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Church using police to try and silence me, claim Buckley

By Eamon Sweeney

A controversial former Catholic priest has accused the hierarchy of the Church in Ireland of using the PSNI to conduct a vendetta against him over an online religious affairs blog he runs.

Larne-based independent bishop Pat Buckley said that a potential case against him involving accusations of incitement to hatred has been dropped, but the 11-month long saga has convinced him that his former Church is attempting to silence him by closing the site down.

Mr Buckley was excommunicated in 1998 as a result of his ordination as a bishop into an independent church.

A year later he came out as gay, and in 2010 married his partner in a civil ceremony.

In 2013 he admitted his involvement and was convicted for his part in 14 sham marriages in Northern Ireland with the purpose of flouting immigration laws.

He received a three-and-a-half-year jail term, suspended for three years.

"I run a blog called 'Thinking Catholicism', which is critical of the Catholic Church hierarchy and they don't like it," Mr Buckley told the Belfast Telegraph. On the 6th of January this year Archbishop Eamon Martin reported a comment made on the blog to the PSNI as incitement to hatred. This comment wasn't made by me, but someone who comments on the blog.

"It involved scandals in the Catholic Church, namely the 'gay sex scandal' at Maynooth. It was something like 'a flamethrower should be taken to the lot of them'. It was figurative language. No one would have thought this was to be taken literally.

"So, on January 17 I was interviewed under caution at Larne police station by two officers and was told I would be informed whether or not I would be prosecuted within 14 days. The police told me that I had nothing to worry about and I wouldn't be prosecuted. But, despite repeated requests, it took 11 months before I received a decision from the Public Prosecution Service.

"The police were sent to my home on three separate occasions about three different blogs after that. There are people out there, probably pro-Catholic Church people, who do not like the blog and who are using the PSNI to close the blog down.

"Depending on the topic being discussed, there are between 4,000 and 15,000 people on the site each day. It's quite clearly a waste of police time."

Mr Buckley was pressed by the Belfast Telegraph on whether he was sure that he had been told the identity of the complainant by the PSNI.

He said: "Archbishop Eamon Martin sent the Church's child protection officer Aidan Gordon to the police station to make the complaint even though there were no child protection issues involved in this. I suppose if you stretch his job description this complaint would fall under a kind of safeguarding in regard to this complaint."

When this allegation was put to the PSNI, it said: "Police received a complaint in relation to content posted on a blog in January, 2017. A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service in relation to the matter in March, 2017."

The PPS said: "The PPS can confirm that a file relating to this case was received from police in February, 2017.

"After careful consideration of all the available evidence, the rest for prosecution was applied in line with the PPS code for prosecutors. It has been decided not to prosecute anyone in relation to this incident on the basis that the case did not pass the evidential test."

Mr Buckley added: "It was a worry that elements in the Catholic Church used the PSNI to target me. It could start a fashion that is very unhealthy in terms of freedom of speech etc, particularly over the Maynooth issue."

The Belfast Telegraph contacted the Catholic Church for a response on numerous occasions by phone and email over a number of days, but received no reply.

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