By Sarah Mac Donald
A well-known priest has congratulated Olympic medallist Kellie Harrington and her wife Mandy Loughlin on their wedding and criticised the Catholic Church’s stance on same-sex blessings as “out of date”.
Fr Paddy Byrne, parish priest of Abbeyleix, Ballinakill, Raheen in Co Laois, lamented the “sad” fact that he can bless tractors and cars but not a loving same-sex couple.
Speaking to the Irish Independent he said the boxer and healthcare worker “encompasses and personifies all that Christianity is about”.
In a tweet, Fr Byrne described Kelly Harrington as “a national treasure” and said he wished her and her partner health and happiness.
“I find it sad that as church we can bless cars, tractors…I’m not assuming this couple may want such ritual, but for many likewise who do we should,” he wrote.
He was congratulated by Labour TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, for his comments.
Fr Byrne told the Irish Independent the Church’s ban on same-sex blessings is “one of the reasons why the level of practice among under 60s at the moment is in freefall”.
He added: “It is not about diluting the truth of Christianity – it is about embracing the consequences of the radical love of Jesus Christ.”
Referring to the sense of exclusion many gay couples feel within Catholicism, he asked: “How can we continue to alienate these couples at such a happy moment in their lives and not offer at least some form of recognition – spiritual nourishment – and ritual?”
He said he did not know Kellie personally or anything about her religious background or tradition, but he felt it was a “paradox” that cars and tractors can be blessed when a committed couple could not.
“I wanted to acknowledge a happy moment in her life particularly in the context of Holy Week, which is a narrative about inclusion, love and welcome.
“These couples aren’t from the moon, they are from loving families, they are our siblings, they are our people, they are us – they are humanity.”
Stressing that he was “not a maverick in any way”, he said people on the ground in the Church buy into the need to offer gay couples a ritual to mark their commitment.
“I speak on behalf of the vast majority of the members of the parishes that I serve and particularly the younger members of those parishes. I speak on behalf of clergy as well. The majority of us find it not just disappointing but almost embarrassing that we cannot celebrate these occasions in our churches,” he said.
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