Full interview with Dublin Archbishop-elect Dermot Farrell by Patsy McGarry, The Irish Times.

Interview: Dublin Archbishop-elect Dermot Farrell with Patsy McGarry, The Irish Times.

Installation going ahead on February 2nd.

“There’ll be no big hand-over…show papal bull (making the appointment) to College of Consultors. It doesn’t need a liturgical ceremony.”


Managing decline: Amalgamation of parishes…will continue, “not peculiar to Dublin. I’m involved in a similar process here (diocese of Ossory). Amalgamation is quite an involved process but are pushing parishes together. In Ireland every single bishop is engaging one way or another with managing a situation where there are less priests.”

“We do this together, that’s really what synodality is about. It’s talking to the people, it’s talking to the priests, listening. They are their churches, their faith communities, they’ve been there for, some of them for centuries and one can’t drive a coach and four through communities.”

“The other side of that is these communities have all this infrastructure which belongs to a different era and they need to look and see whether we really need this amount of infrastructure to meet our needs today. The problem is if they decided ‘yes, we want to keep it’ then there are costs involved.”

It “will be done in consultation. It’s not going to be AB or AB House going round saying close this church. That’s very divisive. Communities will have to come to a decision for the next 30, 40, 50 years what do we as a community need to meet our needs for worship.”

“They may choose to keep the church open but I cannot guarantee priests to say Mass.”


Crisis in vocations related to a crisis of faith.

It “has to be addressed through prayer. Maybe we need to work with smaller groups of people who are more committed. Teaching people about prayer. I don’t think we’ve been good at that in the past. We really didn’t form people in prayer. Prayers ended up the recitation of formula…A deeper prayer life is more important and also sacred scripture. That has been very badly neglected as a form of prayer, reading a passage and praying out of that. It’s a formation problem.”

“It was not part of the Irish Catholic tradition and historically it probably, the Catholic Church, emphasised the Eucharist. That’s turning because of an initiative of Pope Francis…”

`Agreed that initiative will take time in terms of future vocations, in the meantime greater involvement of laity – “absolutely” – not just in terms of running parishes but in liturgy.

“For example a removal doesn’t need a priest. Back in the old days the removal was done by the local schoolteacher. He took in the remains into the church and led the rosary. It doesn’t require Holy Orders. In the future it will probably have to be done by a lay ministry team. Marriages can be conducted by a permanent deacon…”

“All of this is in God’s hands and maybe there’s some message for us there. It is a crisis. We should always remember the church was born in a crisis. Crisis is different to conflict, we shouldn’t be afraid of it because maybe that crisis is something that’s prompting us to look at the way we do things and see if we can do things differently and having the courage to do things differently.”


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 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 victimised 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 demonised 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 realise 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 decriminalised (in Ireland).”


Language of Church teaching on…? “Its’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.

Best “deal with those situations individually and pastorally…”

“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.”

“Blessing 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.”


Shared communion/inter Communion….

“I’ve gone to ceremonies in the Church of Ireland and I do take a blessing (at Communion) from the Bishop. Likewise if he is in our church, which he has been.” (referring to (Anglican/Episcopal) Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory Bishop Michael Burrows.)

“The question comes down to how we understand Communion as being union. The reality is that there isn’t union and we have to accept that there isn’t union. That doesn’t mean we’re not working towards it or that there aren’t fundamental differences there in how we understand the Eucharist. We’re working towards it, it’s slow…that seems to almost to have come to a halt. Maybe there is a greater acceptance that we are different.”



“I have a very good relationship with Bishop Burrows here and I’ve been involved in ecumenical matters for 30 years. That dialogue at the human level is so important because we’re all serving the one God and the one Jesus Christ. There’s much more in common than there is difference, 95 per cent of what we believe is in common. So, yes, certainly I would promote good relations with the Churches and other faiths as well, the Jewish community and the Muslim faith. It’s important that the faith leaders give good example. Sometimes the radicals take over and good leadership is so important. Christians, Jews, Muslims are all monotheistic, all are serving the one God. I certainly will be continuing on that tradition.”


Education. Divestment of Catholic schools. Resistance locally.

“These schools are in communities, it’s not just by decree. There must be dialogue with the communities. I’ve often said that if a politician comes up to me and says they’d like to divest that school well then I’d put it to the people. But politicians are very reluctant to come in and say they’d like this school divested. They talk in generalities but when you name a specific school, which is a faith school of a particular community, then they are up in arms and no bishop is going to go against his community if they want a faith school.”

