Belfast Telegraph

Parishioners hail 'wonderful' cleric at centre of pro-choice weddings row

By Gillian Halliday

A Catholic priest who told a couple that their support for abortion could mean he may not officiate at their wedding was keeping a low profile yesterday.

As parishioners in the parish of Middle Killeavy headed to Sunday Mass, the topic of conversation for some was the recent controversy surrounding Fr Damien Quigley.

Fr Quigley, who serves the parish situated in Newry in the Armagh diocese, reportedly told the couple that if they promoted or advocated abortion, it would impact on the "appropriateness" of him celebrating their wedding or it taking place in a Catholic church.

At the Church of the Assumption in Newry, where Fr Quigley often carries out his duties, many of his parishioners spoke out out in defence of the Dundalk-born cleric.

He made headlines last week when the private message which he sent via Facebook to a couple was broadcast on BBC NI's Nolan Show.

The day after the historic referendum result in the Republic to repeal the eighth amendment - which had enshrined in the Irish Constitution that the life of an unborn child was equal to that of the mother's - the priest shared on social media a message saying that Catholics must "not retreat from defending life".

One pensioner leaving midday Mass yesterday felt the release of the statement by the man about to be married had been unfair on Fr Quigley, who will mark two years since he was ordained into the priesthood this month. "I think he could have shown Fr Damien some respect," said the 71-year-old parishioner.

"The analogy I would use is that if you join a golf club, you play by the rules. You don't take a hockey stick out if you're playing golf.

"A wee bit of respect was needed.

"I wouldn't say that Fr Damien was wrong but he could've done it differently, maybe, but I don't think he realised where (the Facebook message) was going.

"I think the groom should have gone back to him. The written word is always different than the spoken word."

The man, who has been attending the church since the early 1970s, added: "I feel sorry for Fr Damien."

Meanwhile, standing in front of the steps of the church, which looks out across Newry from its high vantage point on the Dublin Road, was Catherine Campbell. She said Fr Quigley was completely in the right to respond in the way he did to the groom's pro-choice activism.

"He was 100% right. He is our priest, he goes by the teaching of our Bible," she said.

"What wrong has he done? None. People are just appalled by the way Fr Damien has been treated.

"At the end of the day it is our Catholic teaching. We are Catholics and this is part of our teaching. You can't pick and choose what you believe in."

She added: "Fr Damien is for everyone. He treats everyone the same. I think it's an absolute witch-hunt going on."

Addressing the groom at the centre of the row, the 55-year-old added: "Why go behind the priest's back and throw it onto the Stephen Nolan show?

"If he (the groom) didn't want to speak to Fr Damien, why didn't he go to the head priest, or go to the bishop?

"But to actually go to Stephen Nolan first... it was just ridiculous."

She also insisted that all Fr Quigley was doing with his Facebook message was upholding the Catholic Church's anti-abortion position.

She said: "I hope everything is sorted. He's marrying my daughter and we've had no issues. He's a gentleman."

Ms Campbell's words of praise were also shared by Bernie Collins as she headed in for the noon Mass.

"He's a supportive, down-to-earth priest, who is very much part of the community and is always on call and always there when anybody needs him," she said.

Asked to give her position on the controversy, Ms Collins was diplomatic.

"Everyone's entitled to their views, and I'm not going to say whether it was right or not," she said.

"He's a really good person, doing a really good job," said another parishioner, who did not wish to be named.

"He would have massive support in the parish. He does a lot of good work with young people as well."

Meanwhile, Dean Kennedy, who said that he has been attending the church for a "long time", added: "I would support him 100%. He's been brilliant with my mum. My mum's been hospitalised and he's been very good to her. Day or night, he said call."

That was also the consensus of two women who had attended the earlier Mass service as they reflected on the tumultuous past few days for the priest as church-goers were arriving for the later service.

"Fr Damien has been here for the second year now and he's a wonderful priest, who would go to the ends of the Earth to help anybody," she said.

"He's worked so hard. He's so dedicated to his job and I just think what happened was absolutely abominable, that should not have happened at all. I help in the church and I just think what has happened is terrible."

The second woman, meanwhile, added: "He's been absolutely wonderful. He's actually going to be marrying my niece and he's sorted everything out her. He's been great.

"From the day and hour since Fr Damien came here, he's been there for us, the parishioners, to everyone. There has been no distinction made to anyone. He's a wonderful priest."

Belfast Telegraph

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