Father Sean Sheehy | St. Mary’s Listowel/Radio Kerry/YouTube screen shot
An Irish bishop apologized for a priest’s homily that described abortion and homosexual acts as examples of sinful behaviour.
Bishop Ray Browne of Kerry published an apology on Nov. 1 for “the deep upset and hurt caused by the contents of the homilies” given over the weekend by Father Seán Sheehy.
Video of the sermon was shared widely on social media and sparked both strong criticism and support from commentators.
Father Sheehy, who is retired, had been filling in for a parish priest at St. Mary’s Church in Listowel, a County Kerry town of fewer than 5,000 people. The reprimanded cleric on Wednesday told Irish media the bishop was “muzzling the truth in order to appease people.”
In his recent sermon, the Irish priest reflected on sin, penitence, sainthood, and God’s forgiveness.
“You rarely hear about sin, but it’s rampant,” he said. “We see it in the promotion of abortion. We see it, for example, in this lunatic approach of transgenderism.”
Another example, Father Sheehy said, was “the promotion of sex between two men and two women. That is sinful. That is a mortal sin, and people don’t seem to realize it. It’s a fact, a reality, and we need to listen to God about it because if we don’t, then there is no hope for those people.”
Several of the congregation heckled the priest, and some walked out.
“And so God is also telling you and me today, look, you have a responsibility to seek out those who are lost. You have a responsibility to call people to an awareness of the fact that sin is destructive, sin is detrimental, and sin will lead us to hell,” the priest said.
Then Father Sheehy reflected that the saints honoured in November are former sinners.
“When we honour the saints on the first of this coming month, we honour people who are saints. Why are there saints? Because they repented and because they sought forgiveness. As somebody said one time, heaven is full of converted sinners,” he said.
“And so today, God says to us, ‘I have come to call sinners, but if you don’t admit you’re a sinner, then you’re not listening to my call, and I can’t do anything for you because it’s a two-way street.’ Now, there are people you see who won’t like to hear what I’m saying, but the day you die, you will find out.
“What I’m saying is not what I invented, it is not what I came up with, [it] is what God is saying. And the day you die, you will find out that is the truth. Our prayer for people is that you, it won’t be too late for people. But how will people know that God wants to forgive them if we don’t tell them? How will people who are lost be found if we, as God’s people, don’t call them and say look, God loves you, he has come to call sinners, but he wants you to have life and have it to the full,” he continued?
“That’s what he wants. He wants you to live life to the fullest … we can only live it through, with, and in his grace,” the priest said.
Bishop Browne’s statement regarding “the offending homilies” said that “the views expressed do not represent the Christian position.”
“The homily at a regular weekend parish Mass is not appropriate for such issues to be spoken of in such terms,” the bishop continued.
“The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a Gospel of love and ever proclaims the dignity of every human person. It calls on us all to ever have total respect for one another,” Browne added, saying: “This fundamental Christian teaching was beautifully proclaimed” in recent readings at Mass.
Speaking to Radio Kerry, Father Sheehy said the bishop had stopped him from saying Mass.
“I know myself what I said cannot be disproven by any honest-to-God Christian or Catholic teaching, and that’s the bottom line,” the priest said.
Irish newspapers were quick to report the priest’s controversial past support for a convicted sex offender.
Father Sheehy was a character witness for Daniel Foley, a former bouncer convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in the parking lot of a nightclub in 2008. He joined dozens of the accused’s supporters in court when the conviction was announced in December 2009 and shook the hand of the then 35-year-old Foley and made disparaging comments concerning the woman’s status as a single mother, The Irish Examiner reported in 2013.
Then-bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy censured Sheehy, who resigned from his parish in Castlegregory soon after the verdict but continued to support Foley.
About 140,000 people are living in the Diocese of Kerry, the vast majority of whom are Catholic.