Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Priest quits as stress over church sale takes its toll

A Donegal parish priest has resigned on stress grounds in the wake of a long-running controversy over the closure of a church in his parish.

Fr Seamus Dagens, who is PP in Ballintra/Laghey tendered his shock resignation to his bishop, Dr Philip Boyce.

He said he was “frustrated” over the controversy about St Colmcille’s chapel at Laghey Barr which has not had a Sunday Mass in five years, and which he was proposing to sell.

A number of parishioners had opposed the proposal to sell the chapel, on the basis that it had been used for a weekly Mass until a year ago and was still used for rosaries and as a place of personal worship.

It is understood that weekend Masses in the small chapel were discontinued when friars in the Franciscan community at nearby Rossnowlagh withdrew their back-up service to the parish five years ago because of dwindling numbers.

Fr Dagens, who is 55, and the only priest in Ballintra parish, said the stress over the row was “beginning to accumulate”.

He said he had tendered his resignation to Dr Boyce as “things have been dragging on in terms of one thing and another and the old stress is beginning to creep up”.

“There have been demands placed on me which I simply cannot fulfil; there are many pressing things on my plate right now," he explained.

Fr Dagens admitted that he had "not given the Bishop much time to react” and added that he expected “things will begin to unravel” before long.

He defended his position on the future of the Laghey Barr chapel, saying money from the sale could be put to useful community purposes and that as it was, the little-used building was a drain on scarce parish funds.

Concern over the future of the Laghey Barr chapel escalated recently when Fr Dagens removed the tabernacle, cut off the electricity and proposed its sale to raise an estimated €100,000 towards an extension to Laghey national school.

He planned to place the tabernacle removed from St Colmcille's in a side-room in St Bridget's Church in Ballintra, which could then host weekday Masses, and thereby save on the cost of heating St Bridget’s each morning,

The Laghey Barr Community Association opposed the development and said its members would have been happy to have Mass celebrated in their out-chapel every month or two and would even try to source a priest themselves.

In an in formal ‘referendum’ held at Sunday Masses in the parish’s main church in Ballintra, Fr. Dagens had invited parishioners to indicate if they opposed the sale of the chapel by writing ‘No’ on their collection envelopes.

Only 47 people ‘voted’ against the sale of the chapel out of a total of 223 envelopes collected, thereby suggesting acquiescence in the priest’s proposal on the part of over three-quarters of parishioners.

But some opponents of the proposal claimed the ‘referendum’ was undemocratic because they have been withholding envelope contributions as a protest at the dropping of Mass in the chapel.


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(Source: CIN)