A rainbow Pride flag and a Tricolour flown at the Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Ballyfermot have been removed on the advice of the Dublin Catholic archdiocese.
It pointed out that “on special occasions only” the papal flag and/or the national flag can be flown on church grounds in the archdiocese such as “for the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation”.
The flags were flown last week by decision of the parish pastoral council and parish priest Fr Adrian Egan.
However, Fr Egan said the flags had attracted “a lot of messages in various forms that were aggressive and hostile and nasty and loud and accusatory and condemnatory and claiming that we were up to all kinds of things”.
He was told “that here in Assumption we were pursuing an ideology or promoting an ideology or philosophy that was anti-Church, that was anti-Catholic, that was filled with hate, that we were undermining Church teaching, that we were promoting a lifestyle.”
Speaking in a weekend homily, Fr Egan said he was told that the parish was “doing the Devils work and we were advocates of Satan. We were advocates of sodomy and of paedophilia and all kinds of things.
“Because I’m the parish priest some of it came directed at me. I was the anti-Christ, the heathen, I should be ashamed, I should be removed, I should be dismissed and somebody said to me ‘enjoy the next time it snows because you won’t see it where you’re going to’,” he said. “It did get to me, I will admit.”
He said the archdiocese “obviously had been getting flak over this too” and phoned to point out its protocols and that the flags should be taken down.
“Am I in trouble (with church authorities)? Probably. I’d say lots of letters and complaints and phone calls have gone to various offices in the Church.”
He said he hoped church authorities would “see what’s happening here and be pastoral in their response”.
Fr Egan said everybody “was welcome in the company of Jesus. Jesus turned nobody away and as long as I’m parish priest here that will always be the case”.
“And I am very proud that we have a parish pastoral council too that is willing to take risks to proclaim that message,” he said.
He explained how June, Pride Month, was a significant time for gay people. He and the parish pastoral council were “conscious that there were gay men and women who live in our parish and their families and they’ve often told us how hurt they’ve been maybe by the language that the church has sometimes used in regard to them and how maybe they sometimes feel there’s no place for them here and they feel excluded”.
They decided to put up the Irish flag and the rainbow flag in the hope that seeing them “might become a visual sign from outside” for gay people “that they might feel ‘oh, I’m being remembered, I’m being lifted up in God’s house. Maybe I am welcome there’.
“That was our plan, that was our intention,” the priest said.
A post on the parish Facebook page, accompanying a picture of the flags flying outside the church, carried the message: "In the classic words of the good copper 'move along folks, nothing much to see here!' Just an effort by a parish pastoral council to say to our gay brothers and sisters 'God loves you, your parish loves you, and you are welcome here.' Applies to all of you too! That's all it is folks, but conspiracy theories abound these days!"
But, Fr Egan said, “it wasn’t long before the proverbial hit the fan”.
There were “lots of messages of thanks” and some from “very good Catholic people who were confused by the flag” who “were hurt and dismayed by it”.
Then there were those messages that “were not so civil and polite,” he said.
Fr Egan apologised “to all those genuine people who were confused by our putting the flag up, also to those hurt by the taking of the flag down.”
The Ballyfermot Anti-Racism Network and the Ballyfermot Youth Service have organised a vigil for this Friday at 6.30pm at the roundabout near the church “in solidarity with all the Pride community and young people in Ballyfermot”.