Sunday, 22 October 2017


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Currently, some 10 Irish women per day take a flight or a ferry to travel to the UK to procure a termination which is not available in Ireland - with the exception of an abortion pill.

There is a very fanatical anti-abortion camp which often calls itself PRO-LIFE.

There is an equally fanatical camp which calls itself PRO-CHOICE.

I imagine that most Irish people are like myself - in the middle - and struggling with what we all realize is a very contentious issue.

I am Pro-Life - in the sense that I treasure and value ALL human life. But that does not immediately mean that I am anti Choice.

The first thing I would say is that abortion can never be called "A GOOD THING". At best, and in difficult situations, it should be called "THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS".

When a couple has to decide that they are going to save the life of the mother - and that results in the death of the unborn baby they are not doing something that calls for a celebration. In fact, in most such cases, they make the decision in great sorrow - a sorrow that can last for years or even a lifetime.

If I were a husband and my wife was pregnant and we had three other children at home needing their mother, I am quite certain that I would choose saving my wife's life and see my choice as being the lesser of two evils. It would break my heart and be the cause of lifelong regret for me. But I would believe that in an imperfect world I would have made a morally justifiable decision.

And what if I were the father of a young teenage girl who was raped and could not cope with a pregnancy and giving birth to a baby? What would I do then? Again I would choose the baby's termination as a lesser of two evils.

And what if I were married and the doctors told me that my wife and I were going to have a baby that would not survive outside the womb or would be very seriously ill and disabled all its life? Again, I think, I would allow the baby to go to God and prevent it having years and decades of pain and suffering.

I think that perhaps the situation is different when it comes to conditions like Downs Syndrome and similar conditions. I have seen such people having very meaningful and long lives and even working or getting married.

And I am not talking about these situations as if they have never affected my life.

My younger sister Sandra was born with a very serious disability called Tuberous Sclerosis. She lived until she was 39 and was in a wonderful care environment from the age of 12 to 39. She was also partially blind.


Tuberous Sclerosis left Sandra with severe brain scaring. This gave her the most severe headaches and caused her to bang her head off the wall in order to get relief. She had to go into care when she was 12 because she banged her head so much off the wall at home that she knocked a hole in the wall between two bedrooms.

She also had severe suffering involving her hormonal issues after she passed puberty - which was solved by 6 monthly contraceptive injections (against Catholic Church teaching ???)

Fortunately, her care venue was near our family home and we were able to visit many times a week. 

Sandra could talk but chose not to. I communicated with her by singing hymns to her - which she loved - singing with me and marching around the room after me. 

Her favourite was I HAVE DECIDED TO FOLLOW JESUS which I place on the Blog today in memory of her. 

Sanda died six years ago and is buried with my Mum and Dad in Dublin. I had the privilege - and sadness - of celebrating her Funeral Mass.

Did Sandra have quality of life? Yes, she did. She had a lovely room in a lovely centre. She had all she needed physically. She was brought by her carers to the pub for a Coca Cola. She was brought on foreign holidays. She liked an occasional cigarette. 
But My God did she suffer!

Now her suffering is over.

Abortion is NOT a step to be taken lightly. It is not an appropriate form of contraception. 

It is not something that should ever be done for convenience or for less than the most serious reasons.

But I cannot say, in my heart of hearts, that it should not be allowed in the most difficult of cases.

Saturday, 21 October 2017



The repeated failure to publish annual clerical changes is having the effect of hiding how the Archdiocese of Dublin is struggling with serious manpower shortages, clergy have said. 
2017 will be the second successive year when diocesan changes have not been made public, concealing the extent to which sick and retiring clergy are not being replaced across the diocese.
Late developments in terms of priests falling ill or needing time out had affected the process, one priest told The Irish Catholic. 

