Laicisation of Catholic priest challenged by ACP as ‘unacceptable’

Bishop challenged with having ‘completely distorted’ minutes of a meeting

The laicisation of a priest who appeared in drag on a television programme has been described as “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable,” by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

Fr Richard Geoghegan, parish priest at Ballyneale, Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary, appeared as 'Shirley Bassey' on the 2017 RTE programme 'Francis Brennan's Tour of Vietnam'. His laicisation was confirmed after a meeting with the Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Phonsie Cullinan.

In a statement on Thursday, the ACP expressed “dismay and sadness” on hearing that Fr Geoghegan had been laicised and was no longer a priest.

The Association also said Bishop Cullinan had produced "completely distorted" minutes of the meeting he attended with Fr Geoghegan and a member of the ACP leadership team.


Responding to the ACP statement Bishop Cullinan said that, "of his own accord, Richard Geoghegan petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation from the priesthood on 31st March 2021. At the meeting last March, Richard attended the diocesan offices, in the company of a chosen colleague, to sign the request to the Holy Father for laicisation."

The Bishop continued: “On 15th December 2021, Pope Francis granted Richard Geoghegan’s petition, meaning that he is no longer a priest. I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for his future.”

A spokesman for Bishop Cullinan added that he would be “making no further comment on what is a private and confidential matter.”

The ACP said it had been contacted by a priest in 2020 who said the then Fr Geoghegan “was being ‘pushed out of priesthood’ – even though there was no allegation or official complaint against him.”

Subsequently, a member of the ACP leadership team accompanied Fr Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan at which the priest “expressed his wish to remain a priest of the diocese. Bishop Cullinan responded that he knew that Richard did not want that. The Bishop added that he felt it best for Richard if he left the priesthood.”

The ACP statement continued that “the Bishop outlined all the reasons why he felt Richard should leave – including a mental health crisis that Richard had experienced. Sometime after the meeting, when Richard obtained the minutes, he discovered they were completely distorted and only included some of what the bishop had said and nothing of what Richard or the ACP member had said.”

It claimed Fr Geoghegan was removed from public ministry by Bishop Cullinan last year and “was not informed of this nor did any formal process take place to alert him to it.” He was then asked to leave his house and “because he felt unsupported and ‘not wanted’ by Bishop Cullinan, Richard reluctantly signed the laicisation papers.”

After 28 years of service to the diocese Mr Geoghegan, at 54, was left “ without an income, accommodation and dependant on a derisory financial settlement,” it said.

Bishop Cullinan's treatment of Richard Geoghegan "fell well below the 'pastoral care' a bishop as 'a shepherd' is expected to exercise in relation to his priest, a standard of respect, support and care that is enshrined in the law of the Catholic Church and which priests have a right to enjoy," the ACP said.

In a tweet last Sunday night Richard Geoghegan said “I entered seminary in 1987 at the age of 19. I was ordained in 1993 at the age of 25: On 7/1/22 I was officially dismissed by Rome. On Friday 14/01/22 my Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times