Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:
In Dubliners there are three kinds of people: old people, young people, and priests. The priests are mysterious, inaccessible, with yellow teeth or yellowing faces in photographs that hang on the wall. Priests are never main characters in Dubliners. They are peripheral figures, topics of conversation. They are also, generally, dead. The priests of Dublin have a special role, or once did, and almost no one seems to know what it is.
The first priest we meet, Father Flynn (in “The Sisters”), is the priest with the most clues. His life story is told in fragments, in hearsay, by his neighbors and by his sisters after Father Flynn has gone. Father Flynn used to be rather interesting, we learn, but had grown tiresome. Something queer about him, uncanny, one of those peculiar cases, wide awake and laughing to himself in the confession box. “I am not long for this world,” Father Flynn often told the boy, before Flynn had his series of strokes. Flynn’s epiphany in the confession box led him directly to paralysis and finally, to death.
James Joyce didn’t have much use for priests; he thought that priests like Father Flynn had lost their sight, their ability to focus their spiritual eye. Joyce’s characters often say things like, “We are an unfortunate priest-ridden race and always were and always will be till the end of the chapter. … A priest-ridden Godforsaken race” (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Like the rest of the Dubliners, Father Flynn experiences his epiphanies, but is unable to reflect upon them, to know them. This is a task for artists.