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“There were three or four of those, and all you need is three or four to wreck the whole thing because it has a knock on effect,” he said, adding: “Increasingly we have an aged profile of priests in the diocese and we have guys who are starting to show serious signs of mental and physical burnout, and therefore as early as Christmas and as late as July and August, Archbishop (Diarmuid) Martin’s headache is twisting and turning constantly,” he said.
A second priest said the failure to publicise changes is obscuring how bad the diocese’s manpower shortage is.
“It’s very hard to discern what exactly is happening,” he said, adding that declining religious practice has not offset vocational shortages. “The work has increased, insofar as even if people are not coming to Mass every Sunday, or even just once or twice a year, when they die or when they want a child baptised or that sort of stuff, they still come to the parish,” he said.
While acknowledging the complexity of clerical changes, another priest described the failure to publicise changes as “irritating”, and damaging to diocesan transparency.  
“It doesn't help what all of us are trying to do is help people be aware that the changing dynamics, particularly in numbers of clergy and appointments of clergy,” he said, adding: "At the moment we don't have enough priests staffing for the appetite of the people for ministry and service.”
A fourth priest said: “I think people are not aware of how serious it is. If you go through our parishes here and look at the priests, most of them are people are semi-retired.” The diocese, he said, is “going off a cliff”.

No new students entered clerical formation from the archdiocese this year.

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1. He refuses to publish his clerical appointments and keeps them "secret"!

2. He has dismissed the Diocesan Appointments Committee which used to recommend clerical appointments to him and now does it all himself - that is when he is not travelling abroad!

3. He appears to show a favouritism towards gay priests or gay priests who have been caught with "their trousers down"!

4. He has caused great confusion over Maynooth etc and to this day Dublin clergy are unsure if Diarmuid will attempt to ordain Gorgeous next month.

Diarmuid was never close an kind to his priests in Dublin but he has withdrawn more and more from them as time has gone on.

Now that he is within a couple of years of retirement he is acting like a remote and secretive landlord and no one knows what the plan for the future is.

On top of this, there was NO SEMINARIAN for Dublin this year - a diocese with hundreds of parishes and clergy.

The priests feel that Diarmuid is trying to hide the decline and the crisis behind curtains of almost total non-transparency.

This is creating a total loss of certainty among the Dublin priests and is leading to lowering of the morale that has almost been at rock bottom for quite some time.

While Diarmuid is speaking out in the media about all kinds of issues he is allowing his own diocese to crumble.

Alongside this, he is constantly touring the world attending meetings and giving lectures to everyone else about how the world and Church should be.

It's like a having an interior designer that is going around making beautiful suggestions about other people's homes when your own home is in a state of disrepair and chaos.

There is only one answer to this crisis - DUBLIN NEEDS A NEW ARCHBISHOP - AND IT NEEDS HIM NOW!

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Friday, 20 October 2017


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Hans Küng(born March 19, 1928, Sursee, Switz.), Swiss Roman Catholic theologian whose controversial liberal views led to his censorship by the Vatican in 1979.

Küng studied at Gregorian University in Rome and obtained a doctorate in theology from the Catholic Institute at the Sorbonne in 1957. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1954, and he taught at the University of Münster in West Germany (1959–60) and at the University of Tübingen (1960–96), where he also directed the Institute for Ecumenical Research from 1963. In 1962 he was named by Pope John XXIIIperitus (theological consultant) for the second Vatican Council.

Küng’s prolific writings questioned the formulation of such traditional church doctrine as papal infallibility, the divinity of Christ, and teachings about the Virgin Mary. In 1979 a Vatican censure that banned his teaching as a Catholic theologian provoked international controversy, and in 1980 a settlement was reached at Tübingen that allowed him to teach under secular rather than Catholic auspices. His more recent research has focused on interreligious cooperation and the creation of a global ethic. His publications include Rechtfertigung: Die Lehre Karl Barths und eine Katholische Besinnung (1957; Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection), Konzil und Wiedervereinigung (1960; The Council, Reform, and Reunion), Die Kirche (1967; The Church), Unfehlbar?(1970; Infallible?), Christ sein (1974; On Being a Christian), Existiert Gott? (1978; Does God Exist?), and Ewiges Leben? (1982; Eternal Life?).


“Receive this comprehensive documentation and allow a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of the all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma. In this way, the problematic Vatican heritage of the past 150 years could be come to terms with honestly and adjusted in accordance with holy Scripture and ecumenical tradition. It is not a case of trivial relativism that undermines the ethical foundation of church and society. But it is also not about an unmerciful, mind-numbing dogmatism, which swears by the letter, prevents thorough renewal of the church’s life and teaching, and obstructs serious progress in ecumenism. It is certainly not the case of me personally wanting to be right. The well-being of the church and of ecumenism is at stake.
“I am very well aware of the fact that my appeal to you, who ‘lives among wolves,’ as a good Vatican connoisseur recently remarked, may possibly not be opportune. In your Christmas address of Dec. 21, 2015, however, confronted with curial ailments and even scandals, you confirmed your will for reform: ‘It seems necessary to state what has been — and ever shall be — the object of sincere reflection and decisive provisions. The reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda.’

