An Irish priest has weighed into the celibacy debate, saying that “married priests should be the most normal thing in the world”.

Driving the news

Priest, writer, columnist and broadcaster Brian D’Arcy made the comment in an interview on Irish TV January 14.

The Passionist revealed that as a young man in the seminary he endured extreme self-inflicted physical discipline to make sure, as his superiors made clear to him, he was serious about wanting to become a priest.

“At night prayer you went up and stripped off and beat yourself”, D’Arcy recalled.

“It was a scourge with five elements on it which was very sore. Your enthusiasm as to how hard you beat yourself was an indication of how serious you were”.

Despite the harsh discipline – or as an escape from it – D’Arcy said he fell in love with a woman and said he “almost certainly would have married” if he had not been ordained priest.

“I couldn’t do that because I had committed myself to celibacy”, D’Arcy explained.

“But I’m always convinced that married priests should be the most normal thing in the world”.

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D’Arcy also revealed in the interview details of the abuse he suffered as a young boy at the hands of a religious brother, and later as a novice at the Mount Argus monastery in Dublin.

It is in that context that D’Arcy’s comments on compulsory clerical celibacy carry particular weight, given that he knows all too well the risks of spiritual, emotional, physical and sexual abuse inherent in an all-male celibate priesthood.

First, as a shy child at school, D’Arcy’s abuser “spotted that in a yard full of kids and he put his arm around me and brought me to his room and I became his recreation for a number of months at that stage”, the priest said.

Later, at Mount Argus, “the same thing happened again, it didn’t happen to the same extent but it was an attempted rape on me by a priest that I was sent to look after”, D’Arcy continued.

The priest’s abuser at the monastery “also had spotted that I was a nervous young guy and asked me to look after him when he was sick, allegedly”, D’Arcy explained.

“It was in the context of his room that he engaged me in abuse. I suppose I was old enough to spot it at that stage and did do something about it”, the priest continued.

That said, D’Arcy denounced his abuser and superior “manipulated” him and threatened to kick him out of the priesthood if he said something.

“Abusers use holy sin, power, control magnificently to destroy people and that’s what he did and that’s what he tried to do”, D’Arcy decried.

Why it matters

D’Arcy also revealed in the interview that later, when he was rector of Mount Argus, he was called upon to celebrate the funeral of the very priest who had abused him.

Amazingly, D’Arcy had by then forgiven his priest aggressor – inspired by example of the “wonderful” Northern Irish peace campaigner Gordon Wilson – and said he hoped that in the funeral homily for his abuser he was “reasonably just to the good things he had done in his life”.

“I had hoped that he might say sorry; he didn’t but that was his own thing… I commended him to God and I hope that God has forgiven him”, D’Arcy said.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.