The publication of the new book by Dr Edward Daly, the former Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, has re-opened the debate about celibacy in the Catholic Church.
When I talked to him about the book this week, he was somewhat bemused that his comments on celibacy had received so much attention, given that he devoted only 150 words to the subject in a 100,00 word volume. (A Troubled See, Fourt Courts Press, £11.95).
The media attention is not surprising, though. It is not every day that a senior figure in the Roman Catholic Church states that while there is an important and enduring place for celibacy in the priesthood, “I also believe that there should be a place for a married priesthood and for men who do not wish to commit themselves to celibacy.” As the Bishop, points out, however, celibacy would not solve the problems of manpower in the Catholic Church, but it would ease them. Without doubt, untold numbers of men have avoided taking holy orders, or have left the Church for this reason.
I often wonder too about celibate women in convents and other Catholic institutions who are not often mentioned, but who have devoted their lives to the Church, and have given up any possibility of having their own family.
It is difficult to know how far the debate on celibacy will bring significant change. However, the voices of highly-regarded clerics like Edward Daly, if they are heard often enough and widely enough, will add to the groundswell for change, though some critics will ask why these voices have not been heard sooner
Still there is much more to Bishop Daly than his views on celibacy, and his career as Bishop of Derry coincided with some of the worst years of the Troubles. He was virtually type-cast as the priest waving the white handkerchief in the middle of murderous Bloody Sunday, and he has retained a lifelong abhorrence of violence.
As Bishop of Derry he played a major role in the ecumenical affairs of the city, particularly in conjunctions with the successive Church of Ireland Bishops Dr Robin Eames and Dr James Mehaffey.
Now in his retirement he has found a vocation as Chaplain to Foyle Hospice in Derry, and he is discovering new dimensions on his spiritual journey. He also suffered from ill-health himself, and he deeply appreciates being able to face each new day and just being able to continue with his work.
At a time when the Catholic Church is under attack from so many quarters, it’s important to reflect on the work of Bishop Daly who was devoted to the priesthood and to the true work of the Church.He has professed his deep shock and heartbreak at the minority of colleagues involved in the clerical sex abuse scandals, and it must be deeply disappointing to a large number of other hard-working priests that the image of the Catholic Church has been so disfigured in this way.
Throughout the years of the Troubles, Bishop Daly and I have often crossed paths in our different careers, and I have vivid memories of appearing with him one night on RTE’s Late, Late Show with Gay Byrne.
The Bishop and I spent the first half talking “ live” about some of the horrors of the Troubles. After the first commercial break Rolf Harris came on to sing the anti-war song Two Little Boys.Harris was so emotionally overcome by our reports from the North that he broke down in tears, and could not finish his song. I remember him sitting down beside me on the studio set, and pouring a jug of water over his head. Fortunately Bishop Daly quickly came to the rescue, and comforted that troubled and big-hearted man.
Bishop Daly and I have not always agreed on certain issues but I have retained a great respect for one of the best men of the cloth who worked faithfully and with total integrity in one of the most troubled Dioceses.
It is fitting that, in his mid-70s, he is seeing the fruits of his peace work and that of many others, and that he is able to continue his important work with the Foyle Hospice. I wish him well.