“Many (other faiths) choose to go to a Catholic school. They accept children of all faiths and none and the treat them respectfully, they respect their faith. Schools are not prosleytising. Catholics who go are not all of the one view either. One thing about the Catholic Church is its great diversity. It embraces everyone from the person who might go only once or twice in a lifetime to people who go three times a day to pray and it is able to hold all of those people together.”


Radicals….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 ostracised? 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.”


A national Synod.

“Synod is a point on a journey. Synodality for me is far more important because that’s really how the journey is undertaken and how we continue that journey. When Pope Francis is talking about synodality he talks about how we listen and actually hear what the other person is saying. What’s vital there is how we are with each other and how we relate to each other and that’s a dynamic reality which unfolds over time. People are inclined to jump to synod first but without synodality people are going nowhere, it’s an approach. The hand of God is in it, God’s providence is in it. The Church for me is more like a marriage than a multi-national or a business.”

“I wouldn’t start with a synod. The plan, for want of a better word, is only going to emerge is some sort of dialogue, people and clergy, everybody, the stakeholders. You have to empower people, people have huge gifts…”


Income drop of 80 % in Dublin archdiocese during first pandemic lockdown last spring. One third of its lay staff accept voluntary redundancy.

“Finance is a function of numbers and if the numbers decrease your finance will go down. We need to look at different ways of collecting money. Basket collections were not possible during the pandemic. Priests who went a different way of going about this, their parishes didn’t do badly. Where the priest was visible, on the webcam, Facebook and he was doing the work, people responded generously. While it didn’t come in every Sunday, people responded monthly, Easter, larger donations at Christmas. Parishes where nothing went on, they’re the ones who suffered most, locked up the churches threw away the key and disappeared into the undergrowth. People have been generous, I have to say that.”

“Inevitably there is a hit on the finances during the lockdown. We probably can sustain a lot over a short period but if this was to go on for four or five years it would be catastrophic.”


Priests’ income reduced.

“We had to reduce our priests’ income here in Ossory as well but I say to the guys ‘your income is reduced but there are many people in this country who lost their jobs, companies collapsed, businesses collapsed, people haven’t worked for months and they’re on social welfare so while you might be taking some reduction in your income you have an income’. The other side of that is you have a lot less expenses. There was nowhere to spend money. You couldn’t drive your car, or very little, so you were spending no money on fuel. You weren’t going out socialising, so there was no money being spent on whatever. The opportunity to spend money, while there was less income there was also saving on the other side.”


Resignation of the Msgr Micheal Ledwith as President at Maynooth.

“I wasn’t aware of why he stood down in ‘94. I wasn’t involved. I was there obviously. He announced that he was going to step aside. The reason that he gave for stepping aside to people at the top, people in the leadership at the College at the time, was that the bicentenary was coming up and everybody was anticipating his retirement and he was going to go basically ahead of time. Subsequently I became aware, long after, of the allegations. Obviously somebody knew about them because they emerged later, if you look at McCullough and Murphy (reports), the diocese was aware of them. That would be proper, as the normal way things were dealt with through the diocese and (Catholic Primate) Cardinal Daly was aware. Whether Cardinal Daly informed the trustees I don’t know. I don’t know what discussions there were between himself and Bishop Comiskey but I can certainly tell you the leadership of the College, and I wasn’t the president at that time, I was vice president, I wasn’t told, by anybody, either by Bishop Comiskey nor by Cardinal Daly nor indeed by any of the other trustees and I am not too sure when the trustees actually became aware of those allegations.”


Msgr Ledwith’s 10 year term was to end in 1995, when Maynooth was to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

“I became aware (of allegations against Msgr Ledwith) in May 2002, when trying to assemble what the facts were. I think I was the one who asked for an inquiry and it was out of that, that at the June meeting of the Trustees, Denis McCullough was appointed.”

“I said to the trustees they should put out one statement and let’s be transparent about it.”


No contact with Ledwith since.

“The last time I spoke to him was when that statement was issued. I was asked by the trustees to contact him and to alert him that that statement was coming out. I was instructed by the trustees. I rang him about an hour, a half hour before.”

He gave evidence to the (later) Ferns inquiry – “He didn’t contact me nor did I contact him….he’s a distant cousin..”


Child safeguarding….

