'˜All Protestants should avoid the act of blasphemy': DUP councillor

Following calls for the Orange Order to review its ban on members attending Catholic church services, a DUP councillor has urged all Protestants to 'avoid attendance at any mass'.

Tom Elliott (centre) shakes hands with Mickey Harte and other GAA members at the funeral mass for murdered police officer Ronan Kerr in 2011. Also pictured is Danny Kennedy MLA (right)
Tom Elliott (centre) shakes hands with Mickey Harte and other GAA members at the funeral mass for murdered police officer Ronan Kerr in 2011. Also pictured is Danny Kennedy MLA (right)

Earlier this week, the Order’s county chaplain for Belfast and a number of leading Orangemen said it would be helpful if the subject was brought forward for discussion.

Rev Mervyn Gibson told the BBC on Wednesday he thought the ban “harked back to a different era,” but said he would not initiate any change himself on such a potentially divisive issue.

The discussion led to leading Orangemen Tom Elliott MP and Danny Kennedy MLA restating their belief that the Institution should consider lifting the ban – although both stressed that any rule change must come from within the organisation rather than outside pressure.

The Ulster Unionist pair faced an Orange disciplinary hearing in 2011 after attending the funeral mass for murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.

On Friday, Ballymoney DUP councillor and evangelical Christian John Finlay joined the debate by calling on Orangemen, and all other Protestants, to “strenuously avoid attendance...out of respect for our Saviour”.

Cllr Finlay, who is an assistant to North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey, said he was making his plea on “purely doctrinal” grounds.

“Some Protestants accept that the mass is blasphemous, but they justify attendance at a funeral by asserting that they are only there to pay their respects and do not participate in any way in the mass itself.

“But, to my mind, that is a bridge too far. Surely, out of respect for our Saviour, we must never willingly be present at any such act of blasphemy. The sorts of arguments being put forward in the last few days in favour of attendance are largely pragmatic and avoid the key points of doctrine.”

Highlighting the fundamental doctrinal differences between the two faiths, Cllr Finlay said the Reformers “took great exception to transubstantiation” – the belief that the bread and wine offered at mass becomes the body and blood of Christ.

“They, quite rightly, regarded it as a blasphemy and a repeating of Christ’s complete and final sacrifice upon the cross. The position of the Reformers is reflected in the subordinate standards of many Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

“The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to the mass as ‘most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice’. The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles describe masses as ‘blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits’,” Cllr Finlay added.

An Orange Order spokesman said any discussions around a possible rule change was “an internal matter” for the Institution. However, a survey of Orange Order members in Co Fermanagh in 2014 found that almost 50% would be happy to see the ban lifted, while only 25% said they would vote for it to remain.

Lord Trimble was threatened with expulsion in 1998 when he attended the funeral masses for three Omagh bomb victims.

Afterwards, he said: “There are circumstances where it is one’s duty as a human being, as a Christian – indeed even as a politician – to go to services in other churches.”