Belfast Telegraph

Catholics should get married in Belfast City Hall if they back abortion, says priest

By Victoria Leonard

A Belfast priest has said that Catholics who do not wish to abide by the Church's teaching on abortion can "get married in City Hall" rather than being "hypocritical and dishonest by using the church for a day".

Father Patrick McCafferty, of Corpus Christi Parish, said it was "dishonest to have a wedding in a church if you don't respect or regard what the faith is about".

He said: "You are using the Church and abusing the sacrament. There is City Hall, or there are town halls and country houses that offer themselves as venues for weddings.

"If you don't support the Church's teaching on a fundamental issue, why be hypocritical and dishonest by using the church for a day?

"It's a total fiasco."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Fr McCafferty stated that "you cannot be a Catholic and be in favour of abortion" and urged people who do not agree with the Church's teachings to "have marriages solemnised in a civil setting".

His comments came after a Newry priest reportedly warned a couple that advocating abortion could mean their wedding not taking place in a Catholic Church.

According to BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, Fr Damien Quigley told the couple he had been asked to marry that their "promotion or advocacy" could also lead to him not being able to officiate at their ceremony.

Fr Quigley reportedly wrote to the couple saying: "Just a heads up, that as the priest you've asked to celebrate your wedding, you and I would need to have a conversation about any promotion you may do to advocate for abortion in Ireland.

"Such promotion or advocacy would impact on the appropriateness of me celebrating your wedding or possibly the wedding taking place in a Catholic Church.

"I'm sure we can have a good chat over a coffee sometime."

Fr Quigley, from the Parish of Middle Killeavy Newry, maintains an active presence on social media. The day after the referendum result he shared an "approximate version" of his introduction to that morning's Mass, which stated that "the majority of our brothers and sisters in the Republic of Ireland have voted to follow a tragic path".

He added that "as Catholics, we must not fall back, we must not retreat from defending life".

Yesterday, an Irish-American canon law expert said Catholic priests have the right not to officiate at weddings "unless or until" couples stop promoting "public sin".

Travis Rankin, director of the US-based Canon Law Centre in Kentucky, said the Catholic Church is clear in its teaching that abortion is "intrinsically evil and is among the gravest of sins".

"Indeed, the priest would himself be guilty of sin were he to rashly join the couple in marriage in the face of ongoing notorious and public promotion of abortion," he said.

Mr Rankin referred to 'Canon 843' to show that Church law is carefully nuanced when it comes to the clergy's obligations.

It states that "sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them".

But the graduate of the Faculty of Canon Law at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium pointed out that Church law also stipulates that a priest is "not to assist at a marriage of one who has notoriously rejected the Catholic faith except in case of necessity and only then with permission of the local ordinary".

Mr Rankin, whose organisation provides professional canonical services within the system of Catholic canon law, said priests are charged with ensuring that the both parties seeking to be married are properly disposed to receive the sacrament.

The married father-of-six said where there is evidence of "active promotion of legislation which supports abortion, or other intrinsic evils" on the part of either party seeking to be married then the clergy can take action.

He said a priest would be "well within his right to postpone the wedding ceremony unless or until such notorious and public sin ceased".

But west Belfast woman and former Irish senator Mairia Cahill, who had a medical termination in her 20s and publicly campaigned for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, called Fr Quigley's message to the couple "petty" and said that it showed the Church was "out of touch" with many Catholics.

Ms Cahill, who has claimed she was raped in her teens by an alleged IRA member, said: "Hundreds, if not thousands, of Catholics have had abortions and continued to practise their faith - if the Church believes otherwise it is extremely naive.

"If they want people coming through their doors, they need to change to reflect society and the people they are preaching to.

"The Catholic Church is perfectly entitled to take a moral position on abortion, but I don't think they are entitled to judge others who take a different point of view.

"I have a huge problem with men in frocks telling women what to do with their own bodies.

"If they think they will entice people to become members of their congregation, they are going the wrong way about it."

Eleanor Crossey-Malone, of social feminist movement Rosa NI, said that "a lot of Catholics will have been involved in the pro-choice movement to repeal the Eighth".

"It's not the case that they can rely on churchgoers' personal religious beliefs to bolster the Church's official position on social issues," said Ms Crossey-Malone, whose organisation will openly break the law by bringing a Bus4Choice supplying abortion pills to Laganside Courts tomorrow.

"There has been a further separation between Church and state in the south, and it needs to happen here," she said.

"The scale of the repeal vote represents more than a basic yes to choice, it's a rejection of the historically close link between Church and state in the south.

"The Church is acutely aware of that."

Fiona Ferguson, of Belfast pro-choice group Solidarity with Repeal, added: "Some of the campaign groups in the referendum were called Catholics for Repeal and Catholics for Choice.

"It's not just about your own moral position, it's about having compassion for another person.

"There are Catholics who support the right of a woman to choose, but who wouldn't do it themselves.

"The way this couple who are planning their wedding were treated doesn't really show the compassion that the Catholic Church aspires to.

"The repeal referendum showed that the time when the Church had control over people's lives is something Irish people want to very firmly leave in the past."

The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact Fr Quigley yesterday, but he could not be reached. Several other clerics were also unavailable.

The Catholic Church said that "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."

The Church added: "However, please be advised that Fr Quigley has never refused to prepare any person or couple for the sacrament."

In a statement to the Nolan Show, Fr Quigley said: "From the outset, I wish to advise you that it would not be appropriate for me to discuss details of my pastoral support to any specific individual or couple in their preparation for the sacrament of marriage.

"However, please be advised that I have never refused to prepare any person or couple for the sacrament."

The Diocese of Armagh said it had "nothing further to add to Fr Damien's statement".

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stella Creasy has said she will table an amendment to the Domestic Violence Bill that would standardise abortion law across the UK, in effect making it legal in Northern Ireland.

She claimed more than 150 parliamentarians have already expressed support for the change.

In a tweet yesterday, she said the "DUP tail doesn't have to wag the government dog when it comes to human rights".

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