independent

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Priest defends comments about 'mini exorcisms'

Fr Michael Doyle critical of person who leaked remark from his sermon

Fr Michael Doyle
Fr Michael Doyle

David Looby

The priest who said he planned to perform mini exorcisms on young Poulfur parishioners in their homes ahead of their Confirmation has stood by his comments, saying he would expect more of parishioners who reported the matter to the media.

Fr Michael Doyle told his congregation at St Aidan's Church in Poulfur on Sunday week ago that he planned to perform mini exorcisms while visiting children who will be celebrating their Confirmation next year.

Fr Doyle's comments have been published in media outlets across the world over recent days, something he finds astonishing.

Fr Doyle, 50, said he was not referring to performing formal exorcisms, but to placing 'a blessing on the family home against evil'.

The diocese of Ferns confirmed that it had received a number of complaints from parents in the area about Fr Doyle's comments and that it had referred the matter to the diocese's vicar-general, Monsignor Joe McGrath.

'When I was using the term "exorcism" that's what I meant,' he said. 'Not an exorcism in the formal way. Just a family blessing on the home.'

He said he performs the rite as part of the usual programme of religious practises he performs for Baptism, Communion and Confirmation.

'This is part of my spiritual work for both groups (communion and confirmation) for every single child. I do a visitation programme with families.'

His usual practice with children who are receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion or Confirmation is that he sends a statue of the Sacred Heart home with a different child each week and the family is invited to use the statue 'as a focal point for family prayer'. 'I obviously don't just force myself on them. I ask to be invited and I give the respective family the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I ask them if I can bless them (the children). If they so desire I can have their house blessed with a blessing for the family and their home. The blessing is against evil.'

Fr Doyle said he mentioned minor exorcism at the 11.30 a.m. Mass, adding that he probably never used the term before but decided to go with it because he likes to joke around and keep his sermons light.

'I was being humorous, I joke around quite a bit and that was lost in translation (in the reports). I could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. It's not like the Exorcist movie. I think I'd be scared of that myself.'

A local resident who attended the Mass confirmed that Fr Doyle said he would be visiting local houses and encouraged parents to build up the number of prayers they say with their child to a decade of the Rosary.

Speaking to this newspaper Fr Doyle said he told parents of first Holy Communion and Confirmation children in the parish of Templetown that he would like to visit their homes to carry out blessings, but only by prior arrangement. He joked that he is expecting a call from the owner of Loftus Hall to book him in for his Hallowe'en Lock Down events this week.

Fr Doyle said he has already written to parents to clarify the matter. 'As soon as I got the word, I could see there was some misunderstanding.'

From Terrerath, Fr Doyle was previously chaplain at Wexford General Hospital and PP of St Leonards for four years. He was also a curate in Texas for many years. When asked how he felt about all of the publicity, Fr Doyle said he was amazed by the way the story made it out into the media, adding that it was ignoble sort of thing to do.

'The noble sort of thing would have been to contact the person directly. I was trying to enjoy my day off but it was ruined by a call from the Bishop's office at 11. I would say the Saltee Islands will be my next parish.'

Fr Doyle has been parish priest of Poulfur for several months and said he is enjoying his time serving the area. He said he is acutely aware of the dark influence Fr Sean Fortune had on the parish during his campaign of sexual abuse terror in the 1980s. 'Of course people are going to be sensitive to what happened 30 years ago. For them it's not something that happened in the past. It's not historic, it's very personal to them so you have to be very sensitive in those situations, especially where it's domestic violence or sexual abuse. You would be very conscious of people who have been deeply hurt or wounded totally unjustly. We can't be guilty by association with him.'

Fr Doyle defended his policy of calling to people's homes, saying it is utterly extraordinary how the exorcism comment has gathered such traction in the media.

'When I was in St Leonards I did exactly the very same thing. The child came up at Mass and they prayed with their families and I joined them. I wasn't any big deal.'

When asked if he had used the term exorcism while in St Leonards, he replied that he had not.

Fr Doyle said he will not change his approach to his sermons so Poulfur parishioners can expect plenty more interesting sermons over the coming months and years, providing the move to the Saltees doesn't pan out. 'There have been people ringing me in support of me. I haven't had any adverse reaction to this. You would hope people would have had a little bit more knowledge about their faith. I don't think what I said is controversial. As regards sermons I will continue to preach as I usually do, with humour. I try not to make people fall asleep in the pew. This happened. It comes with the territory.'

This is not the first time Fr Doyle has shot to media attention. Reacting to a post on Facebook by former New Ross Municipal District council Cathaoirleach Cllr Willie Fitzharris praising the success of the summer school in 2018, Fr Doyle, who was then stationed in St Leonards parish said: 'For the promotion of the death of children. Yes, that is very cultural. The culture of death. It reminds one of a gathering of Nazis self congratulating themselves.'

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