The Orange Order has defended itself against claims that it is a sectarian organisation, insisting that it is committed to playing its part in a “truly shared future” for Northern Ireland.
The statement comes after former Presbyterian moderator, Rev Ken Newell, said there is a “reservoir of anti-Catholicism and sectarianism” in the institution.
Rev Newell claimed that the Order needed to address the problem by engaging in dialogue with Catholics.
Dr Newell, who is a former Orange Order chaplain, told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme on Monday: “The Orange Order has a problem with sectarianism and one of the biggest problems is that it is not talking.
“The World Evangelical Alliance, for 12 years, was in dialogue with the Church of Rome. As is the Anglican Church, as is the World Communion of Reformed churches, as is the Pentecostal, as is the World Baptist Association.
“If you want to learn about the Catholic Church what I would suggest is – and there is a big challenge to all us as Christians – that we all have to flush sectarianism out of our hearts and minds, and the best way to do that is by dialogue of life, a dialogue of truth.”
Dr Newell’s remarks were criticised by some unionists, including Lagan Valley MP and leading Orangeman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who described them as “outdated and unfair”.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, a defiant Dr Newell stood over his comments and called on the Orange Order to produce examples of how it is actively seeking to improve community relations in the Province.
An Orange Order spokesperson said it is “unashamedly a Protestant, Bible-believing organisation”.
In a statement, the Order highlighted engagement with senior representatives of the Roman Catholic church, ongoing outreach work with the maintained school sector and successful initiatives with the GAA as a testament to the fact that the institution “recognises that it does not exist in a cultural vacuum”.
The statement added: “We make no apology that we encourage our members to hold fast to the biblical truths rediscovered by the reformers.
“Being a major stakeholder in this Province, the Orange Institution is committed to playing its part in a truly shared future for Northern Ireland.
“This is underlined by our ongoing community outreach and our Museums of Orange Heritage which challenge stereotypes and inform and educate a wider audience of our cultural significance.”