Priest returns after 23-year break

 

A Catholic priest was welcomed back into his parish yesterday with a standing ovation, 23 years after being suspended by the Dublin diocese.

Father Michael Keane broke down in tears during his first address from the pulpit in St Jude's in Willington, Templeogue, since 1977.

"I could not ask for a better Christmas present," he told the congregation. "This is an extremely happy day for me." Long after the celebratory Mass was over, scores of parishioners remained to congratulate him. Bishop Eamonn Walsh, who concelebrated the Mass, said: "I apologise to you, Father Keane, for any hurt you've endured during the years.

"In the Jubilee year of reconciliation, the Dublin Diocese is anxious that the rift between it and Father Keane should be healed. We'd like to let by-gones be by-gones." Thanking Bishop Walsh, Father Keane said: "I know you had a big influence in bringing about this day."

Father Keane (76) was suspended by the then Archbishop Ryan in 1977.He was no longer entitled to say Mass in public or function as a priest in the parish. Father Keane claims the conflict arose because he felt restricted in the work he was allowed to do. "I just wanted to be let do my work, but the bishop told me to put my feet up or go out and play golf." However the church authorities said at the time that they had tried to arrange another position for Fr Keane in the Tuam Archdiocese.

Four years after losing his position in Willington, guards and bailiffs Father Keane was evicted from the presbytery.

He had served in the Tuam diocese before moving to Dublin. He left Tuam because of a conflict with bishops there. He was also a founding director of the Marriage Introductions Bureau in Knock, Co Mayo.

Members of the Willington parish have made regular appeals over the years for Father Keane to be reinstated, and he thanked one woman in particular, Ms Geraldine Grehan, saying "she wouldn't take no for an answer, she haunted Bishop Walsh about my plight".

One octogenarian friend of the priest, Ms Maura Buckley, too unwell to attend Mass for several years, also attended.

For many years Father Keane publicly protested against the suspension. He said yesterday: "I regret that I lost 23 years of my priesthood, I thought I had something to offer. But to be rehabilitated in the eyes of the parish is very precious to me." It is unlikely he will function actively as a priest as he is over the normal retirement age.