Wednesday, 20 August 2014



A nember of years ago I went to meet a priest for lunch in a Dublin hotel. When I arrived my priest friend was very angry that I was wearing my clerical collar. He was dressed in a very beautiful casual shirt. He felt that my collar would draw attention to us and people would be staring at us and therefore we would be deprived of the pleasant "private" lunch he had planned.

I told him that I did not wear my collar to embarrass or annoy him but that I wore it for 2 reasons:

1. To give public witness to the fact that I was a priest follower of Jesus.

2. As an invitation to anyone that saw me that I was available to them if they needed me.

We had a very nice lunch and my priest friend kindly offered to walk with me to the car park at the top of Grafton Street, Dublin to where I had parked. On the way up Grafton Street a young man, who looked very distressed, approached us and said to me: "Are you a priest"? I said I was. He went on to tell me that he was a French student and that he suffered from a psychotic condition and that he had left his medication at home in France and was feeling very desperate. I asked him why he stopped me. He answered: "Because I could see you were a priest and I felt that you would help me". I looked at my priest friend who had been unhappy about my weraing my collar and he was a littled red in the face. No words were necessary.

I put the Freench student in my car and drove him to a nearby hospital A&E and stayed with him while the doctors examined him, contacted his French physician and then gave him the medication he needed. I have never seen or heard of that student since but I did say a prayer of thanks to the Good Lord for the opportunity of ministry.

For many years now priests have been abandoning the clerical collar - to the point where all the clerical supplier shops in Dublin have all closed down. You have to go on line now if you want a clerical item.

The abandonment of the collar has been greatly increased by the clerical paedophile scandal in the church. Priests are afraid to be seen to be priests as they are quite likely to receive strong verbal ubuse in the street.

On a number of occasions in recent years I have been followed in the street and been verbally abused and called names. I always stop and try and engage my abusers in conversation and tell them that only some 5% of priests are paedophiles and that most paedophilia takes place in the home, the family and in the family circle. Sometimes I suceed. Sometimes the abuse gets worse.

But it HAS NOT and WILL not stop me presenting myself as a priest in public - for the two very valid reasons I gave above.

So called "liberal" priests - especially in the religious orders - condemn the clerical collar and say that it facilitates CLERICALISM.

I'm sure that there are priests - especially some of the younger priests now coming out of seminary - who are into clericalism and feel that the collar sets them apart and puts them up on pedestals. What a terrible reason for wearing the collar.

The trendy and liberal priests say: "Jesus never wore a collar".

Its true he didn't. But my answer to that is that Jesus was God and he had a divine and spiritual presence that made people realise that he was the Son of Man. 

I don't have Jesus charisma. So I have to wear some outward recognisable symbol that I am his disciple and that I am there to help if needed.

When we go into hospitals we can recognise the doctors by their unforms and can approach them.

When we are on the street and need help we can recognise a policeman by his uniform.

When we are travelling in a plane and need a drink or help of some kind we recognise the air hostess by her uniform

I am am on the street and I need a priest for some reason how can I recognise him if he is wearing the same casual shirt and jeans as the other 500 men on that street?

A lot of priests nowadays will wear their clerical collar when they are in the church or about parish property.

They then wear casual gear when they are what they call "off duty".

But the problem is that a priest is NEVER off duty.

When I was a young curate in Belfast I used to go one or two nights of the week, after the youth club closed at 9pm for a beer with the youth leaders. We used to go to a social club in Ardoyne in Northe Belfast.

I always wore my collar on those trips. On thousands of occasions people came up to me to talk to me about an issue or a problem they had or even for Confession. I heard hundreds of confessions in the toilets in that social club. And the pople who approach me there were people who never came to church or never met a priest.

So in my case I was the priest going to them - to the places they inhabited and socialised.

I regard myself as a priest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. I am a priest in my chapel - but I am also a priest in the pub, in a restaurant, on the train, lying on the beach in Spain (where of course I do not wear a collar :-) ),walking on the street.

Jesus had no days off. There was never a time in Jesus' ministry when he was not God, not the Son of God and not available to people.

A true priest, like a true Christian, has no days off. We are always available to God and we are all available to God's people.

Call me oldfashioned if you like. I have lived as a priest that way for 38 years and I hope to live that way until they carry me away in the brown box.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Priests are supposed to be representing Jesus the Shepherd

Shepherds are never off duty.

Sheep cannot read the clock.

Sheep do not only need their shepherd from 9am to 5 pm - Monday to Friday.

Sheep can get lost at any time.

The good shepherd will search for the lost sheep at any time, of any day, morning, noon, evening, midnight and at 3am if required.

There are 2 kinds of priests in our modern church:

1. Priests who are professional careerists with little faith and even less comapssion.

2. Priests who are good shepherds.

The People of God - the sheep - can quickly distinguish one from another.
Jesus calling - out of hours


In the Gospels we come across the story of the man who fell among robbers. One of the people who passed by on the other side of the road was a priest.

Question: Why did the priest pass him?

Answer: Because he was robbed already :-)

+Pat Buckley


  1. You are awakening old memories in me these days Pat. My mother told me shortly after being ordained to "wear the collar You earned it hard" From being an Altar Boy in Castlerea many years ago I aspired to priestly minestry. My young logic told me that a collar is a pass into any drawing room. A collar would spare me the pain of growing up, becoming sexually mature and learning to cope appropriately with acceptance and rejection. Along with all this I believed and still do that I was called to priestly ministry. Let loose in my first parish in Birmingham and later in Sligo I discovered that the collar did not fit the "real me" This is where the conflict came to light. The Turned Collar represents turning ones back on something. I never turned my back on anyone or anything. Neither did Jesus. I may have hid away in fear like Peter at the time of the crusifiction but that is a slightly different issue. The collar like the Policemans helmet has connotations both good and bad associated with it. The mark of service witnessed by cleric or non cleric is evident by the quality of their lives. I do ask myself how I would react if Church of England asks me to don the collar once more. This is a matter still at the negotiation table and still needs to be clarified in greater depth. Even C of E have folks in "suits". Would I walk down the streets of Sligo once more wearing the collar. Probably not. I am not into confrontation for confrontation sake. Sean

    1. Sean,

      I respect your views.

      I imagine that you can see the ideal of my argument for witness and availability?


    2. I can not find fault in what you say Pat. I was reflecting on my own experience and I am still on a learning curve. I can only commend you on your non flinching christian witness over the years. My days off consisted of a bottle of brandy in a quiet corner of my mothers house. These days my free time is spent looking after a stubbern mare and a cheeky teenage foal with Clarice. I am slowly learning not to run away from reality. Sean

  2. +Pat, I couldn't agree more with the entire sentiments of your article.

  3. Pat,

    14 years ago, when I was in the process of coming out, I spent many evenings in you company as you chatted, reassured me and guided me, often late into the night with a dram or two for us both. On the night I knew I was coming out to my mother I had a slight panic attack and rang you late one Sunday evening. I remember you were in Belfast with friends, but you took my call and asked "Would you like me to come and be there for you when you tell your family?" I didn't fully appreciate it at the time but you left your friends and the meal you were having and drove straight to my house. I was in the process of telling my Mum that I was gay when you knocked on the door.

    "Who's that at this hour." She asked.
    "It's Bishop Pat Buckley," I replied. "He's here to offer me support.
    At that moment she jumped up, ran out of the living room and bolted up the stairs. I brought you in and we sat over a cuppa late into the early morning. Mum never came down as she was too afraid - but I remember you laughing saying that you saw her through the frosted glass in the front door as she sprinted up the stairs in her dressing gown like wee Willie Winkie.