“I would not like to raise the hopes of many in our church unrealistically. The question of infallibility cannot be solved overnight in our church. Fortunately, you (Pope Francis) are almost 10 years younger than I am and will hopefully survive me. You will, moreover, surely understand that as a theologian at the end of his days, buoyed by deep affection for you and your pastoral work, I wanted to convey this request to you in time for a free and serious discussion of infallibility that is well-substantiated in the volume at hand: non in destructionem, sed in aedificationem ecclesiae, ‘not in order to destroy but to build up the church.’ For me personally, this would be the fulfillment of a hope I have never given up.”


It is hardly conceivable that Pope Francis would strive to define papal infallibility as Pius IX did with all the means at hand, whether good or less good, in the 19th century. It is also inconceivable that Francis would be interested in infallibly defining Marian dogmas as Pius XII did. It would, however, be far easier to imagine Pope Francis smilingly telling students, “Io non sono infallibile” — “I am not infallible” — as Pope John XXIII did in his time. When he saw how surprised the students were, John added, “I am only infallible when I speak ex cathedra, but that is something I will never do.”
I became acquainted with the subject very early in my life. Here are a few important historical dates as I personally experienced them and have faithfully documented in Volume 5 of my complete works:
1950: On Nov. 1, facing huge crowds in St. Peter’s Square and supported by numerous high church and political dignitaries, Pope Pius XII definitively proclaimed the Assumption of Mary as a dogma. “The immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” I was there in St. Peter’s Square at the time and must admit that I enthusiastically hailed the pope’s declaration.
That was the first infallible ex cathedra proclamation by the church’s senior shepherd and highest teaching authority, who had invoked the special support of the Holy Spirit, all according to the definition of papal infallibility laid down at the First Vatican Council of 1870. And it was to remain the last ex cathedra proclamation to date, as even John Paul II, who restored papal centralism and was always happy to seek publicity, did not dare to play to the gallery by proclaiming a new dogma. As it was, the 1950 dogma proclamation had been made despite protests from the Protestant and Orthodox churches and from many Catholics, who simply could not find any evidence in the Bible for this “truth of faith revealed by God.”
I remember German theology students, who were our guests in the Collegium Germanicum (German College) in Rome, discussing the problems they had with the dogma in the refectory at the time. Only a few weeks previously, an article by the then leading Germanpatrologist, Professor Berthold Althaner, a highly regarded Catholic specialist in the theology of the Church Fathers, had been published in which Althaner, listing many examples, had shown that this dogma had did not even have a historical basis in the first centuries of the early church. It goes back to a legend in an apocryphal writing from the fifth century that is brimful of miracles.
We seminarians at the German College at the time thought that the students’ “rationalist” university teachers had kept the Pontifical Gregorian University’s general perception regarding this dogma from them. The general perception at the Gregorian was that the Assumption dogma had “developed” slowly and, as it were, “organically” in the course of dogma history, but that it was already ascertained in Bible passages such as “Hail (Mary) full of grace (blessed art thou),” “the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), and although not “explicitly” expressed, it was nevertheless “implicitly” incorporated.
1958: Pius XII’s death marked the end of a century of excessive Marian cults by the Pius popes that had begun with the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. Pius XII’s successor, JohnXXIII, was disinclined toward new dogmas. At the Second Vatican Council, in a crucial vote, the majority of the council fathers rejected a special Marian decree and in fact cautioned against exaggerated Marian piety.
1965: Chapter III of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is devoted to the hierarchy but, oddly enough, Paragraph 25, which is on infallibility, in no way actually goes into it. What is all the more surprising is that in actual fact the Second Vatican Council took a fatal step. Without giving reasons, it expressly extended infallibility, which was confined to the pope alone at the First Vatican Council, to the episcopacy. The council attributed infallibility not only to the assembled episcopacy at an ecumenical council (magisterium extraordinarium), but from then on also to the world episcopacy (magisterium ordinarium), that is, to bishops all over the world if they were agreed and decreed that a church teaching on faith or morals should permanently become mandatory.
1968: the year the encyclical Humanae Vitae on birth control was published. That the encyclical was released on July 25 of all times, which was not only during the summer holidays but, on top of that, in the middle of the Czechoslovak people’s fight for freedom, is generally interpreted as Roman tactics so that there would be less opposition to it. Perhaps, however, it was quite simply because work on this sensitive document had only just been finished. Whatever the reason for the timing, the encyclical hit the world “like a bomb.” The pope had obviously greatly underestimated the resistance to this teaching. Isolated as he was in the Vatican, he had not envisaged that the world public would react quite so negatively.