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had “given very courageous leadership in the area, he has certainly been a leader in it. Maybe, cometh the hour cometh the man. It was what was required in Dublin. There was a great reluctance at the time to be transparent, to cooperate with these tribunals. He did that and he had the strength of character to do it. And it was the right thing to do. He has engaged consistently with victims and I’ve heard him numerous times speak about the importance of listening to victims. You have to bring healing. Bringing healing from the point of view of the Church means there has to be acceptance about what happened. There were awful mistakes and it wasn’t peculiar to Ireland. Look at the McCarrick report, terrible. The mistakes that were made in that case ….”

“Everybody denied these things were happening or that they were possible whereas now the important thing is that these things are investigated independently. The amount of damage that has been done to individuals and people’s lives by those who could have been stopped in their tracks and they weren’t….nobody shouted stopped.”



“The enemy of safeguarding is complacency. You just have to keep constantly reminding people, keep training people and the danger is, even newer bishops coming down the track – people who weren’t involved in this, almost a different generation, forget the turmoil that was caused, the hurt that was caused, the damage to people’s lives, because they weren’t at the coalface it can get lost very quickly…”

“One church approach in Ireland very good…..the national board (for safeguarding children) has done a very good job.”


Mother and Baby Homes’ report, due to be published this January.

“I don’t think you can ever be prepared for these reports when they come out. We haven’t seen the report. The only ones that have seen the report are people who have contributed to it, namely religious orders who have been shown their own sections. So they’re well aware of the contents of that. What’s important for now is healing for the people that have been hurt by this who are still alive. There was a huge failure which came out of a whole culture in society in terms of what happened there. You hear stories about parents who brought their daughters to the door and said bye bye we won’t see you anymore because there was just such shame around pregnancy outside marriage that families disowned these girls.”

“Regimes were pretty tough by all accounts …there was almost a punishment element in it…It’s a dark chapter in Irish history and like everything else it has to come out, we have to face up to it and society has to face up to it. That’s what we did to people that were very vulnerable in 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60,s and 70s.”

“Sometimes it’s very hard to think yourself back to that world of the Homes, the society.”




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  1. Jo+O'Sullivan says:

    In the section talking about the crisis in vocations, this rather jumped out at me
    ”Agreed that initiative will take time in terms of future vocations, in the meantime greater involvement of laity – “absolutely” – not just in terms of running parishes but in liturgy.”
    I read that as if it is a given that there is now greater involvement of laity in terms of running parishes. Even if I have read it wrong, I still want to take issue with it, as it is something that there have been many, many words uttered and written about in church documents for some time now.
    I want to tell of my experience as a member of the laity who has taken the mandate to be involved in running my parish seriously. I have found, again and again, that my efforts to introduce any kind of “new look” at parish outreach and development, or even dialogue about it, have been thwarted by the clerics in the parish. I have been made feel that I am divisive and that I should stop making waves. Maintaining the status quo seems to be the order of the day.
    It really puzzles me as our clerics would claim to be all in favour of lay involvement in parish development. I certainly don’t see them as being knowingly hypocritical or deliberately saying one thing while meaning something else entirely. So I’ve been trying to understand how they function – how they genuinely feel they want lay involvement, but are unable to accept any suggestion that the laity (some of us) might want to change things.

    I called to mind the time in my life when my children became teenagers. When my boys were young children, I did my best to instil Christian values in them. We were not a Rosary-saying family, but love of God expressed via living as Jesus taught us, was at the centre of our world.
    When they came of an age where they began to think for themselves, and began to question Catholicism or even the very existence of a Creator God, I found it very frightening and troubling. It felt as if I was losing my children – they were walking away from all I held dear – and they were WRONG! And, to be brutally honest, I felt I had failed. If I hadn’t managed to ensure that they viewed the world in the same way as I did, I was a failure as a mother.

    But some part of me knew that I had to put those feelings aside and allow my children to be their own persons – to form their own world view. My love for them dictated that I had to respect them and trust them to find their own beliefs. Holding on to the view of them that they were my dependents and should take their world view from me, wouldn’t be real love. As they progressed into adulthood, my relationship with them had to change from one of responsible adult and immature dependents into one of equals – sharing mutual respect. I think I can say with some certainty that that is the relationship I now have with my adult sons. We don’t share the same views on some things, but we have great respect and love for each other.

