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Priest’s take on border ‘alien to parishioners’

By Paul Ainsworth

A NORTH Belfast priest has hit back at claims by a Glengormley colleague that Roman Catholics are beginning to prefer to be a part of the United Kingdom, describing the attitude as “alien” to locals.

Father Gary Donegan of Holy Cross in Ardoyne said he welcomed the “debate” sparked by Father Eugene O’Neill this week, but denied in his experience that the border issue was “irrelevant”.

The outspoken comments in a unionist newspaper reflect a changing attitude towards Catholicism in the Republic due to the on-going abuse scandals which have rocked the clergy, according to  Fr O’Neill of St Mary’s on the Hill who claimed that Catholics would be better served as part of Britain.

However, speaking of his local flock, Fermanagh-born Fr Donegan said despite ‘difficulties’ between church and state in the South, parishioners in North Belfast felt differently to the Glengormley priest.

“There’s no doubt this attitude is being felt in some quarters, but not in my parish,” Fr Donegan told the North Belfast News.

“Father Eugene has every right to his own opinion, and I actually welcome the debate. I even agree with parts of what he is saying in terms of the relationship between church and state in Ireland, but I certainly wouldn’t agree that the border between North and South is no longer an issue, and in my experience, Catholics in North Belfast would tend to feel the same.”

Referring to the scandals which in recent times saw the relationship between the Republic and the Vatican plummet to an all-time low, he continued: “So many mistakes have been made and many have suffered, we must not forget that.

However the church has survived this, and both it and the state must ‘man up’ to their responsibilities to parishioners.

“I personally think the attitude now taken by Fr O’Neill would be alien on the streets of Ardoyne and other parts of the city. However, I’m sure like me most parishioners welcome the debate. If what we believe in can’t stand up to a little debate, then it’s not worth believing in.”

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