Vol II No. 5

New Archbishop of Dublin makes waves - on women Deacons, Priests, same-sex unions and clerical celibacy

by sinetortus
Considerable interest has been generated far beyond the shores of Ireland by the recently announced appointment of Dermot Farrell as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, in succession to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin a former Vatican diplomat.  
The Archbishop elect gave a long interview to the Irish Times that has occasioned alarm among traditional Roman Catholics who understood him to have stated  that he is


“in favor of women deacons and married priests. He does not find in the Scriptures an argument against the ordination of women to the priesthood. He calls the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality merely technical. He also says he has no problem with the private blessing of rings for divorced and remarrying couples and for homosexual couples”. *

Part of the reason this has garnered such attention is that it seems to build on the widely quoted comments and indications of Pope Francis that he also favours movement towards some of these positions, although he seems to have pulled back currently from his initial plan for married clergy in parts of Latin America,
The Pope’s somewhat confusing statements on these matters were explored previously in the article
“Same Sex Unions: Pope Francis and Bishop Love” which can be accessed via this link:

In the light of such interest it would seem useful to look at the full original text of the interview’s relevant sections as made available by the Arbishop’s own office,  which is made available below (emphasis has been added to highlight key passages)
 It is striking just  how very much– like Pope Francis— Archbishop  Farrell hints strongly at things,  but when the text is read closely the wording falls significantly short of affirming quite what he seems first to suggest.
Thus, while he hints at a fundamental weakness in the basis for opposing women priests, (as mainly resting on tradition rather than scripture  – a debatable claim which however cannot be explored here) he does not directly say he wants this change  but hints that he does.
He is a little more direct about supporting the creation of women Deacons.
Again, in regard to clerical celibacy he stresses the value of it but makes clear that as a matter of discipline rather than doctrine he thinks this could change and discusses favourably the idea of allowing two tracks, whereby clergy (as in the Orthodox church) could choose to marry or not.
On same sex partnerships, he clearly backs an end to all discrimination (which is largely non-controversial)
but then he seems to hint exactly like Pope Francis at some potential change ahead in the church’s view of the moral status of such relationships,
Yet looked at closely he does so in such a very oblique manner that it is quite unclear how he thinks that should be formally changed
 (the exact import  of his references to  “technical language” seem obscure).
Again,  for all that he discusses blessings of rings  that have happened privately rather calmly and with approval (seemingly for  both divorced people and same-sex partners),  he actually comes down pretty clearly against them insofar as they cause confusion by involving rites which are likely to be taken to amount to marriage by laity present and adds then,  a very clear declaration that Marriage is a different thing entirely in any case.
So, his position overall seems somewhat murky —albeit in an area where the teaching of the church would itself hitherto seem clear, so he must be anticipate further enquiry as to what he is really saying.

Accordingly, while  Farrell may, and the Pope may (it is entirely unclear as yet) favour some new view of the moral status of same-sex partnerships and partnerships between people who are divorced,  there is nothing substantive to go on as yet. It seems on closer examination quite how  within the historic teaching tradition of the church they (may) think that  they can get formally to such a new position.

In summary then —  just as with the Pope, while there are hints of desire for change, when it comes to the formal positions, Archbishop elect Farrell may desire the Roman Catholic  church to adopt, it remains in fact, as yet, unclear what such actual change on same sex partnerships and divorcees would look like. It is even more unclear how such changes could be promulgated without breaking substantively with prior moral teaching.
By contrast, however, Farrell is quite clear about
— favouring women Deacons and
—being open to possible marriage of clergy so long as Clerical celibacy is also an option
—open to considering women priests.

But lastly, it is worth noting that in his discussion of traditionalists while he conceded that they “have a view” he clearly feels that they are a problem insofar as they want to “impose their views on everyone” in the church. This is interesting since, by definition, as traditionalists the views they uphold can only be the ones the church has historically taught. So, in logic, this seems to make clear that for the Archbishop seeking to have everyone uphold the historic teachings of the church would itself be wrong.  That surely is radical !
In so far as the new Archbishop does in fact want the Roman Catholic church to change some of its historic teachings, this will presumably dismantle the notion of the body of the church’s teaching (magisterium) being infallibly correct.
Ironically, that may offer one crumb of comfort to the traditionalists, since it will mean that while he is clear they are not possessed of the infallible, both sides can agree that he is not either.



Interview given to the Irish Times (key sections) 

(from the transcript of the interview between Patsy McGarry from the Irish Times and Archbishop Elect of Dublin Dermot Farrell, kindly provided as a courtesy to the Catholic News Agency by the journalist.

Women priests/deacons 

“Pope Francis has put a new Commission in place. In terms of a way to go, that’s a way to go. The issue is what did women deacons do in the early church…in the 60s Pope Paul said that if all the bishops of the world favoured change he would consider it. None came.”

