Changing stations

Living

Westport-based Church of Ireland rector Val Rogers is among 13 former Catholic priests to feature in a new documentary

Edwin McGreal

In 1985, Val Rogers was a Catholic priest in Sydney faced with a life-changing decision.
He had fallen in love with Josie Bray, a farmer’s daughter from north east New South Wales, and the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests meant his vocation was at a crossroads.  
“It put me through hell at the time, but it was the best thing I ever did,” Val told The Mayo News this week. “I shouldn’t have had to make the choice though. It should be a matter that is totally down to freedom of choice if you want to sleep in a single bed or a double bed."
The rector maintains obligatory celibacy is wrong for the Church. “If it was a matter of free choice all sorts of good people would offer to join the priesthood.
“I think if there is a variety of human experience up the front it is better. If people are married, they know better how to speak about marriage. If people have children, they may be able to talk better about children,” he reasoned.
Val resigned as a priest in 1985 in order to marry Josie.
A native of Ballymote, Co Sligo, Val Rogers was ordained in the early 1970s. In 1972, he went to Fiji as a missionary priest with the Columbans. Two years later, he moved to Australia, where he took up regular ministry in the Sydney Archdiocese.
Val is one of 13 former Catholic priests to feature in a new documentary about their experiences. ‘The Judas Iscariot Lunch’ will premiere at the Dublin Film Festival later this month and will be screened by RTÉ later this year.
Val remains fiercely proud of his Columban past, proud of those priests who remain Columbans and those who left. He took a secular job for two years in Sydney, working in Child Protection for the Youth and Community Services in New South Wales. But while he was unable to remain a Catholic priest, he knew the vocation was still his life’s calling.
He joined the Anglican Church and became an Anglican priest in 1987. He was based in Melbourne for 22 years before he and Josie move to Westport in late 2009, where Val is now the Church of Ireland Rector to Westport, Castlebar, Turlough and Achill.
“That’s where the best of me happens, in the simple things like the Gospel and the Mass and the Sacraments. All other crap falls away. Other fellas may be at their best elsewhere,” said Val.
“I’m very proud of the Columbans who continue, and very proud of those who left. I’m ever grateful for their angle on the love of God and for their angle on practical life and justice,” he added.
While he feels being married gives him a better perspective as a priest, he is quick not to generalise.
“I’m the better man and the better priest by far for it, but I’m not saying it is the same for everyone, that everyone needs to be married. It’s about having the choice,” he says.
He’s keen also to stress the plight of many of his former colleagues, Columban priests who left the priesthood while on their missions to marry locally and to work in the community. These men now have no entitlements in their old age.
“It is those who have left and still remain in countries like Chile and Peru who we are concerned about. They are left high and dry and often they have to sell fish at the market in order to get by. They worked without stamps or PAYE, so they have no entitlements. I’d love to see them looked after,” he said.
Two Mayo men who left the priesthood also feature in the documentary – Michael Gavin from Castlebar and Luke Waldron from Knock.

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In association with RTÉ, the world premiere of ‘The Judas Iscariot Lunch’ will take place at the LightHouse Cinema, Dublin, at 6.30pm on Thursday, February 25, as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. See www.thejudasiscariotlunch.com for more details.