The encyclical Humanae Vitae, which not only forbade as grave sins the pill and all mechanical means of contraception but also the withdrawal method to avoid pregnancy, was universally regarded as an incredible challenge. Invoking the infallibility of papal, respectively episcopal teaching, the pope pitted himself against the entire civilized world. This alarmed me as a Catholic theologian. I had by then been professor of theology at the Catholic theological faculty of Tübingen University for eight years. Of course, formal protests and substantive objections were important, but had the time not now come to examine this claim to the infallibility of papal teaching in principle? I was convinced that theology — or, to be more precise, critical fundamental theological research — was called for. In 1970, I put the subject up for discussion in my book Infallible?: An Inquiry. I could not have foreseen at the time that this book and with it the problem of infallibility would crucially affect my personal destiny and would present theology and the church with key challenges. In the 1970s, my life and my work were more than ever intertwined with theology and the church.
1979-80: the withdrawal of my license to teach. In Volume 2 of my memoirs, Disputed Truth, I have described in detail how this was a secret campaign carried out with military precision, which has proved to be theologically unfounded and politically counterproductive. At the time, the debate about the withdrawal of my missio canonica and infallibility continued for a long time. It proved impossible to harm my standing with believers, however, and as I had prophesied, the controversies regarding large-scale church reform have not ceased. On the contrary, during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI they increased on a massive scale. That was when I went into the necessity of promoting understanding between the different denominations, of mutual recognition of church offices and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the question of divorce, of women’s ordination, mandatory celibacy and the catastrophic lack of priests, but above all of the leadership of the Catholic church. My question was: “Where are you leading this church of ours?”
These questions are as relevant today as they were then. The decisive reason for this incapacity for reform at all levels is still the doctrine of infallibility of church teaching, which has bequeathed a long winter on our Catholic church. Like John XXIII, Francis is doing his utmost to blow fresh wind into the church today and is meeting with massive opposition as at the last episcopal synod in October 2015. But, make no mistake, without a constructive “re-vision” of the infallibility dogma, real renewal will hardly be possible.
What is all the more astonishing is that the discussion (of infallibility) has disappeared from the scene. Many Catholic theologians have no longer critically examined the infallibility ideology for fear of ominous sanctions as in my case, and the hierarchy tries as far as possible to avoid the subject, which is unpopular in the church and in society. When he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger only expressly referred to it very few times. Despite the fact that it was left unsaid, the taboo of infallibility has blocked all reforms since the Second Vatican Council that would have required revising previous dogmatic definitions. That not only applies to the encyclical Humanae Vitae against contraception, but also to the sacraments and monopolized “authentic” church teaching, to the relationship between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful. And it applies likewise to a synodal church structure and the claim to absolute papal power, the relationship to other denominations and religions, and to the secular world in general. That is why the following question is more urgent than ever: Where is the church — which is still fixated on the infallibility dogma — heading at the beginning of the third millennium? The anti-modernist epoch that rang in the First Vatican Council has ended.
2016: I am in my 88th year and I may say that I have spared no effort to collect the relevant texts, order them factually and chronologically according to the various phases of the altercation and elucidate them by putting them in a biographical context for Volume 5 of my complete works. With this book in my hand, I would now like to repeat an appeal to the pope that I repeatedly made in vain several times during the decade long theological and church-political altercation. I beg of Pope Francis — who has always replied to me in a brotherly manner:

“Receive this comprehensive documentation and allow a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of the all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma. In this way, the problematic Vatican heritage of the past 150 years could be come to terms with honestly and adjusted in accordance with holy Scripture and ecumenical tradition. It is not a case of trivial relativism that undermines the ethical foundation of church and society. But it is also not about an unmerciful, mind-numbing dogmatism, which swears by the letter, prevents thorough renewal of the church’s life and teaching, and obstructs serious progress in ecumenism. It is certainly not the case of me personally wanting to be right. The well-being of the church and of ecumenism is at stake.


