06 December 2005

Tricolour row priest defends refusal on funeral

Belfast Telegraph

By Maureen Coleman
06 December 2005

A priest who refused to celebrate funeral Mass because the coffin was draped in an Irish tricolour today defended his stance.

Fr Brendan Beagon, parish priest at the Church of the Holy Spirit on the Glen Road, removed the flag from the coffin and replaced it with a pall, saying that it breached the rules of the Catholic Church.

But the family of the dead man, Billy McDonnell - a lifelong republican - replaced the flag and refused to remove it, prompting Fr Beagon to say he could not celebrate Mass.

Mr McDonnell's funeral went ahead at Holy Trinity Church in Turf Lodge.

His son Liam said that the body was taken to the Church of the Holy Spirit on Sunday and that the coffin was draped in the tricolour at his father's request.

He said that a priest in the church objected to the flag but relented after the family said they would take the coffin elsewhere. The priest then continued to carry out a blessing.

However, when the family returned the following day for Requiem Mass, the flag had been removed and had been replaced with a white pall.

Defending his position, Fr Beagon said the family had told another priest, Fr Tarmey, that they would take the coffin back to the deceased's home if the flag was removed.

He said that when he was told this, he removed the tricolour and replaced it with the pall "in accordance with the provisions of the Liturgical Commission".

"On Monday morning the tricolour had been replaced on the coffin and the deceased's son, when it was explained that the proper liturgical covering for a coffin in a church is a pall, refused to remove the tricolour," he said.

"I then informed him that the liturgical funeral service could not be celebrated, but that Fr Tarmey would say the prayers at the graveside. He told me that they would get someone else to do this."

Bishop of Down and Connor Dr Patrick Walsh said relatives were asked to respect the right of the Church to regulate how the funeral Mass should be celebrated.

But he added that it should be celebrated in any case.

"Having explained the regulations and the reason for them, one would trust that the relatives would accept the regulations," he said.

"If not, this poses a great difficulty for the priest, but in the circumstances the funeral mass should be celebrated so that the deceased will be buried with dignity."

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