Sunday, Fr. Edward O’Donnell, the priest of St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Belfast, became the first Catholic to be one of the three ecumenical canons at St. Anne’s, a cathedral of the Church of Ireland within the Anglican communion.
The other two ecumenical canons at St. Anne’s are a Methodist minister and a Presbyterian minister, both coincidentally named Ruth Patterson. Father O’Donnell’s roles at St. Anne’s will allow him to preach, lead prayers and read Scripture. The day of Fr. O’Donnell’s installment, around 50 people showed up protesting, carrying anti-Catholic signs reading “No Popery.”
David McLaughlin, secretary of the Government and Morals committee of the Free Presbyterian Church, helped organize the protest and said it was to defend “the doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone” — introduced by Martin Luther, a Catholic priest who broke from the Church in the 15th century.
“We have no doubt that his appointment will lead to a further dissolution of the Protestant faith within the Church of Ireland cathedral,” McLaughlin added.
“How soon will it be until the Mass, the confessional, worship of Mary, prayers for the dead, penance, are all introduced into the life and witness of the cathedral itself?”
Reverend Ian Brown, from the Martyrs Memorial Church in South Belfast, said the appointment of Fr. O’Donnell was a “retrograde step.”
Brown said that ecumenism, a movement that promotes cooperation and better understanding among different religious denominations, was just a way for “Rome to suck others under her skirt, with her having to be the dominant partner.” He complained that the Pope has already made statements “tantamount to the Protestant churches not being the true church.”
Hostility has existed between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland for many years, with one of its worst periods during the 1970s and 1980s,culminating in riots and multiple civilian deaths. Although the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 helped restore some measure of peace and order, tensions continue to remain between the two major religious groups.