FATHER HANS KUNG has a brilliant mind and he is one of the greatest theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries.

He is of course, controversial - because he has talked about things that many do not like to talk about and because he believes EVERYTHING is up for discussion.

Theologians are not infallible and I am quite sure Kung knows he is not infallible either.

One of the duties of the theologian is to PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF FAITH and by doing so to bring us all to a greater understanding of God.

It is NOT the theologian's duty to pontificate or to declare anything to be dogmatically true.

But it is his duty - his vocation - to make us all THINK.

Defining doctrine is the job of THE CHURCH - that is the WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD - coming to believe something to be true and to have it declared true by the MAGISTERIUM - that part of the Church that TEACHES what is "of faith".

However, the "magisterium" - the bishops and the pope - have often been guilty of arrogance and of usurping the VOICE OF ALL and have proclaimed things that are not vital to the faith and that are not necessarily universally believed.


The radical theologian - such as Kung - reminds the TAIL that it is NOT THE DOG and asks that the dog wag the tail.

For this reason, there has often been a clash between the theologian and the hierarchy - as happened in the Kung case.

Kung has suffered a GREAT INJUSTICE by being sidelined by men who are like intellectual mice beside the Kung Lion.

There should be freedom of speech everywhere but especially in the CHURCH OF CHRIST.

THE TRUTH is primary GOD HIMSELF - and we move towards the truth when all God's children have a voice.

History will judge Kung to have been a GREAT THEOLOGIAN and those who opposed him and attacked him to be intellectual mice!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


BORN 26.1.1907 - DIED 22.8.1991


William Philbin was a difficult man to understand - extremely shy and reclusive, an intellectual and a man who was out of his depth when he was catapulted into Down and Connor in 1962.

He had entered Maynooth at the age of 17 or the Diocese of Achonry and was ordained on June 21st, 1931.

He spent most of his life as the Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Maynooth. 

On the 22nd December 1953, Pope Pius X11 appointed him Bishop of Clonfert and he attended all 4 sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1962 Pope John XX111 appointed him Bishop of Down and Connor. 

There is an apocryphal story of how he was moved from Clonfert to Belfast. John XX111's priest secretary, Monsignor Thomas Ryan (later Bishop of Clonfert) recommended Philbin to the pope to give the Vatican retreat. John XX111 was impressed and one day pointed to Philbin and said - "There is the new bishop of Down and Connor". 

Clonfert was a small rural diocese with a small number of parishes and it would have suited an intellectual bishop who liked to spend his days in study.

Down and Connor was a large diocese - unlike any Irish diocese - and from The Troubles in the late 1960's was a very troubled diocese.

Poor Philbin was lost - thrown in at the deep end. 

He made the fatal mistake of going up the Falls Road with a British Army general on the back of a British Army lorry to tell people to take down the barricades. The people fired besn tins and other missiles at the bishop and general.

Poor Philbin retreated into the seclusion of his Lisbreen Palace - now known as Chateau Noel.

Philbin read, studied and translated ancient manuscripts while Belfast burned.

His right-hand man - Monsignor Paddy Mullaly ran the diocese with an iron fist and was above all else feared by priests.

Monsignor Mullaly liked to wear the purple socks of a monsignor and like his gin and tonics. 

At one clergy dinner some senior clergy - with a dram taken - were slagging Mullaly over his purple socks and one of them called him a bastard.

Mullaly replied to the bastard accusation by saying: "Yes, I am a bastard. And what's more, I am a vindictive bastard". That particular cleric's career had come to an abrupt halt!

Incidentally, Mullaly was the man who took me into Down and Connor and we always had a good relationship.

Bishop Philbin was also a beekeeper. He kept beehives at Lisbreen.


When in St Peter's I had a regular punk rock teenage caller nicknamed "Zombie".

One day Zombie was standing ringing the doorbell looking for me when Philbin's car arrived for Confirmations. The chauffeur accidentally mounted the footpath and the car hit Zombie on the legs. Philbin jumped out of the car and screamed at Zombie for being in his way. Zombie tried to say: "Fa'r I was on the path. your car hit me". Philbin was having none of it and continued to scream at Zombie. In the end, Zombie shouted: "Would ye f... off Farr".

