Leading article

Orange Order should end ban on Mass attendance

On the face of it, the Rev Mervyn Gibson's support for the lifting of the ban on Orange Order members attending Catholic Church services can be seen as a positive development and a long overdue change.

But in the same BBC Talkback interview he confused the issue by asserting that he would not attend a service in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast if it involved a Catholic priest, Fr Edward O'Donnell, who has recently been installed as an ecumenical canon at the Church of Ireland cathedral.

These contradictory stances are difficult to square. If someone is in favour of allowing Orangemen to attend a service in a Catholic church then why not accept the presence of a Catholic priest taking part in a service in a Protestant church?

It may be that the Rev Gibson, a Presbyterian minister, is not that comfortable with the idea of Orangemen setting foot inside a Catholic church but realises that the rule is hard to defend in an institution which is trying to present itself as relevant in the 21st century. It certainly makes it harder to refute the accusation that it is a sectarian organisation.

Mr Gibson, a county grand chaplain, said the ban `harked back to a different era' and was `divisive' but he would not initiate any process of change.

He also acknowledged that the rule will have caused hurt to members who were unable to attend family events.

There are many people who can attest to that and others, such as senior unionist politicians, who faced disciplinary action for attending the funerals of Catholics, including that of murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.

Such a ban from a Christian organisation was never acceptable and remains deeply insulting to Catholics.

But in the modern age, when people expect to see greater tolerance and respect among different faiths, it is a complete anachronism.

The Orange Order should have a debate about ending this outdated rule and the message it sends out.

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