Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Father Brian D'Arcy: The church criticised me after I had revealed I was abused by a Christian Brother aged eight and by a priest as a teenager

Father Brian D’Arcy with his new book, “It Has To Be Said,” during a book signing at Eason on Donegall Pl, Belfast. (Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX)
Father Brian D’Arcy with his new book, “It Has To Be Said,” during a book signing at Eason on Donegall Pl, Belfast. (Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX)
Helen Carson

By Helen Carson

Fermanagh-born cleric Father Brian D'Arcy says the time was right for his tell-all memoir which reveals how he was sexually abused in the church as a young boy, and again as a teen.

The 74-year-old priest, whose book It Has To Be Said is now on sale, tells how he suffered clerical sexual abuse but had to wait until the perpetrators had died before he could unmask them.

The 400-page book also documents how the veteran broadcaster and author, who is often dubbed 'the showbiz priest', influenced Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan's portrayal of his most famous TV role as the hapless Craggy Island cleric.

The Crossgar-based priest also tells how he played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process by smuggling letters to key loyalists from former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who he had been friends with during the showband era in Ireland.

And amid the most shocking revelations about clerical sexual abuse, Father D'Arcy admits struggling all his life to deal with the trauma of the assaults.

"Many of the stories in the book couldn't have been written (previously) because many of the people were still alive," he explains. "The story was worth telling. Now I can tell it with greater freedom."

The importance of setting the record straight in his 70s was also an issue for the priest: "I'm getting to an age where I could wake up dead tomorrow, or my memory would go, so I had to sit down and do it."

Brian D'Arcy
Brian D'Arcy

Having to revisit childhood memories of abuse was both "cathartic and disturbing" for the cleric, who adds: "I needed to do it, I realise that now. I had to sort things out in my own head that I thought were sorted.

"I was abused by a Christian Brother when I was eight years old, and I was abused by a priest when I was a young teenager after I re-entered the monastery."

And he stands by his decision to reveal the abuse, adding: "I have a great insight into what it's like to be an abused person because I am one of them. When I spoke out about clerical sexual abuse I got an enormous amount of criticism. But I was doing so because I knew what it was like and I knew they (the Catholic Church) were getting it wrong. I knew they were actually adding to the abuse by the way they were handling it."

Father D'Arcy is marking 50 years in the priesthood but admits the backlash from the church following his revelations had a huge impact on him. Yet he denies being a whistleblower: "That was how the church hierarchy looked upon me."

He claims he was accused of creating a scandal among the Catholic community, adding: "In the book I say the one who is creating scandal was not me, but them. Writing a book is about the truth and that's why it was both cathartic and disturbing."

Dealing with the sexual abuse, though, became a lifelong issue for the priest who had felt the traumatic experience was in his past.

Sir Terry Wogan launched 'A Different Journey' by Fr. Brian D'Arcy in 2008 Picture credit: David Lee / SPORTSFILE
Sir Terry Wogan launched 'A Different Journey' by Fr. Brian D'Arcy in 2008 Picture credit: David Lee / SPORTSFILE

"The part I find most disturbing was that I thought I had handled abuse well," he adds. "But I then discovered that you handle abuse well for one stage of your own life but as you grow in life it reappears and you have to handle it again.

"To abuse a child sexually is to destroy their life," he says.

In the book he condemns the Vatican for its handling of clerical sexual abuse, claiming it re-victimised him: "The abuse resurfaced again within me at a very deep level and I simply had to handle that again, otherwise it would have destroyed me."

But he believes there is hope for abuse victims, adding: "You have to keep managing it, or it will reappear and dismember you again."

While victims often blame themselves, he adds it's important to let go: "Initially it made me so guilty and I became terribly religious.

"To hang onto guilt is to crucify yourself and some things you just have to let go and understand you weren't to blame as a victim, you weren't to blame for anything."

Fr Brian D'arcy. Pic by Peter Morrison
Fr Brian D'arcy. Pic by Peter Morrison

Despite his horrendous ordeals, Father D'Arcy says his spiritual life has always been strong: "Faith is my relationship with God so why would I blame God? God did nothing wrong. I've a great belief in a merciful, compassionate God.

"One of the people who abused me was a priest and later I became his superior. Eventually I had to do a funeral mass of the man who abused me as a teenager. It wasn't easy but I think I managed it reasonably well. He had good points and I was good enough to mention those in the book."

And he credits his friendship with the late Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the 1987 Poppy Day Massacre in Enniskillen, in helping him deal with the abuse.

"I tend to go through life learning from the great Gordon Wilson," he says. "He said that he held no grudge against the people who killed his daughter, and that God would be their judge, not him. He knew that they would have to face their maker who would deal with them with justice and mercy.

"That is about the best psychology and theology you can possibly have with regard to abuse. You leave them to God.There's no point letting them abuse you all your life. If you hold on to anger you are co-operating in your own abuse."

Despite his widespread panning of clerical sexual abuse across all denominations, Father D'Arcy praises the work done by the Catholic Church following the child abuse scandal.

Terry Wogan with Fr Brian D'arcy
Terry Wogan with Fr Brian D'arcy

He tells me: "A child is probably safer in the Catholic Church now than in most places. That's not to say that abuse couldn't happen. No system will prevent abuse because an abuser will always be able to manipulate some way around the system and some way around the innocence of a child. But you can put obstacles in their way that will make it very difficult."

He is, of course, also well-known as being the original Father Ted, which he jokes "has been the bane of my life".

The book is full of Father D'Arcy's stories, from his celebrity friendships with stars such as Terry Wogan to the time he helped negotiate the return of a kidnapped man, driving around the country with the half-a-million-pound ransom money in the boot of his car.

While he recalls the Father Ted association with great humour, he adds: "Now we look at it and think, wouldn't it be wonderful if all we had done was be as immature as Ted."

It Has To Be Said by Father Brian D'Arcy is available from Eason

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