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Parents' ire as priest targeted over baptism


Fr Iggy O’Donovan

Fr Iggy O’Donovan

Fr Iggy O’Donovan

A COMPLAINT that Fr Iggy O'Donovan, the Drogheda-based rebel Augustinian priest, allowed godparents to pour water on a baby's head during a baptism was used as the basis of a complaint about him to Rome that contributed to him being removed from his parish.

The complaint was made without the knowledge of the parents, who have told the Sunday Independent they fully support Fr O'Donovan.

It was initially made to Cardinal Sean Brady and subsequently forwarded to Rome.

As a result, another priest in the diocese approached the parents and told them the baby would have to be baptised again – and not by Fr Iggy, who leaves Drogheda this weekend for a year-long sabbatical in Limerick.

After the baby was baptised a second time, the parents found out that Fr Iggy knew nothing about the complaint. They wrote to the then Superior of the Augustinians in Ireland, Fr Gerry Horan, to make it clear that they had no issue with the way in which Fr Iggy had carried out the baptism, and they were unhappy that their son had become "such an important issue in the church".

Now the parents, who do not wish to be identified, have told the Sunday Independent that they are "upset and disappointed" that the church would use their son "as a stick to beat Fr Iggy with".

Fr Iggy has spent the past few weeks denying reports that he has been silenced by Rome or that he has been forced to leave Drogheda, where he had been Augustinian Prior for 12 years.

Some 1,500 people, including members of other faiths, attended his final mass last Sunday when he strongly condemned "the murkiness of the devious world of ecclesiastical politics". He also paid tribute to silenced Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery.

Fr Iggy's supporters believe the Augustinians moved him to minimise the impact any formal "silencing" of him by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome will have.

The Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Community in Ireland, Fr John Hennebry, said Fr Iggy "is not under any penalty or punishment. As friars, we are moved around, and to move is the natural flow of things. It is a natural part of our existence. It is testament to Fr Iggy that people are so upset at his leaving Drogheda".

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In an interview on LMFM radio earlier this month, Fr Iggy said his move was a "confluence of events", including the regular movement of friars.

The CDF is said to have "a file about him on their desk" containing a list of things brought to its attention that includes the baptism, as well as his controversial concelebration of mass on Easter Sunday 2006 with Church of Ireland clergyman, the Reverend Michael Graham.

Complaints have been made about him to the higher echelons of the church by what Mayor of Drogheda Richie Culhane has described as "ultra-conservative" elements, whom he claims forced the Augustinian's to "push" Fr Iggy out.

It appears that during the christening in question the parents and the godparents were allowed to pour water on the baby's head.

The parents were happy with the service, and it was not until four months later that they were contacted by another priest, who is not an Augustinian, "who told us it had not been done in accordance with the sacrament". He said it was not a major issue, and to be sure "the Ts were crossed and the Is dotted, the best thing would be to have him christened again", the baby's father said this weekend. When they asked him if Fr Iggy could perform the service again, he said "this would not be possible".

Instead, the priest himself performed the christening in another church in Co Louth.

Yesterday, Fr Hennebry said: "Nobody has spoken to me to say the baptism was invalid. I cannot think why a baptism might be re-performed. Only the priest who did it can answer that in his heart.

"I would respectfully suggest that the reason behind this lies with the priest, and he needs to say why he did it. It is a most unusual event. I have never heard of it before. The baptism of a child is not something to be played around with."

The parents thought no more of the second baptism, and it was only some weeks later when the baby's mother mentioned it to Fr Iggy that they realised he was unaware of what had happened.

"It seems that the CDF in Rome were examining some issue and our baby's baptism was on the list. We felt they were trying to use us," said the father.

"My wife and I are very angry that what we were led to believe was a technical matter was instead brought to the cardinal and CDF.

"This should be a special day in every child's life. Instead, we feel it has turned into a stick to beat Fr Iggy.

"Fr Iggy's name is on the baptismal certificate. That is how we want it to be. We wrote to the Augustinian Prior in Ireland because we wanted him to pass our letter to the CDF."

The baby's father stressed that while the letter outlining how he and his wife felt had been sent to Fr Horan, "it was not directed at him, it was for him to pass on to the CDF, which he said he would do".

The Catholic Communications Office, which would normally respond on behalf of Cardinal Brady, was asked for a statement on the baptism but said all queries should instead be directed to the Augustinians.

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