You would have thought that Philbin had been hit on the head by a hammer. When I got to the door poor Philbin grabbed my arm and shaking said: "Dear Father Buckley. Get me a glass of water quickly. Someone has just used an obscenity to me". When Philbin had taken his water I said to him: "My Lord, if I had a pound for every time I was told to do that since you sent me here I would be living in a villa in Marbella" :-)


One Sunday after that incident I was due to pick up Philbin at Lisbreen and drive him to an adult Confirmation ceremony in Andersonstown. As I was leaving the house Zombie arrived and as he was feeling a bit under the weather, I brought him in the car to pick Philbin up.

I put Zombie in the rear seat so that Philbin could sit in the front. But Philbin climbed into the rear with Zombie and a great conversation ensued.

On the way back to Lisbreen Zombie and Philbin continued their impassioned conversation and when we arrived at Lisbreen Philbin insisted on bringing Zombie in to see his beehives. 

While I waited for 2 hours Philbin and Zombie had a great discussion on the ancient art of apiculture :-)  All was forgiven :-)


1. Being asked by him to sit by his side at clergy dinners in Lisbreen.

2. Being begged by him to do all I could to keep the youth of the Falls Road out of the grip of the IRA.

3. Being reprimanded by him for using the term "we ask God to be kind" during the Prayers of the Faithful I wrote for the diocesan requiem Mass for Popes Paul V1 and John Paul 1.

4. Being reprimanded by him for daring to send him a Christmas card. He did not like priests sending him Christmas cards?

5. Watching in stunned silence as the 20+ stone Father Denis Newberry threw himself on Philbin's antique chaise Longue in Lisbreen shattering one of its legs and Philbin on the floor examining it !!! 

When I look back now and think of Philbin I feel a little sad and melancholic.

He was a shy man - an intellectual - who was never suited to be a bishop. He did not ask to be a bishop. He had it thrust on him.

He must have been very lonely and isolated in Lisbreen - feeling rejected and misunderstood.

In Lisbreen he wrote poems. 

Here is one of his poems:


In earth's elemental war of death and life
Rampage of winter famine microbe flood
By stages effortfully are stemmed, withstood.
Not so our making's Minotaur, inborn strife:
Forgotten it's infancy of sling and knife,
Adult now, adept of atom and lightening, shod
With space-shoes, making earth inert sod
Should men stay savage - doom forboding's rife,

Our part to make killing customary, cheap?
A bar's clientele mangles to charnel heap;
Murder across peace-net volleys;  beside Christmas cards
Mails carry instruments of unkind regards;
Death strikes indifferent from vehicle that bombards
At random, from footsteps, that to quiet doors creep.


I think I preferred William Philbin's Lisbreen to the Lisbreen of Daly, Walsh or Treanor!

Better, I think, the incense of study and struggle for meaning than the testosterone of the ego, the sadist or the hard of heart!




It was 1978. Having grown up in Dublin I suddenly found myself in August of that year a curate in St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast - surrounded by the DIVIS FLATS (locally called the Devil's Flats).

I was living in the big old presbytery in the middle of all the mayhem in which life was more Downton Abbey than Divis Flats. Our clerical lives were, from the point of view of accommodation, food etc, at least upper middle class.

All around us, there was political mayhem, poverty, prescription drug abuse, marriage breakdown - not to mention the bombs and the bullets - the Brits and the Provos, the Stickies (official IRA), the INLA. 

Once I stepped out of the presbytery door I was immediately hit with the stench of all the uncollected refuse and the mind-blowing graffiti. When I went out at night the rats clung to the bottom of my trousers and had to be kicked off. Belfast City Hall told me that they could not kill all the rats - just keep them at an acceptable level!

For the first year, I said my Masses, heard my Confessions, communicated the sick, celebrated weddings and funerals and chaplained the schools. 

But, a voice inside my head kept saying: YOU ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH!

I had to do SOMETHING about the AIR OF HOPELESSNESS in which my people were drowning.

Then an inspiration....................................


I had already set up thge DIVIS RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION. I was the chairman as I could not be got at by the paramilitaries as ordinary folk could.

