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Orangeman 'will not attend' cathedral service involving new Catholic canon

Rev Mervyn Gibson said he will not attend any service at St Anne's Cathedral involving a newly-appointed Catholic canon. Picture by Arthur Allison

A SENIOR Orangeman has insisted he will not attend any service at Belfast's St Anne's Cathedral involving its newly-appointed Catholic canon.

Assistant Grand Master Rev Mervyn Gibson said he was opposed to the installation of Fr Edward O'Donnell as the first priest to serve on the Church of Ireland cathedral's governing chapter.

However, the Presbyterian minister did say he would support the lifting of a ban on members entering Catholic churches.

Fr O'Donnell, parish priest of St Brigid’s in south Belfast, last month became an ecumenical canon at St Anne's, alongside Methodist minister Rev Ruth Patterson and a Presbyterian minister, also Rev Ruth Patterson.

The role allows him to say or sing morning or evening prayer, read scripture, preach and assist at occasional services.

But Rev Gibson said yesterday he "would not be present" at services involving the priest, whose installation prompted a protest by members of the Free Presbyterian Church.

“I disagree with it, I wouldn't see it happen in my own denomination," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

"I would certainly be very vocal about it, but in my form of protest of him being appointed I wouldn't be present for the service."

Minutes earlier Rev Gibson had become the most senior member of the Orange Order to publicly support removing a ban on members attending Catholic services, including weddings and funerals.

Fr Edward O'Donnell being installed as an Ecumenical Canon of St Anne's Cathedral. Pictured with Belfast Dean John Mann. Picture by Ann McManus

However, when asked if he would bring forward the proposal himself, he said there was "too much going on" at present.

As recently as 2011, an attempt was made to discipline senior Ulster Unionists Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy for attending Requiem Mass for murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr. No action was taken.

Speaking to the Irish News, Rev Gibson said he was asked "two separate questions" during the interview and gave a personal opinion that he was "happy enough" to see the ban lifted.

He then re-iterated that he did not believe a Catholic priest should be appointed to a Protestant church.

When contacted, the Dean of St Anne's, Rev John Mann, said he was travelling from Dublin and would not be in a position to comment until he had listened to the full interview.

Fr O'Donnell did not wish to comment.

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