    And that, I believe, is very similar to the relationship that exists between many clerics and the parishioners they “serve”. They may not be aware of it, but, due to their formation, they are stuck in the view that they are the spiritually responsible adult and the laity are the spiritually immature dependents whose formation is their responsibility. So long as those lay members of the community are saying and doing things that fit in perfectly with their views, they are more than happy to allow them to be partners in parish. But they are unable to allow that those members of the laity who challenge their view should have any right to be part of parish development too. They just can’t let the laity develop to view church differently.

    As always, these views are just my own. It’s perfectly feasible that I’m “off the wall” here. But I’d love to hear some feedback – even if it is to put me straight!

    I wish Archbishop Farrell every success in his mission and sincerely hope that his words prove to be more than just the right words!

  2. John Anthony Waters says:

    This is an interesting and thought provoking article on many topics. In regard to mandatory celibacy, the Bishop states that he thinks it is important. For whom is it important? It is the compulsory supression of the free will of man and of his nature and for no justifiable reason. It is the fundamental root cause of suffering and humiliation of children and young people not alone in Ireland but across the world for years. Is there one among us who will speak out to bring a change in a celibacy rule which generates so much evil?

  3. Sean+O'Conaill says:

    Overall I am hoping that the ‘ad intra’ focus of almost all of this was due more to Patsy McGarry’s list of questions than to Bishop Farrell’s intent.

    If we cannot move from a ‘maintenance’ mindset why should ‘the church’ not simply dwindle away as pastor to ‘the ageing remnant’?

    Why, for example, did Patsy not repeat Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s question of 22/04/2019 re ‘Share the Good News’ (2011) – ‘Where is it?


    Yet in offering ‘listening’ Archbishop Farrell will surely listen to the needs of younger generations too – ‘the missing’?

    Let’s pray and hope!

  4. Paddy+Ferry says:

    “…..rather than dismissing them on the basis of one aspect of that life?”

    Roy,@1 I am reading Tony’s book at the moment and it is a great read. I am thoroughly enjoying it. I admire Tony greatly and regard him as a authentic modern day prophet.

    However, the contention above is something I am uneasy with. What if that “one aspect” leads to catastrophic outcomes for others? I am wondering what Fr. Gerard McGinnity must feel if he has read your comment; Fr. McGinnity who, in his own words experienced “severe suffering and enormous humiliation…” and was driven out of the job that he loved.

    Mgr. Ledwith, of course, was promoted from Vice President to President.

    And then let’s consider the senior students who were concerned about the safety of their younger colleagues. They went to the bishops first of all for help. The bishops, including Cathal Daly, would later deny being informed of the exact nature of the concerns expressed by the senior seminarians.

    Yet, the students would later confirm to Patsy McGarry that they did fully explain to the bishops the exact nature of the behaviour which had led to their concerns. Now, somebody was telling lies!!!

    I think this is absolutely typically of how the institutional deals with this problem. They protect the institution and the abuser at all costs and to hell with the victims and those who would try and protect them.

    If I remember correctly Gerard McGinnity was a junior Dean at Maynooth when he was 26 and a senior Dean at 32 — obviously bishop material and on his way to the top. But that all changed. I remember when I first came to Edinburgh my old parish priest friend had a subscription for Intercom and would pass it onto me when he was finished with it. Kevin Hegarty was the editor and, obviously, a very able man whom you would think was destined for great things.

    Sadly, good men who tried to do the right thing in our Church suffered for it. And, of course, we have famous examples of others who kept their heads down, did not do the right thing yet went right to the top.

    Why must we keep trying to defend the indefensible!!!

  5. Roy Donovan says:

    “Is it at all possible for us to balance the fulness of a person’s life, rather than dismissing them on the basis of one aspect of that life?” – from p70 in Fr. Tony Flannery’s book “From the Outside”.

    I experienced great kindnesses from Dr. Michael Ledwith as a student in Maynooth.

    I would say that he was the best Lecturer (Systematic Theology) we had in Theology. We (I think my class would concur) couldn’t get enough of his broad liberating mindsets. I looked forward to every one of his Lectures – mind blowing – it was regrettable that we didn’t have more. They were so refreshing. He gave us a taste of larger world perspectives. For example, I loved the way he could apply Karl Popper’s theories to the development of dogmas.

    He showed how the best of science and religion were completely compatible. His Lectures had a huge impact on me and offered me tools that enabled me to become more grounded/to have a huge respect for science and to be open to the mystery/the miracle of our world and our Creator.

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