Parents walk out of graduation mass in Cork as priest references abortion referendum
"An absolute disgrace."
Parents and students attending an end of year graduation mass for Loreto Secondary School in Fermoy, County Cork, walked out of the ceremony following the priest's sermon on the Eighth Amendment.
The incident took place last Thursday on the evening before the Irish public went to vote, ultimately resulting in a landslide victory for the Yes side on Saturday.
The priest in question, Fr Mark Hehir, had been asked not to mention the referendum as it was a school graduation mass and parents had deemed the subject inappropriate.
Fr Hehir went on to discuss the need for a No vote, a stance he had previously voiced to a Transition Year class at the same school.
At the mass, one father reportedly stood up and said, "That's an absolute disgrace, how dare you talk about the referendum on an evening like this?"
One person in attendance spoke to Patricia Messinger on Cork radio station C103's Cork Today show to express her views on the sermon.
"I know the ethos of Loreto, I know exactly what goes on there, and how well prepared the girls are to go forward," began Assumpta, a former student of the school.
"I've been to graduation masses in the past with my own family, and you're expecting it to be about new adventures, and about their time together. I was abhorred, I must say."
Assumpta, who is involved with her own local church, felt that any reference by the priest to the referendum, regardless of which side you were on, was "totally inappropriate."
"His opening words, I felt, were negative in the fact that he said, 'You know girls, the likelihood is that our paths will never cross again,' and I thought, okay, some people will say that is very true, but when he went on to speak about the No vote, I began to feel quite uncomfortable and quite annoyed."
At this point, Assumpta rose from her seat and exited the church.
"Now, it wasn't dramatic, I wasn't all the way up the church or anything, don't get me wrong," she noted, adding that she had never previously walked out of mass before.
Asked if the general atmosphere in the church changed significantly when Fr Hehir addressed the Eighth Amendment, Assumpta said that it did.
"Straight away, people were turning to whoever was alongside them, in total disbelief... When I got up, there was another parent in the aisle who said to me that he couldn't believe it was happening.
"We went outside the door and about 19 other people joined us. Some of them, not all, but most of them were parents as well. One lady was there for her daughter's graduation, and she didn't want to be outside the church."
"I felt really torn," added Assumpta. "I felt it wasn't the place. 'Horrendous' is the word I would use."
Upon going back in, Assumpta heard applause, which was directed towards "a very brave dad who stood up, and got a standing ovation."
According to Assumpta, Fr Hehir apologised for potentially offending anyone in attendance.
Afterwards, host Patricia Messinger read out a text message from one of the girls who graduated that evening, noting that some of the No voters in her year changed their minds and voted Yes as a result of the priest's actions.
"It's a constant source of anger and sadness for us, and it will never be forgotten," said the student.