One Monday morning I donned a navy blue overalls and grabbed a yard brush and went out onto the street facing the presbytery and started brushing up the debris from the road.

An old lady ran down and remonstrated with me: "You cant do that Fa'r. Your hands are anointed".

By the end of the week, there were 500 people of all ages brushing the streets with me. The Housing Executive delivered hundreds of brushes and shovels to us free of charge. They also sent in hundreds of empty skips and removed them when we had them filled. Within a very short time, the place was as clean as the Malone Road :-)

Then we turned our eyes to the ugly graffiti - many of them political. Our mothers and grannies had a word with their "involved" husbands and sons and we painted over every bit of graffiti in the place. 

Each day I made a trip to the Housing Executive depot on the Protestant Shankill Road to collect all the paint, brushes and white spirit we needed. The men up there were very gracious to me. 

Not only was Divis Flats clean - the whole place now had a bright, fresh appearance of grey and magnolia.

And then I thought - "Now that the work is done - let us have a party" - and we had a week-long Divis Festival with volunteer bands coming with their own equipment. Others provided sandwiches and cake and tea and coffee.

I even arranged with the RUC Commander - Chief Superintendent Jimmy Crutchley - to keep the hated police and army out of the area for a week - on the guarantee that if anything happened I would alert them. Nothing did happen.

Of course, the eventual plan for Divis Flats had to be demolition and rehousing in decent homes. But in the meantime - and while we campaigned for that - we had to make the place half decent and livable in. 

The cleanup, painting, and festival dispelled the dark cloud of hopelessness that had been engulfing the whole parish.

One funny thing happened at the end of the cleanup. An engineer from Northern Ireland Electricity came into the Flats to fix a reported fault and not recognizing the place he left - thinking he was not in Divis :-)

A very good now deceased friend of mine, Father Michael Keane, used to always say: "When you go to a new parish observe things there for a while and find out what needs that place has. Then work with the people to address those needs".

Without realizing it that is what had happened to me in the Devil's Flats. 

Of course, a priest's role is primarily spiritual. 

But as been well said elsewhere you cannot talk to a hungry man about God. First of all, you feed him. Then you teach him how to fish. And then you can talk to him about God.

We even got awards for how Clean Divis was :-)


The other big social nightmare at the time was JOYRIDING - youngsters stealing cars and driving them around our parish at dangerous speeds and then burning out the cars.

This led to mayhem, sleeplessness, accidents, the area littered with burnst out cars and even death!

Again I gor the mothers and grannies to join me and we went out on the streets and "stole" the cars back off the joyriders.

I then drove the stolen cars back to the police station.

In the first year we saved 200 cars.

We also started up a late night youth club for the joyriders - 9 0m to 3 am - to keep them busy.

It worked.

That was the second big social issue in the parish under control.


Everybody applauded all our work - the newspapers, the police, youith groups etc etc.

But there was one group was not happy - me fellow clergy in the presbytery - especially the two most senior.

They resented our work for a number of reasons:

1. They thought (wrongly) that I was trying to show them up!

2. They resented all the publicity we were getting. None of the publicity had been sought. Good stories in The Troubles in Belfast of the early 80's were bound to get noticed.

3. They were being disturbed in the presbytery by people ringing the doorbell for me at all hours of the day and night.

I offered to put a lit up designated bell for myself on the door and the offer was refused.

I offered to do all the night duty 7 nights a week that was refused.

I offered the position of chairman of the resident's association to the PP. He replied: "I'm not going to be a f...... general in Buckley's f...... private army.


Cahal Daly became bishop of D&C in 1982.

I was reported to him for being disobedient, a troublemaker, a socialist etc.

He too did not like any publicity that did not involve him.

I would have been happy for him to be the chairman of his cathedral residents association - but - of course, I would not imagine CD out on the street with a brush and shovel.

So I was sent off to rural Kilkeel as a punishment.

And so began my troubles with CD which concluded with me being asked to leave the diocese in October 1985.

BY THE WAY: My salary during my time in Divis was my keep and £70 a month.

I was delighted to work a 16/18 day 7 days a week.

I took very few holidays during those years.

But I LOVED every minute of what I did.

We recently asked on the Blog what a priest should be like. 

I think that he should be a person who cares about and is involved with all the needs of his people - spiritual, social, physical etc.