Belfast Telegraph

Top Orangeman's message of respect ignored amid howls of criticism

By Ruth Dudley Edwards

Prominent Orangeman Wallace Thompson has been in the news for saying Protestants should avoid using the term RIP — ‘Requiescant in pace’ or ‘rest in peace’ — which he regards as a Roman Catholic superstition, since prayers for the dead are unbiblical.

This set off the usual denunciations of “Orange dinosaurs” and “hate-filled bigots” on social media, with little attention paid to what Mr Thompson posted on Facebook before the Eleventh Night.

Though bonfires are part of the tradition, he wrote, some in Belfast were “massive skyscrapers and the atmosphere around them seems sinister, dark and menacing”.

“If anyone dares to warn of the danger or makes any suggestions, they are denounced as anti-loyalist,” he added. “‘It’s part of our culture’ is the mantra.”

Conor Healy, a former special adviser of Martin McGuinness, asked in a tweet if Mr Thompson would acknowledge that “putting a replica of a coffin with the face of my late friend Martin McGuinness on a bonfire is wrong?”

“Yes it is wrong Conor,” answered Mr Thompson.

“I condemn it without reservation.”

I’ve met many Orangemen like Mr Thompson, who are thoroughly decent people who take a dim view of Roman Catholicism but would never be disrespectful to or about Catholics.  And although Orange HQ has been tardy, it has been involved in a great deal of outreach to Catholics in the last decade. It also welcomed former Irish President Mary McAleese as a guest of honour at the opening of the Belfast Orange interpretive centre.

Which is not to ignore the truth that there are quite a few anti-Catholic Orangemen.

Religious sectarianism — which on the Catholic side has mostly morphed into political sectarianism — has been a curse in Ulster for centuries.

There are hate-filled republicans vandalising Orange halls (two more were damaged at the weekend) who would justify themselves by claiming to be attacking citadels of bigotry.

Ken Newell, a former Presbyterian Moderator, said in a discussion on Talkback yesterday that the Orange Order has a problem with sectarianism and anti-Catholicism.

“We all have to flush sectarianism out of our hearts and minds and the best way to do that is by dialogue,” he said.

Dr Newell had the advantage of working abroad, away from what he described as the “cramped evangelical mindset” that had developed at home, and on his return became a cross-community peacemaker.

Mr Thompson has every right to warn his co-religionists to think about what they say, but it is his message of respect for others and his openness to dialogue that are far more important.

  • Ruth Dudley Edwards is the author of The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait Of The Loyal Institutions

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