Priest accuses Minister of having ‘ABC, Any But Catholic’ attitude

‘Judging my morality is probably above your pay grade,’ Simon Harris tells parish priest

A Co Wicklow priest has accused Minister for Health Simon Harris of having an "ABC, Any but Catholic" attitude after the Wicklow TD praised a school for ceasing its involvement with a Catholic agency in the provision of sex education.

Parish priest of Arklow Fr Pádraig Ó Cochláin was engaged in a testy Twitter exchange with Mr Harris on Sunday in the wake of the decision by Castleknock Educate Together, Dublin to cancel plans to have Accord, the Catholic Bishops' marriage advisory service, teach the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme to its pupils.

In a tweet Mr Harris described the decision on foot of parental protests as: “Positive news. Sexual and relationship health is integral to overall health and wellbeing. Important our children have access to unbiased information. We must respect religious belief but all health education must always be based on facts, not ethos.”

Fr Ó Cochláin tweeted in response: “Beware of those who kill body and soul together. Simon’s statement has its own inherent ethos which is ABC, Any But Catholic! Health includes body AND (his emphasis) soul. Simon rejects Jesus’ teaching given by HIM to His Church and embraces the culture of Death ABCD.”


To which Mr Harris replied: “Thanks Fr Ó Cochláin for message. Judging my morality is probably above your pay grade. I’m happy to leave that to the man upstairs. Spreading division & judging others so harshly without ever having met them is not the Christianity that I know & respect. Every good wish, Simon.”

Speaking to The Irish Times Fr Ó Cochláin said: “Look, I’m not a nasty man I hope. In the heat of battle people can make statements.”

‘Humble priest’

In Arklow two years, he did not think he had met Mr Harris but “if he ever wanted to meet I’d be absolutely delighted to do so,” he said.

"I'm only a humble priest, only a servant of the people," he said, "but I believe diversity should include the Catholic Church. I don't see what harm Accord was going to do. It's a different church today. It had its difficulties in the past," said Fr Ó Cochláin.

He referred to commentary that today the Catholic Church in Ireland has been described as one of the safest places for children due to its enforced child protection measures.

“But I don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” he continued. “We can all be sensitive and people are allowed to be sensitive, but it seems that we can be diverse as long as we are not being Catholic,” he said.

Redemptorist priest Fr Gerry O’Connor, of the Association of Catholic Priests’s leadership team, also responded to Mr Harris’s “Positive news” tweet.

He tweeted: “Minister, so your argument is that there is One truth, One way. There are Nonnegotiable certaintities [sic]. It really sounds like an attitude that prevailed when a certain organisation was very powerful in Ireland. Perhaps you are right. However my instincts veer differently.”

The decision by Castleknock Educate Together school not to continue using Accord to provide its RSE programme followed protests by parents since last month and threats that they would withdraw their children from the school.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times