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looking back This month I will be writing for the Sunday World for 45 years - a total of 2,600 columns

A priest should write for the Sunday World because it's the best possible way to dialogue with people who will never ­darken the door of a church.

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Sunday World columnist Fr Brian Darcy

Sunday World columnist Fr Brian Darcy

Sunday World columnist Fr Brian Darcy

In 1973 the Sunday World came on the scene as a loud, brash, Irish tabloid.

By today's standards those back issues are as dull as dishwater, but at the time they were gaudy and controversial.

A few weeks after it started I was ­visited in Mount Argus by Joe ­Kennedy, the first editor of the ­Sunday World, and Kevin Marron, who was one of the shrewdest and best journalists I ever knew.

He had an amazing instinct for recognising an angle to hang a story on.

They asked me to write a column for the paper every week. I declined, mainly because I was too busy making 'The Cross' - the religious magazine I had ­edited since 1970 - a success. But also because I was afraid to risk writing for a hard-nosed paper with the reputation the World had.

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Mary McAleese, her husband, Fr Brian Darcy and Jimmy Magee Pic: Maxwells

Mary McAleese, her husband, Fr Brian Darcy and Jimmy Magee Pic: Maxwells

Mary McAleese, her husband, Fr Brian Darcy and Jimmy Magee Pic: Maxwells

The only way I could pacify them was to promise I would consider it if and when I finished with The Cross.

Two years later, I had moved on from The Cross, had left Mount Argus in ­Dublin to live in Wicklow, and was lecturing, editing and producing in The Catholic Communications Centre, Booterstown.

In those days the Church leaders ­believed in the value of communications.

I was still going to dances every night and was writing a regular pop music feature for the Sunday Independent as well as working on radio and television.

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Fr Brian D'Arcy in his Fermanagh gear ahead of the Dublin v Fermanagh clash

Fr Brian D'Arcy in his Fermanagh gear ahead of the Dublin v Fermanagh clash

Fr Brian D'Arcy in his Fermanagh gear ahead of the Dublin v Fermanagh clash

The dreaded phone call came. "Kevin Marron here: When will you start writing for us?"

I thought of every excuse in the book but two stood out.

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I really didn't feel ­comfortable writing as a priest for the Sunday World, given the stories and ­pictures they published.

Kevin Marron's description at the time was that in "most papers you had to read between the lines to find the truth, but in the Sunday World you had to read ­between the legs!"

Secondly, I didn't think I would be able to turn out an article every single week.

Kevin was devastatingly simple in his reply: "I am offering you a pulpit every week to reach nearly one million readers, most of them don't go to church, and you say you won't talk to them. What sort of (expletive) priest do you call yourself?

"Try it for a month and if it doesn't work we can both walk away from it."

That's why I'm writing every week for the Sunday World since August 1976.

That's exactly 45 years ago this month. That's every Sunday for 45 years, 52 weeks of the year. I have 2,600 numbered columns actually because I have written extra pieces when asked.

It was Kevin Marron who thought of the title.

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Fr Brian D'Arcy Sunday World Columnist With Terry Wogan BBC Radio 2 Presenter

Fr Brian D'Arcy Sunday World Columnist With Terry Wogan BBC Radio 2 Presenter

Fr Brian D'Arcy Sunday World Columnist With Terry Wogan BBC Radio 2 Presenter

When I went to him to discuss what sort of column he wanted, his instructions were so precise that I think of them every time I sit down to write for the World.

"You can write about anything except religion. Write about human beings and the struggles they have; that's all there is to religion. A little bit of religion is all we need," he said.

He stopped for breath. His eyes lit up and his dishevelled hair seemed to stand on end. "That's what we'll call it: A Little Bit of Religion."

That was the end of the discussion.

I never regretted the decision to write for our paper. It has shaped the kind of priest and the kind of person I am.

I have been educated and greatly ­enlightened by several generations of Irish people at home and abroad.

You have shared your lives, your troubles, your opinions and your beliefs with me.

You have dragged me into the 21st century and you have allowed me to be deadly honest. You have given me a reason to be.

I never think of myself as being of much importance as a priest or as a journalist. I'm an ordinary man; I struggle with life, with faith and with religion.

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Fr Brian on the Late Late Show

Fr Brian on the Late Late Show

Fr Brian on the Late Late Show

I was ordained over 51 years ago and it will take God to be at God's most merciful to find anything worthwhile in those 50-plus years. Writing for the Sunday World keeps me hopeful and in touch.

It has, of course, got me into trouble all my life but that only convinces me I must be doing something right. There are very few plaudits writing for tabloids.

It's no secret that I'm uncomfortable in the clerical church; it used to bother me but not anymore.

The biggest surprise I ever got, though, was when the Vatican censored me based totally on what I wrote in the Sunday World.

I couldn't believe my column was read and discussed by Cardinals in the Vatican - unbelievably, they too were getting it every Sunday.

Because of the views I expressed in the Sunday World they took formal steps to silence me under the threat of excommunication. It was clear they wanted me to either cease writing or to leave the priesthood - preferably the latter.

That convinced me to keep at both - I was doing something useful for God. It convinced me my whole ministry was worthwhile.

I was speaking the truth and they couldn't live with the truth being exposed. You, the readers of this paper, gave me the courage to expose hypocrisy.

I stopped being a 'yes man' and became an honest man. Thank you for challenging me to be a proper priest and an honest journalist.

If I hadn't spoken the truth you'd have stopped reading me decades ago and you'd have been right.

I never revealed this before but 30 years ago - long before the Vatican formally stepped in - a senior churchman in Ireland asked my superiors in the Passionists to censor my writings.

They admitted too many people were being influenced by me.

I had to explain to them I wasn't writing for a Catholic paper; that most of my readers never attend any church; that I was hired to express my own opinions.

The churchman then tried ­another tactic. He suggested to me that if I stopped writing for this paper, I could be considered for a bishop.

I had no problem ­telling him that being a bishop would be for me a fate much worse than death. I meant it and they knew then I wouldn't be bribed.

After 45 years it is up to others to assess the impact of my presence in the Sunday World. For me the miracle is that I'm still here.

A priest should write for the Sunday World because it's the best possible way to dialogue with people who will never ­darken the door of a church.

More and more I find complete strangers ­approaching me to thank me for what I say.

They invariably tell me they read it now because the God I speak about is real, approachable and in tune with their own experience.

They tell me it's the only contact they have with a God they can identify with. I am, like them, struggling to find a place in an unfriendly Church.

The late Cardinal Ó Fiaich was the only member of the Hierarchy who really understood why I wrote the way I did.

Whenever I met the Cardinal at football matches, which was where I met him most often, he'd discuss the article in that day's paper.

He confessed he couldn't be seen buying the Sunday World, but his housekeeper or driver always bought one for him.

He assured me I was saying the very things he'd like to say but couldn't.

His advice was: "For God's sake, keep writing for your people. You have a whole diocese of your own out there. Keep ­telling them they don't have to be perfect to be loved by God."

And that is what I will do for as long as the Sunday World allows me.

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