Catholics in Ireland welcomed a lesbian couple back to their parish after a right-wing parishioner pressured the couple to leave last year.
Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan had resigned as choir leaders for St. Michael’s Church in Athy, County Kildare. Last week, they returned to the parish and resumed their roles with overwhelming support from the local community. The couple was interviewed by radio station KFM and said they received public support that “overwhelmed and humbled” them. O’Donnell told The Journal:
“We will never be able to sufficiently thank you, the people of our congregation, the people of our town Athy, for your love, your support and your prayers. Buoyed by all of this support, we as a choir will be returning to sing at 6pm Mass in Athy tomorrow evening. . .It is our wish that the focus should now turn to the love of God and his mercy.”
The couple married in July 2015, after which the editor of a right-wing Catholic newspaper publicly criticized them and contacted them through a “very personal text.” Facing pressure, they resigned from the music ministry, as well as from leadership positions with Lay Dominicans Ireland.
O’Donnell said their whole purpose in serving in the music ministry was to “enhance the Eucharist,” but, during the dust-up last year they felt that perpetuating the controversy fueled by this right wing editor “would be really futile and would negate anything we’re trying to do.” So, they made the “very difficult decision” to resign, despite being supported by the pastor, Fr. Frank McEvoy, and fellow parishioners.
The Mass welcoming O’Donnell and Flanagan back was quite the liturgical celebration, reported The Irish Times. Parishioner Sandy O’Rourke-Glynn posted a video on Facebook, which you can view below. O’Rourke-Glynn commentedd, “I have never enjoyed a mass as much – 5 priests, 8 altar servers, a full choir and a packed church.”
The Mass is a positive ending for an ugly incident. This is not the first time right wing members of the church have targeted LGBT people, and it is likely not the last. Recent examples include the forced resignations of Catholic News Service editor Tony Spence and Catholic Relief Services’ Rick Estridge, as well as denial of communion to Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral. But the community in Athy has exhibited Irish hospitality, especially the Catholics at St. Michael’s Church who lived their faith by standing up for inclusion and justice against right-wing attacks. And by loving one another and remaining faithful to God, Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan certainly enhanced the Eucharist last Saturday. Thankfully, they can now do so at many Masses to come.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry