Father Sean Fagan; a brief appreciation

Father Sean Fagan

I had mixed feelings today, when I heard of the death of Sean Fagan, sadness at his death, but relief that his sufferings were over. Not being part of the theological community, I had never met Sean until a couple of years ago, when I was editing a book on responding to the Ryan report, and I asked him would he write an article for it. It was then that I discovered that he was forbidden to write or speak publicly, and even worse, that if he disobeyed this order he would be dismissed from the priesthood. In spite of that he agreed to write for me, and he wrote what I consider a wonderful article on sexuality. When, shortly afterwards, I had my own experience with the CDF, we now had something in common, even if he had more theological knowledge in his small finger than the sum total of what I possessed. It was around that time that I visited him in Lesson Park, and he was already struggling with bad health. I remember him showing me the number of tablet he took each day, – amounting to twenty two. Since then I was at a number of events where he also attended, and once or twice where he spoke. I got to know enough about him to know that he was deeply upset by the banning of his book, and by the sanctions and threats he received from the CDF. The threat to his priesthood was what upset him most, as far as I could see. For that reason he was reluctant to speak publicly about his situation, though he did make some reference to it on a few occasions. The lifting of the threat against his priesthood came later, at a time when Sean was no longer able to either speak or write publicly, so I considered it to be a fairly mealy-mouthed and minimalist effort by the CDF.

When I went to see Sean on that occasion in Leeson Street, apart from having a ‘beef’ about the Vatican, there was one important thing I said to him. I told him that I owed him a great debt of gratitude, in that he, through his writing, helped me greatly to free myself from the inherited obsession with sin, and the fear of hell. I suspect that I am not the only one of my generation that is indebted to Sean for that. As far as I am concerned he was one of the most significant theologians of our time. Also, we did not need theological expertise to read his books, because they were written not so much for the theological community, but for the general believers.

That is why it is sad to think of his books being withdrawn and apparently destroyed, and that he lived to have his name and reputation besmirched by the Church authorities. At least he lived to see Francis in the Vatican, and I hope he found assurance in the way Francis presents God to us as a loving parent, full of mercy and forgiveness. That was how Sean portrayed God.

I trust that now, in the words of Uncle Vanya in Checkov’s play, “a great wave of mercy and compassion will sweep over him, and the stars will shine in the sky like diamonds for him, and he will be at peace”. He deserves no less for his wonderful life.