An Irish priest has admitted that the Church has been and is “very, very, very hurtful to women”.

– “The Church is all male, all the time. We really need to look at that”

“As a Church we have been very, very, very hurtful to women and still are”, Fr Kevin McNamara of Moyvane, Co. Kerry, said in a documentary which aired on Irish television October 12.

Calling for the patriarchal structure of the Church to be reformed, McNamara acknowledged: “The Church is all male, all the time. We really need to look at that”.

“We should put our hands up sooner rather than later”.

The documentary – which aired on the RTÉ One station and is entitled The Confessors – was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Alex Fegan, who also shot the Irish Pub and Older than Ireland films.

The Confessors has been touted as “a study of sin and redemption as told by Irish priests through the prism of the Confession box”. The documentary looks at the changing face of Catholicism and the priesthood in Ireland, through the eyes of 15 priests – urban and rural, young and old – who give first-hand accounts of their experiences in the ministry.

– “In COVID times, never before is the mercy of God more needed”

Ahead of the documentary premiere, McNamara spoke to The Kerryman newspaper about what prompted him to take part in filming.

The priest said he had a special devotion to the “beautiful” ministry of reconciliation, but acknowledged that the practice of confession has changed a lot in his years in the priesthood.

“Gone are the days of the box-like, dark room, where the priest pulled back the curtain to listen and you’d sit there praying to God he wouldn’t recognise your voice for fear of what he’d say to you”, McNamara explained.

But he added that beyond the externals, he feels nothing but honour and joy at the opportunity to forgive people of their sins and in that way lead them to healing and a fresh start.

Especially in a moment of pandemic, he added, explaining that “in COVID times, never before is the mercy of God more needed”.

– Sex abuse cover-ups “the devil’s work”

Not that McNamara’s years in the ministry have all been sweetness and light. The priest admitted, for example, that the scandal of priestly pedophilia in particular took a heavy toll on him.

“I actually cried my way through a Mass at the height of the child sexual abuse [scandal]. How people in authority could have blatantly told so many lies, or opted not to tell the truth”, McNamara lamented, calling the cover-up of abuse cases “the devil’s work”.

Other highlights from The Confessors included McNamara revealing that he always carries two crosses in his top pocket: one for the prodigal sons and one for the prodigal daughters.

“I feel a great sadness towards the prodigal daughters”, he lamented, in a reference to the so-called “fallen women” who ended up in places like the infamous Magdalene laundries.

Father Con Cronin – another priest in Passage West, Cork – admitted the concern he feels at identifying publicly as a priest. “I wouldn’t wear a collar publicly”, Cronin acknowledged, because “you don’t know who you’re going to meet”.

For his part, Augustinian friar Father Iggy O’Donovan from Fethard, Co Tipperary, took aim at the Church’s past “inordinate emphasis on sexuality”. “Roman rules mixed with Victorian morality was a lethal cocktail”, the priest reflected.

More on Novena on the Church in Ireland:

Former Irish president blasts “self-serving… little old men” running Church: “People are walking away in droves”

Irish Catholics call on bishops to ensure “real and meaningful” lay participation in “new” Church post-pandemic

Irish priest warns bishops’ cozying up to alt-right is “reaping a bitter whirlwind”

Irish nun pleads: “Most urgent” issue for Church “is to correct its gender imbalance”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.