Tuesday, 18 March 2014



Within the last ten days a priest who tortured and bullied me 30 years ago passed away and I ended up asking myself how I feel about him now.

The priest in question was FATHER JOE MC GURNAGHAN formerly of Saint Peter's Cathedral, Belfast and after that the parish priest of Dunloy and Cloughmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

He had been retired for a number of years and died, I think, of a mixture of old age, bowel cancer and dementia.

When I went to St. Peters in 1978 Joe Mc Gurnaghan was the senior curate there and I was the junior curate.   The administrator (acting parish priest) was FATHER VINCENT McKINLEY who has since passed away also.

For my first year in St Peter's I watched and learned and came to the conclusion that there was a MASSIVE GULF between the clergy in the big house and the people of the parish. It was in the middle of the infamous Divis Flats - one of the worst housing estates in Europe at the time. There a
was an uneployment rate of over 80%. Marriage breakdown was the order of the day. 
The various branches of the IRA were waging an all out war on the army and the police. Street bombing and shooting occurred on a daily basis. The women of the area took the brunt of sustaining family life and as a result many of them were addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. "Joyriding" - the stealing of cars was rife. Petty crime was rife. 

But inside the big clergy house we lived as if were were in Downton Abbey.
There were cooked breakfasts every morning. Lunch everyday was 4 course with sherry in the veg soup, the best of steaks and fish, deserts, quality white and red wine everyday and coffee and cognac.
And that was 7 days a week. Occasional dinners were even more over the top.

The clergy looked down on the people living about. Early in my time there Father McGurnaghan described the parishioners as being: "as thick as bottled pigshit".

His advice to me when I arrived was: "This is the worst parish every. Say your daily Mass, do your own thing and have a wank and a few drinks every night until you're sent to a better parish". As a young priest with the Holy Oils fresh on my hands I was shocked at the level of cynicism.

After a year I was forced to take sides - I had to be friends with the people or friends with the clergy and part of the clerical club. As I was ordained to serve the people I sided with the people.

I became involved in housing issues and the joyriding issue. I made myself available 24/7 to the people. I was involved in the schools and the youth clubs. I spoke out about social issues and justice issues. I stood against the paramilitaries and against wrong doing by the police and army.

As a result my life in the presbytery became hell. Father McKinley and McGurnaghan tortured me mentally and emotionally. I had to take valium to cope. I was exiled from the priests dining room and had to eat with the housekeeper in the kitchen.

One night Father McKinley physically beat me up. On many occasions the drunken Fathers McKinley and McGurnaghan kicked my bedroom door repeatedly for hours while I lay inside crying.

Eventually they reported me to the bishop - Cahal Daly. He decided that they were "good holy men" and that I was a trouble maker. I was shifted from parish to parish and eventually sacked from the diocese. As a result I have ministered independently for nearly 30 years now.

How do I feel about my bullies. I have forgiven them. I hope that they are in Heaven.

A few years ago I saw Father McGurnaghan in Marks & Spencers - by that time an old man - shuffling about. We said hello. I felt compassion for him. He was only half the man he had been.

People have told me that Father McGurnaghan never wanted to be a priest - that he had been forced into the priesthood by his authoritarian head master father. Maybe that is why he was so unhappy? Maybe that is why, in his own time he became a bully and made other people's lives unhappy?

It seems a bit strange now that the two priests who made my life turn out so different are now dead.

It is a strong reminder to US ALL to try and be happy ourselves and not make others unhappy because we are unhappy.

It is also a strong reminder to us all not to become bullies. Because all of us are capable of being bullies.

+Pat Buckley


  1. Fr Magurnaghan has passed on. I remember including Fr Brendan Smith(paedophile) in the prayers of the faithful one morning and a woman walked out. The point I was trying to make is that when someone dies it is no automatically silver clouds or fire and brimstone. We do not control God even though the mass card mentality would lead one to believe that we can. In praying for Smith I was praying in trust that God would deal with Smith in a way that is appropriate for God. I am trusting God to be God and this isw a mark of faith and respect. I remember the top table at Dominic Conways St Marys. Not as lavish as your "big house" but I found it intimadating. To be honest I am not sure where the clergy of elphin are up to when it comes to solidarity with the ordinary person. The paradox of Nicodemus runs deep. Courage to come to Jesus in the night yet obedience to annoint the dead body of Jesus as the law required. Am I rambling? Well there you are for what it is worth..Sean

  2. Hello +`Pat

    I think most of us as young priests had to put up with elements of bullying in varying degrees. I lived with a group of priests in my early years where I was scared to open my mouth at the table because I would be mauled by one or other of the priests. Not a great environment for a young priest fresh out of seminary and keen to be a priest.

    Of course, a great deal of bullying has been, and perhaps still is done, by bishops. I remember the way a bishop could just change your whole life with one phone call. He exercised instant wisdom, the whim of the morning became the decree of the afternoon, and the priest simply had to obey. Given the feudal nature of the relationship between bishop and priest there was no protection or come back. And, of course, it was all packaged in some sort of spiritual self-sacrificing wrapping paper - filial obedience, being at the behest of the will of God as expressed through the bishop etc. etc. What a load of rubbish !

    The bullying theme is mirrored in the case of Father Matthew Despard, which I have written about previously. Even the way he is presently being treated is classic episcopal oppression and bullying. The way he reports he was treated at various stages in his ministry (sadly by a homosexual bullying clique) is classic bullying. And, then there is the case of Cardinal O'Brien, a bully of the first order.

    Bullying is still alive and kicking in the Catholic Church, not least between bishops and priests, but also in parishes. How many bully parish priests have you come across who ride rough shod over the laity ?

    It's not a pleasant picture.

  3. I cannot but agree young Fr. By the way did you ever come accross the Daemon (lay) parish secretary (female in my case) or the Daemon Housekeeper/....fekin lethal. They had security of tenure and were not under bishopsa jurisdiction. Sean