A conservative Protestant churchman has set out his reasons for staging a demonstration at Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral over the appointment of a Catholic priest as an ecumenical canon.
Fr Edward O’Donnell, parish priest of St Brigid’s in Belfast, will now be entitled to read scripture, lead prayers and preach at the cathedral, after his appointment as a Roman Catholic ecumenical canon in the Church of Ireland,
During his installation on Sunday some 50 protesters stood outside carrying placards with statements such as “No Popery”.
Rev David McLaughlin, secretary of the Government and Morals committee of the Free Presbyterian Church, helped organise the protest.
The aim, he said, was to defend “the doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone”.
He added: “Our stand is not against Mr O’Donnell as a person. We are sure he is a nice man, but it is the theology he preaches and stands for.
“We have no doubt that his appointment will lead to a further dissolution of the Protestant faith within the Church of Ireland cathedral.
“How soon will it be until the Mass, the Confessional, worship of Mary, prayers for the dead, penance, are all introduced into the life and witness of the cathedral itself?”
The Evangelical Protestant Society issued a statement saying that although this was not the first appointment of a Roman Catholic priest to the cathedral, “the move is nevertheless both significant and alarming”.
The Very Rev John Mann, Dean of St Anne’s, said clergy are made canons of the cathedral in recognition of a particular contribution to the life of the church in their diocese or elsewhere.
“The Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church have established ecumenical relationships,” he said. “Naturally we don’t agree on everything, but our unity is based on the love of one Christian for another, as prayed for by Christ himself.”
Symbolically, Fr Edward O’Donnell’s election and his acceptance of the post “reflects our deep need for continuing healing and reconciliation” he added.
The Church of Ireland said Fr O’Donnell was not available for comment.
Several weeks ago, ex-priest Denis Bradley said differences between Protestant and Catholic churches over Mass were “the elephant in the church”.
Writing about the recent funeral of Bishop Edward Daly, he lamented the fact Protestant clergy who attended were barred from taking communion.