Couple refused marriage over pro-choice beliefs

June 5, 2018

A Newry couple who were warned by a local priest that they may be refused marriage in a Catholic Church due to the groom’s pro-choice beliefs say they have brought the matter to the attention of Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

 Kevin McAteer, a former Independent Newry councillor, and his fiancee Shaunagh Griffin, were contacted by Drumalane-based cleric, Fr. Damien Quigley, after Mr McAteer had posted a pro-choice image on Facebook, following the historic abortion referendum in the Republic last week. Fr Quigley, who serves in the parish of Middle Killeavy for the Armagh diocese, attached a screenshot of the post in a private message to Mr McAteer, warning him that if he supported abortion and continued to advocate for it in Ireland, it could prevent him from being married by him or indeed in a Catholic church.

 The couple say they are both “shocked and very worried” about their situation. 

“Although the wedding is booked for 2020 with the Whistledown Hotel in Warrenpoint, we currently have no priest or church for our wedding and that has happened as a result of my pro-choice beliefs,” the disappointed groom-to-be told The Examiner. 

Mr McAteer claims that when he pointed out to Fr. Quigley that his fiancee is a pro-life supporter, the priest replied, “She is okay, we just need to work on you”.

 The former councillor spoke out about the couple’s situation on the BBC’s Nolan radio show on Wednesday morning, outlining just how upset they are by the priest’s ultimatum and their uncertainty about what will happen next. He revealed that he had contacted the church office to ask if they could be married by another priest in the parish and was advised that “it would be a matter for Fr Quigley”.

 In light of his situation, Mr McAteer is also questioning whether the 66 per cent of people who voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the south may also be denied marriage in a Catholic church as a result.

“We feel that the Church is discriminating against us because we are not following them,” he said.  “However, we feel that everyone has a right to an opinion and would furthermore ask, how will our future children be affected.  Will they be unable to get baptised in the church with one of their parents holding pro-choice views?”

Indicating that they have taken the matter to Archbishop Eamon Martin and have contacted the Taoiseach to outline their concerns, the couple say they are “in limbo” over their wedding plans and  want the issue resolved so they can get on with planning their wedding. 

“We don’t think it’s appropriate for anyone to be bullied or discriminated against due to their beliefs and our wedding should not be held to ransom over this. We love each other very much and would like to celebrate the sacrament of marriage in our local church, regardless of my pro-choice beliefs,” Mr McAteer insists.

“You’re talking about a church, as they say, that has an all-forgiving God and a God that doesn’t judge but I am being judged for being pro-choice.”

In a statement released on Tuesday last, the Archdiocese of Armagh echoed a previous response by Fr Quigley, saying: “It would not be appropriate to discuss details of a priest’s pastoral support to any specific individual or couple in their preparation for the sacrament of marriage.  However, please be advised that Fr Quigley has never refused to prepare any person or couple for the sacrament.”