by Marianne Flood

A Derry cleric who has publically called for the Catholic Church to allow married priests has spoken about the personal cost of celibacy, which has caused him to question his faith.

In his column in the Derry News last week, Fr Paddy O’Kane said the ‘church needs to adapt to these changing times’ and ‘may have to take another look at celibacy and women priests’.

Speaking from his parochial house in the Holy Family, Ballymagroarty this week, Fr Paddy told the Derry News that while he has enjoyed a ‘good life’ during his 45 years in the Priesthood his faith has also been tested by loneliness.

“I enjoy being a priest,” he said.

“I find it very fulfilling and I would encourage many young men to consider it as a vocation.

“It has been a good life. There are times I miss having a family and there are many times of loneliness and there have been times I have only held on to my faith by a hair’s breadth.

“In looking back, it has been a good life, full of joy and love.

“I have laughed my way through the last 45 years of the priesthood, both at myself and with the many wonderful people I have met on the journey.

“Recently when I was leaving a home during a pastoral visit in the parish whenever the woman of the house said 'thank you for calling Father', her little child spoke up and asked 'is he everybody's father'?  The mother smiled and said 'he is'.

Fr O’Kane believes that not having a wife or children has allowed him to dedicate himself to his parishioners.

“Most priests live lives of caring for others and serving their needs,” he added.

“Celibacy has given me the freedom to do this with total commitment, for as the prayer says ‘it is in giving that we receive’.

“I’m not against celibacy. Many priests might choose to be celibate, but for those who want to get married it should be an option.”

In last week’s column Fr O’Kane said there are married Catholic priests who have converted from Anglicanism.

“We do have married priests, the door has been opened,” he explained.

“Pope Francis is aware of the fact there are many parts of the world where there is severe shortage of priests and many people are joining the Evangelical churches to have their needs met.

“What the church could do is allow priests who have left to get married to be invited back or they could ordain people from the community of good standing, whether married or not.”

However, he said it would take longer for the Church to allow serving priests to marry or to permit women priests.

“There will be married priests long before women priests,” said Fr. O’Kane.

He pointed out Pope Francis is considering allowing married priests to resume pastrol ministry in Brazil, where there are just 1,800 priests for a Catholic population of 140 million people.

He also warned in his column that ‘Priest-less parishes are appearing all over Ireland and may be here in this diocese before long’.

“We are a Eucharistic church and the Catholic Church believes strongly in meeting as a Eucharistic community once a week, however in many parts of the world it is denied to them,” he said.

“The Diocese is being stretched and having a curate or assistant priest will soon be a luxury.

“Eventually, some Parishes will have to be united. In other parts of Ireland they have formed clusters whereby one or two priests look after many parishes

“It is hard to predict what will happen. We still have some young men coming through, but in six years’ time there will be five priests in the Diocese at the age of 75 which is retirement age and finding replacements could be difficult.”

However, he stressed he did not want his words to upset parishioners.

“We are coping here at the moment okay. Most of the parish’s needs are being met.

“I don’t want to panic people.

“We have a very good Bishop at the moment and a good team of advisors around him that will guide our parish through any changes that will happen.”

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