DUP slams Presbyterian's claim Orange Order is sectarian
A DUP MP has hit out at a former Presbyterian Moderator who said there is a "reservoir of anti-Catholicism and sectarianism" in the Orange Order.
The Rev Ken Newell claimed that the Order needed to address the problem by engaging in dialogue with Catholics. However, Lagan Valley MP and leading Orangeman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last night branded Dr Newell's views as "outdated and unfair".
He said it was the former moderator who should hold discussions with the Order to overcome his own stereotypes about its members.
Former Ulster Unionist MP and prominent Fermanagh Orangeman Tom Elliott said he "strongly refuted" the cleric's claims, which "do not reflect the reality of what most members are like".
The Orange Order described the remarks as "regrettable" and said it had a "long-standing record of outreach" with Catholics.
Dr Newell, who is a former Orange Order chaplain, was speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme yesterday after a prominent Orangeman urged members to stop using the term 'RIP' to commemorate deaths.
It views the term as unbiblical, unProtestant, and a form of superstition connected to Catholicism.
Dr Newell yesterday said that he "knew there is a reservoir of anti-Catholicism and sectarianism" among the Order's members.
"The Orange Order has a problem with sectarianism and one of the biggest problems is that it is not talking," he said.
"The World Evangelical Alliance, for 12 years, was in dialogue with the Church of Rome. As is the Anglican Church, as is the World Communion of Reformed churches, as is the Pentecostal, as is the World Baptist Association.
"All these groups are talking.
"If you want to learn about the Catholic Church what I would suggest is - and there is a big challenge to all us as Christians - that we all have to flush sectarianism out of our hearts and minds, and the best way to do that is by dialogue of life, a dialogue of truth."
He suggested that the Order discuss with Catholic theologians "all the issues" to have a better understanding of matters when they arise in the future.
Dr Newell, who was Presbyterian Moderator from 2004-2005, was awarded an OBE for his peace work, which spanned three decades.
His friendship with Fr Gerry Reynolds triggered the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship involving bridge-building between the west Belfast parish and his own congregation in south Belfast.
He was involved in secret discussions with the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries in the run-up to the 1994 ceasefires. Sir Jeffrey said that the former Presbyterian Moderator's views seemed behind the times regarding the Orange Order.
"Like the Rev Ken Newell, I am a firm believer in dialogue," he said.
"But I'd invite him to hold discussions with figures in the Order so he understands where we are at today.
"Dr Newell's impression of us is outdated and unfair. He needs to catch up with the times.
"He is clearly fixated on attitudes that may have prevailed in the past
"A lot has changed in recent years and the Orange Order does very significant outreach work across the community.
"It is involved in many educational and cultural exchanges." Mr Donaldson suggested that Dr Newell visit Orange Order headquarters and meet its "education officer and those involved in community outreach to find out where we stand today".
Mr Elliott, who had faced calls for his expulsion from the Order in 2011 for attending the funeral of murdered Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, said that Dr Newell's comments didn't reflect what the majority of Orangemen were like.
"The complaint against myself was ultimately not upheld by the Orange Order," he said.
"I strongly refute what Dr Newell said. In Fermanagh, we are involved in outreach work with all sections of society."
In a statement in response to the comments, an Orange Order spokesman said: "The Orange institution has a long standing record of community outreach, including meetings in the past with senior representatives of the Catholic Church.
"In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we also make no apology as a Christian organisation for espousing the truths of the Reformed faith."