“The danger is such change could lead to a schismatic church. You see that in the Church of England where when certain reforms were brought in, some went off and joined the Catholic Church. That’s a huge issue. What Pope Francis has done is that he has initiated the debate …but it’s going to be slow. I don’t think it’s going to be done overnight. There’ll be a lot of discussion.”

Personal views on women priests/mandatory celibacy

”I think that the big issue for women priests for me is that the two pillars of our faith and the Church are scripture and tradition and the biggest barrier to that (women priests) is probably tradition, not the scriptures. That’s the hurdle that has to be overcome. Would I like to see women deacons, I would. Women have almost preserved the faith in the church, certainly in this country and probably beyond. They were the ones who handed on the faith or took the responsibility for handing it on. Our mothers were very important in terms of teaching and prayer. They were the ones, more than the fathers. That’s where a lot of us got our faith, we got it from our parents. Personally, it came from my mother and father. I didn’t learn it.”

“You learned catechism in school, but catechism was not the faith. Faith is a relationship with the Lord.”

Mandatory celibacy 

“First of all I don’t like the word `mandatory’. There is a value in celibacy, there is a sacrifice involved. I do think it is an important part of the Catholic tradition. It is a rule, it’s not a church teaching as such but I think it’s an important”

“I don’t accept the argument that if priests weren’t celibate they couldn’t do what they are doing. There are many people who are married and have to go out in the middle of the night, doctors, firemen. That’s not an argument against it. There’s a different argument.”

“For example you have the two tracts in the Orthodox church. You have the celibate language and you have the married language. You have to make a choice before you are ordained, usually, in those churches. Even with permanent deacons who are married, they’re part of the clergy but they do undertake that if their wife dies they can’t remarry.”

Orthodox choice in the Catholic Church? 

“It could be discussed. There has been some talk about the viri probati, of going down that track.”

“I think there’s a value in celibacy. That is important and I don’t think that should be lost whatever decision is come to in the years ahead. Choice on celibacy is something I would favour discussion on. That’s not going to be decided by the Irish hierarchy or the American hierarchy. It will have to be by the universal church.”

Teaching on homosexuality/catechism language 

“Pope Francis has given a great lead in terms of outreach to homosexuals. Sometimes they have been victimized in the past and have suffered an awful lot of abuse in society, physical violence against them. That’s completely and utterly wrong. Some of that is coming from the culture and the society in which we live, which demonized them almost. That’s absolutely completely and utterly wrong. Men or women who find themselves of a homosexual orientation, it’s not something they chose. It’s something they come to realize or discern. In the past they covered it up, they lived with it or struggled with it because they were afraid if they declared it, it had all sorts of implications. At one stage you’d find yourself in prison. Thank God it was decriminalized (in Ireland).”

Language of Church teaching on? 

”It’s a technical description. People misconstrue that then because it is technical theological language.”

He agreed that in popular culture “there is a difficulty which can translate into sometimes violence against people where they find there is a huge prejudice against them…”

“I think Pope Francis has discussed that (removal). It came up at the last Synod. Marriage is a different thing.”

Blessings… Divorced/remarried, same-sex couples 

The difficulty with blessings is that they are very often misconstrued as marriage. Priests have given these blessings in the past. I remember one colleague of mine. I had said to him – he used to have this ceremony of the blessing of rings – I said to him I don’t have a difficulty with blessing rings if you’re doing that here in the house but if you go out into the public domain, in a church, and bless rings as you see it …they turned up with 200 people and they saw it as a marriage. Sometimes people use that phraseology …you’re into confusion there. It can be misconstrued as `yes, the priest married us’.”

There was “good discussion at the Synod (on the Family) good document produced on dealing with those situations.”

“Blessings are always going to be misconstrued and that’s where the difficulty arises because once you start blessing things like that people are going to construe that as a marriage. We can’t have that sort of situation in the Church because it creates all sorts of problems in terms of our own teaching and these teachings of the church have been constant.”

Hard-line traditionalists

“They’re hostile towards anyone that doesn’t agree with them, they’re almost close to being intolerant. They’re everywhere. I’d be respectful of them, they have a view and probably want to impose that view on everyone. That’s disrespectful. They have to respect the views of other people in the Catholic faith who for various reasons may not have the same commitment they have. That doesn’t mean they’re any less sincere. Why should that (irregular) person be ostracized? It may come to the stage.”

Things may be objectively wrong but you must take the subjective into account when you’re dealing with people that Catholic faith has always had the two sides to it, the objective teaching and how that applies subjectively.” 

The full original interview can be read via this link




* The opening quote was from an article, “Some Troubles in Dublin”

by Fr Gerald E Murray in The Catholic Thing accessible at Catholictruthblog.com