Army apologises over remarks about Higgins

Chaplain noted absence of reference to Christianity in President’s Christmas message

Army head chaplain Msgr Eoin Thynne: had mentioned the President’s message in ‘reference to the general change in society with reference to the meaning of Christmas’, an Army spokesman said. Photograph: Defence Forces

Army head chaplain Msgr Eoin Thynne: had mentioned the President’s message in ‘reference to the general change in society with reference to the meaning of Christmas’, an Army spokesman said. Photograph: Defence Forces

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 10:30

Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle has conveyed his regret for any embarrassment caused to President Michael D Higgins as a result of a homily given by the Army’s head chaplain on Christmas Eve.

Msgr Eoin Thynne, who is head chaplain to the Defence Forces, used his homily at Windy Arbour Church, Dublin, to comment on the absence of any reference to the Christian faith in the President’s message, which was delivered on December 22nd.

Since that homily, Msgr Thynne has also voiced concerns about the crib allegedly being removed from the Defence Forces headquarters in Newbridge, Co Kildare. He said these concerns had been raised with him by others.

Msgr Thynne’s homily was raised on RTÉ’s Liveline programme on Thursday. Some callers said the President should have made reference to Christianity in his Christmas message.

After the programme, Lieut Gen O’Boyle contacted Áras an Uachtaráin to “convey the regret of the head chaplain for any embarrassment that may have been caused to the President”.


‘Unfair interpretation’
In a statement issued through the Defence Forces press office, a spokesman said the Christmas Eve homily was not intended to be a criticism of the President, who is the commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces. Those who saw it as such would be putting a “particularly unfair interpretation of this homily”.

Instead, it said, Msgr Thynne had mentioned the President’s message in “reference to the general change in society with reference to the meaning of Christmas”.

“This homily should not be construed in any way as a criticism of the President or his Christmas message.”

When contacted, Msgr Thynne referred all inquiries to the Defence Forces press office. Msgr Thynne is a Catholic priest and a member of the Defence Forces.

A Defence Forces spokesman said it was not correct to state, as had been said by an ex-Army officer on Liveline, that an Army chaplain had the same rank as those who he was dealing with in the forces.

He explained that chaplains have no rank and “it is the absence of rank that facilitates the confidential interaction between the chaplain and members of the Defence Forces of all ranks”. However, chaplains are subject to the command authority at unit level.

The forces spokesman declined to comment on the claim the crib was removed from the Newbridge headquarters or on who might have ordered its removal. He also declined to say whether or not Msgr Thynne will be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

A spokesman for Mr Higgins declined to comment on Lieut Gen O’Boyle’s comments, but referred to a passage in his Christmas address that included a reference to the spiritual dimension. “The message of Christmas, shared by many faiths, invites us to care for one another and to be, in an ethical sense, one another’s keepers,” it said.

Though the President is constitutionally head of the Defence Forces, the Minister for Defence exercises day-to-day operational command.

One caller to Liveline, who was identified only as Eleanor, said it was “totally inappropriate and self-indulgent” for Msgr Thynne to criticise the President, who is his superior.

* This article was amended on January 4th, 2013. A photograph of Fr Pat Mernagh was used in error instead of one of Msgr Eoin Thynne.