Belfast Telegraph

Bride-to-be so stressed she ended up in hospital after priest's message cast doubt on ceremony

Claire McNeilly

A devastated Co Down bride-to-be has told how her wedding plans have been ruined after a priest suggested he would not officiate at her marriage because of her fiance's support for abortion.

Shaunagh Griffin and her partner Kevin McAteer, who are both Catholics, had planned to marry at St Brigid's Church in their native Newry on May 22, 2020, with Fr Damien Quigley performing the ceremony.

Nine days ago, however, the priest, who serves in Middle Killeavy in the Armagh diocese, expressed uneasiness with the arrangement after Mr McAteer (31) voiced his support for abortion via Facebook.

In a subsequent message, Fr Quigley told them that if they promoted or advocated abortion, it would impact on the "appropriateness" of him celebrating their wedding or it taking place in the Church.

This revelation, which came just days after the historic repealing of the Republic's abortion ban, ignited widespread debate over whether Catholics who supported the 'Yes' lobby had relinquished their rights to the Church's sacraments.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Shaunagh (36), who revealed that she only learned the news about Fr Quigley's stance days after recovering from surgery, said the situation has cast a dark shadow over her forthcoming nuptials.

"I was really excited about getting married... but I've been so stressed I ended up back in hospital last Friday," she said.

"Doctors have told me to relax but how do you relax when all this is going on? I didn't want all this hassle.

"All I want is to be told I can get married in St Brigid's. I was Christened there, I made my First Holy Communion there, I made my confirmation there and so did the rest of my family."

The couple's reception is already booked at the Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint, but Shaunagh said it's hard to focus on that while the ceremony itself hangs in the balance.

"I was so excited - we'd talked about setting up the altar and decorating it. I've picked my bridesmaids, the venue is booked... but now all of this," she said. "I can't even begin to think about my dress while all this is going on."

She added: "All I've ever wanted is to get married in my local church. But for a priest to tell us that because of Kevin's opinion we might not be allowed to get married there it has really hurt me."

Ms Griffin said that her family is also annoyed "with how this has all panned out", and she added: "I don't think it's right at all. My daddy is disgusted," she said. "We're all Catholics and have been right down through the generations so they're in shock. Daddy has never heard the likes of it before."

She added: "All I want is to get the okay and be told that I'm allowed to get married in the church and we're going to have a priest so I can start getting back on track again and start getting the rest of my plans sorted."

Care worker Kevin said he's written to both all-Ireland Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the situation.

"We currently have no priest or church for our wedding and that has happened as a result of my pro-choice beliefs," he said.

"I go to Mass regularly, I say my prayers, I made my First Holy Communion and confirmation and I want my children to be able to do that too. But last Sunday Fr Quigley made his position clear."

Mr McAteer said the situation is starting to make him "rethink my religion".

"My religion is important to me - my family is Catholic. My partner is Catholic. I want to be married in a Catholic Church," he said. "This situation is starting to make me rethink my religion. The Catholic Church's stance on social issues like this is pushing young people away from it."

He said he sent a formal complaint to Archbishop Martin last week and contacted the Taoiseach "to make him aware of what's going on here".

"This is what's happening now in the aftermath of the referendum," he said.

"It was a referendum he called himself and there's a major fallout here. Mr Varadkar needs to know that.

"We're looking for another priest to perform our marriage ceremony. The wedding is in limbo until we find a priest. We've already arranged everything else."

Kevin - who has struggled with depression for two years - said this worry over his wedding plans isn't helping his mental health.

"I'm just starting to bounce back after battling depression for years," he said. "Shaunagh has been amazing and so supportive and I just want to give her the wedding of her dreams.

"I can't believe everything now lies in tatters over a couple of posts I put on Facebook."

There was no one available the Archdiocese of Armagh was contacted yesterday but a spokesperson previously said: "It would not be appropriate to discuss details of a priest's pastoral support to any specific individual or couple in their preparation for the sacrament of marriage. However, please be advised that Fr Quigley has never refused to prepare any person or couple for the sacrament."

Fr Quigley was unavailable for comment.

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