A married lesbian couple have returned to their roles at their local church in Athy Co Kildare after stepping down due to ‘pressure’ from a Catholic activist.
Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan, who married last July, stepped down from leadership positions in the St Michael’s church choirs due to what they described as pressure by editor of the conservative Catholic Voice newspaper Anthony Murphy.
The couple announced last Friday that they had been overwhelmed by local support for them to stay on in their positions in the Athy parish and that they would return to these roles at 6pm Mass on Saturday evening.
A video posted on Facebook at the weekend shows “Jacinta and Geraldine return to our inclusive Church & choir” and congratulates the Athy community for “proving we care in Athy and love all our community members equal”.
It features the choir singing at the Mass followed by a round of applause from the packed out church.
An earlier post of the video by local parish member Sandra O’Rourke-Glynn wrote “I have never enjoyed a mass as much - 5 priests, 8 altar servers, a full choir and a packed church” accompanied by the hashtag #everyoneiswelcome.
Mr Murphy, who was advised by gardaí not to attend Sunday Mass “for my own personal safety”, told The Irish Times that he and his family felt “shunned and terrorised by the local community in Athy”.
“People can strongly disagree with what I have said, however I ask people to look at which side the real hate is coming from,” said Mr Murphy. “This was never about asking Jacinta and Geraldine not to sing in the choir. It’s not about sexual orientation.”
He told The Irish Times that, because of their relationship, the couple had already resigned positions with the Lay Dominicans Ireland of which Ms Flanagan had been president and Ms O’Donnell was president of its Athy chapter.
He emphasised it was not a case of gay people not being welcome in the church. “Of course they are welcome in church and to sing in the choir, but they could not assume leadership roles because of the contradiction,” he said.
The Catholic Voice editor criticised the local parish priest for not returning his calls and requests of support in “diffusing the situation”.
“When he talks about inclusion and equality, what does he actually mean? It seems in modern Ireland it is only those who shout loudest and have the mentality of the mob who are called equal.”
Mr Murphy added that local gardaí were struggling to find the time to investigate the threats he and his family had received in recent days due to a lack of resources in the local force.
“Because of the lack of resources within the guards in Ireland it allows this lynch mob mentality to emerge unchallenged and people like myself now are subject to living in fear and being ostracised by the local community.”
He said he and his family would “not be intimidated out of the parish or out of the town” and accused the Catholic Church and Sinn Féin locally of having entered into “a bizarre alliance” against him.
Ms O’Donnell told Kildare FM last week that the couple decided to step down when they were made aware of Anthony Murphy’s feelings and saw “some of the very negative” and “hateful stuff” on Mr Murphy’s Facebook page.
She said she also received a personal text from the Catholic Voice editor.
Ms O’Donnell and Ms Flanagan have agreed to speak only to Kildare FM radio since the release of the story last week.