Priest's love for a mother-of-two began only after marriage ended
FATHER Sean McKenna, who sensationally told his congregation he was leaving the priesthood for love, began a relationship with a mother-of-two only after her marriage had ended.
The Derry-based priest met separated mother and nurse Elaine Curran during his work as parish priest in Creggan before he moved on to Ballymagroarty some two years ago.
Since dropping the bombshell that he was quitting the priesthood at the weekend, Fr McKenna has appealed for the couple's privacy to be respected and he and Ms Curran have gone to ground.
But a source close to the priest has insisted that the relationship between the couple did not begin until a "considerable length of time" after the end of her marriage to local man Liam Curran.
Ms Curran, a nurse at a local health centre, is a mother of two children, aged six and 11 years.
This is the second time in the past 12 months that the Holy Family parish has lost a priest. Last February, curate Kieran Page announced he was taking a "leave of absence".
Shock waves continued to reverberate through the sprawling Ballymagroarty parish yesterday following the weekend bombshell.
The 51-year-old parish priest waited until Mass was almost over on Saturday night before taking to the altar to tell the congregation that in his personal life he was in a relationship.
"The nature of this relationship is such that the rule of celibacy does not allow me to continue in priesthood and to be in this relationship at the same time. Therefore I have made my choice. It is a difficult choice but a clear and free one," he said in a prepared statement.
His announcement prompted an outpouring of emotion as both priest and parishioners wept and embraced each other.
Fr McKenna has served in three parishes in the Derry diocese over a 25-year period and locals yesterday were critical of the Church for its stance on celibacy and the media for delving into what they saw as a private matter.
One woman from the Ballymagroarty area, where Fr McKenna ministered, was so scathing of the media that she would not let her name be used.
"It is a disgrace the way the media have portrayed this story. Fr McKenna was a good priest who has done nothing but help local people both here and in Creggan. If he decides that this is what he wants to do then it is his business and the media should have left him in peace."
Local man Bobby Bradley was supportive of Fr McKenna and critical of the Church.
"It shocked me but it is his life and he should be allowed to get on with it. Priests should have been allowed to marry years ago," he said.
Jacqueline Campbell said she was sad to see Fr McKenna leave. "He is a very genuine man and a great priest and I will be sorry that he is no longer going to be part of this parish.
"At the same time he should be allowed to get on with his life and after serving the people of Derry for 25 years he deserves all the happiness he can find," she said.
Calls to the local BBC Radio Foyle radio station were overwhelmingly favourable to the priest, a spokesperson said.
"The vast majority of calls were supportive of Fr McKenna. In general, the calls reflected the popularity of the man himself who, it seems, is greatly admired within the community.
"The BBC and other media outlets also came in for criticism for running the story and many people said it was Fr McKenna's private business and we had no right to pry into it."
Bishop Seamus Hegarty is expected to announce a new appointment at the parish before Christmas.