A DUP MLA has been urged to recant after branding Pope Benedict the “Antichrist”.
Ian McCrea, son of south Antrim MP William McCrea, also said he believed a visit would be detrimental to community relations in the province.
On his personal website, under a headline of No Pope Here, the mid-Ulster MLA said he had been made aware the visit would “face the vent of Protestant opposition.”
In remarks reminiscent of his party’s former leader and latter First Minister Ian Paisley, who famously dubbed Pope John Paul II the “Antichrist” in the European Parliament, Mr McCrea argued a visit would be “very insensitive”.
“I am opposed to any possibility of a visit to Northern Ireland by the Pope of Rome and I believe a visit from the Pope should be vigorously opposed for a number of reasons,” he said.
“First of all, the majority of people in Northern Ireland are Protestant and belong to denominations that hold to the belief that the Pope is the Antichrist and by his titles and claims he blasphemes Almighty God.
“A visit from the Pope should also be opposed as many Roman Catholic people feel that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church have been complicit in abuse cases over many years and in light of the recent inquiry into child abuse in Roman Catholic institutions, such a visit would be very insensitive not only on the part of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State ... but also on the part of the Pope himself.”
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: “Ian McCrea must withdraw these deeply hurtful, insensitive and sectarian comments immediately.
“It is totally hypocritical at a time when the DUP are talking about building a shared future that one of their Assembly members comes out with this utterly sectarian and abusive rant.
“This type of attitude only serves to create divisions and incite disrespect within our society.
“Most people ... would find the suggestion that the Pope is the ‘Antichrist’ utterly extremist and entirely out of place in the 21st century. The one sad lesson that this society has given us is that bigotry has brought us nothing but sorrow, death and deep division.”