Fr Brian D'Arcy: My battle with cancer, the Catholic Church and how my faith survived trauma of being abused as a boy of 10
Fr Brian D'Arcy is one of Ireland's best-known clerics – controversial and frank. He speaks to Adrian Rutherford about the future of the Catholic Church and how his faith survived the trauma of being abused as a boy of 10 in Omagh.
8 JULY 2014
Q. You are one of Ireland's best-known priests, but was religion always a part of your life?
A. I was born in 1945 and, growing up in the 1950s and 60s, not many families weren't religious. By modern standards, there were exceptionally religious families back then.
It was a culture. It didn't matter what religion you were, you went to church on Sunday, you had respect for your parents, the law and your community.
We weren't a family that was always in church or highly religious. We were a very normal family.
We were highly involved in GAA affairs – my father was a famous footballer – and that was almost as big a religion as Catholicism.
Did we believe in a God, did we pray, did we keep the Commandments? Yes, we did that as simply as you breathed because there was no other way of life. ...
Q. You were abused as a child – did that shake your faith?
A. I was abused when I was 10 and at school in Omagh. I didn't realise what was happening at the time, but I still knew it was wrong. It had a great effect on me. It made me very nervous and insecure, unsure of what religion was or wasn't because it was a religious brother who abused me for almost a year.
As a teenager, after I entered the priesthood, a priest tried to involve me in abuse as well.
I had more sense at that age and was able to get out of the situation much quicker.
I hadn't the wit to tell my superiors because he told me that if I ever told anyone I would never be ordained.
It was only 35 years or so afterwards that I was even able to think about it.
Abuse affects you to the day you die. It leaves you very insecure, very hurt. You never actually get over it. You have to live with it.
Q. You could never imagine it had been so widespread in the church?
A. I thought I was the only child in the country that it had happened to. I genuinely thought that, which is why I convinced myself I wouldn't be believed.
It was such a uniquely awful experience. Being abused by an adult who you trusted, especially by someone in religion, destroys your relationship with people, it destroys your relationship with others and it threatens to absolutely destroy your relationship with God.
Q. Pope Francis recently said he believes one in 50 priests is involved in child abuse – do you think that's accurate?
A. He is underestimating it. It is more than that. At the very minimum, I would say three to five per cent, and I would say nearer 5%. But that is only the reported cases – I would contend that less than 50% of cases are ever mentioned or reported. So what is the real figure? It's probably nearer 8% – about one in 12 priests. Certainly one in 15 have either abused, assaulted or had dysfunctional sexual relationships.
Q. It has been very damaging for the Catholic Church.
A. It has, but I would rather have the church now, with its less arrogant, less perfectionist attitude than a church which said there is no room for sinners.
You always have to accept that you have to live with sin, not necessarily in sin, but with sin.
Q. Do you think it will ever recover its old image?
A. I hope not, because when its image was best, its sinfulness was greatest. Its image now is far more healthy because the good will survive and the hypocritical will perish.