Fr Sean McManus hits out after Ulster Unionist mocked by DUP for attending Pope 'antichrist' event
A PROMINENT Irish-American priest has said reports an Ulster Unionist MLA was ridiculed by DUP counterparts for attending a reception for Pope Francis are "truly disturbing".
Fermanagh-born Fr Sean McManus, president of the Washington-based Irish National Caucus, said the mocking of Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler was "sacrilegious".
Mr Butler told The Irish News a senior DUP figure said he was wrong to accept an invite to the August event at Dublin Castle and labelled the pontiff "the antichrist".
He said another DUP member blessed himself in a gesture of ridicule as they passed in a corridor at Stormont. He declined to reveal the identity of the DUP MLAs.
Fr McManus, in a letter to the Irish News today, said: "How can the beloved community—based on equality, solidarity and respect—be built up in Northern Ireland with such contempt and awful sectarianism?"
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The DUP was criticised for snubbing the invite from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the reception for Pope Francis.
In 1988, the late Ian Paisley, who was leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, interrupted Pope John Paul II's speech to the European Parliament by denouncing him as "the antichrist".
Church of Ireland primate Richard Clarke and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson attended the reception for Pope Francis.
A Church of Ireland spokesman said any reference to the Pope being the antichrist "isn't terminology" it used.
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Billy Davison, attended the reception and the World Meeting of Families event at Croke Park.
A Methodist Church spokesman said "we have never ever declared the pope to be the antichrist".
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Charles McMullen also attended the Dublin Castle event.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it would support the right of other individuals and organisations to make their own decision as to what was appropriate.
"Whatever anyone's views of Pope Francis, we have to recognise that as a Church leader of the denomination of many of our fellow citizens, his visit was a significant occasion," a spokesman said.
"As we have previously said, as our fellow citizens rejoiced in that visit, we and others wanted to say positively that Pope Francis was welcome in Ireland."