We have prayed for years, particularly in the Western world, for an increase in vocations. We cannot say that God isn’t listening because we absolutely believe he is. But the vocations are not there, so maybe we are asking God for the wrong gift.”

The 73-year-old added, “If we keep on doing the same thing then we are likely to get the same result; the fact that the result is neither helpful to the Church nor priesthood is telling us that we better change our way of doing it.”

Fr D’Arcy publicly criticised compulsory clerical celibacy on the opening day of the National Ploughing Championship in Tullamore, saying he had always believed clergy should be allowed to get married. He said the Church urgently needed to consider making clerical celibacy optional, as well as ordaining married men and women.

“I think compulsorily tying the gift of celibacy with the gift of priesthood is more codology than theology. They are two separate gifts – they are not the same gift.” He suggested that compulsory celibacy can lead to an unhealthy emotional life and an unhealthy spirituality. It is based on “an utterly inadequate theology of sexuality”, he said.

He also highlighted how the Orthodox Church and members of the Ordinariate can be priests and be married.

However, Fr D’Arcy, who celebrates 50 years of priesthood next year, cautioned against a belief that one single change, such as abolishing compulsory celibacy, would provide an answer to all the Church’s challenges.

“I think we have to look at how the Spirit is working in the Church and I think the Spirit is very obviously in the great committed lay people in the Church.”

He told CatholicIreland.net that it was important for Christians to understand that the most important day in their life of faith was the day they are baptised.

“We have to look at the wonderful gift of the priesthood of the laity and a different structure to the one we have now. I think that is what the Holy Spirit is asking us to look at.”

He also highlighted Pope Francis’s criticisms of clericalism and said he agreed with the Pontiff’s concerns. “The Gospel tells us we have to listen to the Spirit guiding us in a different way.”

The need for change was underlined by the decline in Mass attendance from over 90 per cent when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979, to 19 per cent in some urban areas today. He said that figure could even be as low as 9 per cent if the older age group is excluded.

“I think we have got to give local people in their own local communities an ability to determine what kind of Church they are going to have and the possibility of proposing a married man who could be trained as a priest.

“We have gone halfway by saying we will train married men as deacons but why can’t we ordain married men as priests?”

Fr D’Arcy also acknowledged that most people he encountered were telling him that the reasons why women cannot be ordained were “so ridiculous that nobody can take them seriously”.

“If there is a theological reason why women cannot be ordained it must surely be greater than the argument that Jesus did not ordain women… Jesus didn’t ordain Irishmen, so why have we been able to ordain them and not women?”

He added, “If canon law prevents something good from happening, then change canon law. Don’t give us the idea that canon law is a greater law than the Gospel.”

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