Church says homophobic abuse against MLA candidate 'unacceptable'
THE Catholic Church has condemned alleged homophobic abuse against an assembly election candidate while canvassing outside a chapel in Co Antrim.
Connor Duncan claimed a woman called him "disgusting" and "filth" as he distributed leaflets after Mass at St Mary's Church in Glenravel, outside Ballymena.
He said she also tried to block the car park exit with her vehicle and refused to move for other Mass-goers until he and his two canvassers left the area.
The woman has since contacted The Irish News to strongly deny his version of events, insisting that she did not use any abusive or homophobic language.
She accepted that she had stopped beside the car park gates and later followed the SDLP candidate into the chapel as he tried to speak to the priest.
The woman said she has "nothing against gay people", but was trying to prevent Mr Duncan promoting same-sex marriage within the boundary of church grounds.
Mr Duncan contacted police to make them aware of the incident, but he does not intend to pursue a complaint at this stage.
The 28-year-old North Antrim candidate said: "I was shocked at this barrage of abuse because I have never really experienced it before.
"It was a bit upsetting, the fact that that's what people are saying about you is not a nice feeling. You can feel a bit degraded."
Mr Duncan said the woman and her husband took issue with them offering leaflets to parishioners as they left the church car park following Mass.
"They said, 'There's something wrong with you, you can't call yourself a Catholic, you chose this lifestyle'," he added.
Mr Duncan said they left the area, but the woman confronted him again when he went to explain to the priest what had happened.
Fr Edward McGee, spokesman for the Down and Connor diocese, yesterday spoke against homophobic abuse following the incident.
"Any form of homophobic bullying, discrimination or abuse is inconsistent with the teaching and values of the Catholic Church and is unacceptable and should not be condoned," he said.
"Any sincere differences raised in relation to issues such as same-sex marriage should always be expressed in a lawful, respectful and constructive manner."
He added: "Canvassing is an important dimension of the democratic process of election. Canvassing should be carried out in a sensitive and appropriate manner respecting the sanctity of places of worship and the rights of those who attend them to their privacy.
"Canvassing outside the boundaries of church properties is a decision for individual parties."