A married lesbian couple who felt pressured to stand down from choir and Minister of the Eucharist roles in the Catholic parish of Athy, Co Kildare, are to return to those roles at 6pm Mass there on Saturday evening.
Jacinta O'Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan married last July and stepped down from leadership positions in the St Michael's church choirs due to what they described as pressure by local Catholic activist and editor of the conservative Catholic Voice newspaper Anthony Murphy. He had also conveyed his views to parish priest Canon Frank McEvoy who, the couple said, had been supportive of them.
On Friday afternoon Ms O’Donnell said they had been overwhelmed by local support for them to stay on and had decided to do so. Athy solicitor Frank Taaffe and local Athy Community College principal Richard Daly both expressed their support for the couple on Kildare FM radio this afternoon.
Mr Murphy told The Irish Times he believed their decision to return was as a result of "a campaign of hate and threats of physical violence" against him which the Garda was investigating. He said gardaí had advised him "not to attend Sunday Mass this Sunday [at St Michael's] for my own personal safety".
He and his family "will not be intimidated out of the parish or out of the town". He accused the Catholic Church and Sinn Féin locally of having entered into "a bizarre alliance" against him.
Speaking to Kildare FM on Thursday, Ms O'Donnell said they had stepped down "when we were made aware of Anthony Murphy's feelings and when we saw some of the very negative and I suppose hateful stuff, really, that was on his Facebook page etc and then when I got the personal text message from him."
She continued: “The only thing we tried to do is provide a music ministry . . . to enhance the Eucharist and we felt that bringing this trouble to the church door would be really futile and negate anything we were trying to do.” It was “and still is, a difficult decision that we came to. We are both very upset by it,” she said.
Mr Murphy told The Irish Times that, because of their relationship, the couple had already resigned positions with the Lay Dominicans Ireland of which Ms Flanagan had been president and Ms O'Donnell was president of its Athy chapter. It was "a similar issue" in Athy parish, he felt.
Both women were “in church leadership positions as Ministers of the Eucharist and ran both the children’s choir and the gospel choir”. They “had chosen to marry in a public way, issuing invitations to choir members,” he said.
“The choir is on the altar, almost centre stage with the priest. It’s a very public contradiction [with church teaching banning same-sex marriage]. The church has to decide whether it believes what it teaches,” he said.
He emphasised it was not a case of gay people not being welcome in the church. “Of course they are welcome in church and to sing in the choir, but they could not assume leadership roles because of the contradiction,” he said.
He instanced what it could lead to; how a young girl on the choir had come home to her mother in Athy when she heard Ms Flanagan and Ms O’Donnell were married and announced she was going to marry her girlfriend too when she grew up.
"If Tesco had a sign saying 'don't buy here, go to Dunnes' or if someone at a Sinn Féin Ardfheis said 'Vote Fine Gael', they'd do something," he said. The email he sent the couple on July 23rd, three days after they married, emphasised that he did not wish to judge them or fall out with them.
It said, he recalled, that they “should have the decency to resign from the choirs and as Eucharistic minister, in the same way as you had the decency to resign from Lay Dominicans. Anything else would be a contradiction and hypocrisy.”
He accused local Athy Sinn Féin councillor Thomas Redmond of launching "a campaign of social media terrorism" against him, "Sinn Féin who oppose almost everything the church stands for, supports the parish priest [in this case]. It's a bizarre alliance," he said.
Speaking to The Irish Times Cllr Redmond described both women concerned as "extremely well known and pillars of the society in Kildare". His Facebook page on their case had received "500 to 600 supporters", he said.
Neither Canon McEvoy or the Dublin Archdiocese, to which Athy parish belongs, would comment on the case. Ms O’Donnell and Ms Flanagan agreed to speak only to Kildare FM radio.