    Weeks later we did meet in the Hilton Hotel for lunch. When she first saw you she said "He's wearing a collar. Everybody will be looking at us," but after a few minutes she quickly felt at ease in you presence and you sat the whole afternoon answering her questions about the bible, the church and homosexuality. I remember driving home she recalled the story you told us aboutcoming out to your mum in Lourdes when late at night your mum as she lay awake in the bed next to you said "Pat are you awake? I never thought I could love you any more but tonight I do." As we pulled up in the driveway my mum took my hand and thanked me for bringing her to meet you, and she said "I hope you know that your sexuality changes nothing, you are still my son and I love you so much!"

    You, your ministry, your time and in its own way, your collar played an important part in getting my life on track.

    Thanks Pat...Gerry

    P.S do you remember the Friday night after an LGBT prayer service we went for a drink in the Kremlin. You wore your collar then. At first people thought you were in fancy dress but throughout the night people came up to you one by one, sat with you and as you drank your Brandy & Ginger you happily ministered away to them. That memory always makes me smile!

  4. Gerry,

    Thanks for telling your story publicly.

    I found Jesus in my shared meal at the restaurant and when you called I left the table and went to your home and found Jesus in you - and in your confused Mum.

    I'd hate to be a part time priest.

    I am so glad that I was not "off duty" when you needed me that night.

    I'm also so grateful that you - and others - have not been off duty for me when I needed you.

    These times are the times we feel the beauty of the presence of God.

    I love that picture of Holman Hunt's of Jesus knocking at the door. In that picture he is knocking late at night.

    How sad that any one would call back to him: "Go away - I'm off duty" :-(


  5. I've added Holman Hunt's painting to the bottom of my blog

  6. Pat, do you remember the night myself and three other young people from the Protestant Shankhill Road called at your door because we had no where to stay? You brought us in and gave us a meal and put us all sleeping in your dining room. Your housekeeper was very cross the next morning when she found us there. I remember her saying in the kitchen that either we went or she went and you said that it would have to be her as she had a home and we didn't. One of us - Kim - stayed a year with you. A few days later you brought us to your friends in Donegal for a few days. Kim's mother from the Shankhill was furious she was staying with a fenian and a priest. Sometimes I pass through Larne on my way to Carnlough and will call in some time. At the time I was there I was on drugs and stuff but I'm clean and settled now. Hard to believe that it was nearly 30 years ago.


  7. Thank you dear Pat for your recent blogs and comments. I am very glad that you like the Holman Hunt Christ the Light of the World, one of my favourite paintings. I am sure that you know the story that when it was first put on show in London one of the on-lookers mentioned to the artist that he had made a mistake on the painting, that the door that the Good Lord was standing at had no handle. "Ah," said HH, "thats no mistake. The handle of the door that the lord is knocking has a handle, but it is on the inside. The door can only be opened from within!" The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, soon to be declared Blessed, use to tell that story and meditate upon its significance. Keep up the good work. Former Vatican Official.

  8. Broad Minded Parishioner24 August 2014 at 16:04

    Our priest rarely wears his collar when "off duty" so to speak although he is always available. I actually prefer him in plain clothes as for me it makes him more approachable - more like one of us mere mortals - but maybe that's not a good thing. Maybe there should be a bit more distance. I tend to act more reservedly and maybe more reverently around a priest wearing a collar but funnily enough am less likely to speak to him. Don't even understand that myself! I accept that our priest dressed in plain clothes would not identify him to anyone in the street which is maybe not a good thing but actually, in his case, he is so giving of his time and works so hard that I think he earns a bit of "down" time. I may associate the collar with some more stern and less approachable priests from my childhood so have a slight fear of them perhaps. I was on holiday in Ireland this Summer and on a walk down to a beach with my children when I met a man in his late 60s walking down too. He was alone and in plain clothes but I just knew he was a priest. It was just emanating from him. I got talking to him and was proved correct. He was on his holidays. Interesting debate.

  9. Thank you.

    You make good points.

    Personally I am very friendly and have never felt barriers between myself and others - at least not barriers that I cannot break down.

    Maybe that comes from being the oldest of 17 children :-)