A MAN previously banned from training to become a Catholic priest because he was born outside marriage has attacked the church's treatment of 'illegitimate' children.
Medically retired RUC officer John Mullen has spent years writing to church officials seeking clarification on a canon law regarding the matter.
The 78-year-old learned of the cruel rule's existence more than 30 years ago and since then has refused to set foot in his local church, despite his strict religious upbringing.
"It is an absolute disgrace and not something that the God I know would ever agree to," John says.
"I have been so angry about it over the years.
"As an illegitimate man, it makes me feel like a second-class citizen."
Mr Mullen was brought up by his mother's oldest sister in Limavady.
He had a happy childhood but sadly never got to know his mum.
John, who is married and has two daughters and three grandchildren, joined the RUC when he was 29 and served until his 40s, retiring from his position as a sergeant in 1975 after being injured in an attack in Londonderry. One of his colleagues and a civilian were killed, and John broke both of his legs, when a car deliberately ploughed into a vehicle checkpoint.
It wasn't his first brush with death - he had a narrow escape when he spotted a bomb underneath his car earlier in his career - but the incident marked the end of his time with the police.
While he has comes to terms with the near-misses, John still struggles with the fact that his mother abandoned him - and he believes the Catholic Church added to his pain.
"My mum was living in Donegal and she got the bus to a wee village not so far from my hometown of Limavady to her eldest sister's house and gave birth to me, then she put her coat on and went back to Donegal," he explains.
"Her sister and her husband brought me up. We had nothing growing up, but we had everything because there was a lot of love.
"I never had a relationship with my mother, who is still living today.
"She doesn't know my children or grandchildren.
"Everyone tells me I was born in a different era, but when I was 10 my adopted parents' eldest daughter got pregnant outside of marriage and her eldest brother asked his father when he was going to put her out of the house.
"He didn't put her out. For me, that meant he was a father in every sense of the word."
John's aunt wanted him to become a priest, something he had never considered.
When he found out that church regulations essentially barred him from the priesthood, he was horrified.
The Code of Canon Law, published in 1917, required applicants to the priesthood who were born outside of marriage to receive a special dispensation from the Holy See.
However, that law no longer applies. The requirement was dropped in a new version of the regulation that was published in 1983.
After years of raising objections with the church, Bishop Donal McKeown has written to John, offering to meet with him to discuss the issues raised.
"When I was told I could never have become a priest because I was illegitimate I couldn't believe it," John says. "I went straight to my local parochial house and the priest said to me, 'Yes, it is true'.
"I have never set foot there since. It made me feel like a second-class citizen.
"I still have my faith, but I know that my God would never make a law like that, one that really hurts so much.
"I have a folder three inches thick of correspondence with priests, cardinals and bishops.
"I even wrote to the pope about it, but of course I didn't get an answer.
"Most of them did write back to say they were sorry but there was nothing they could do.
"I'm a very proud man and I think the church has a lot to answer for in terms of how it treated people, especially illegitimate children."