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Priest shows contrition over `Sonia the slut' sermon

THE priest who attacked the morality of athletics golden girl Sonia O'Sullivan last night apologised for calling her a ``common slut''.Fr Seamus Duffy, parish priest of Oughteragh, Co Leitrim, which takes in the town of Ballinamore, told the Irish Independent last night that he regretted any offence he may have caused to the former world athletics champion, who gave birth in the summer to a baby girl, Ciara.

Speaking from the steps of St Patrick's Church in Ballinamore, the 72-year-old parish priest said the comment was made in the heat of the moment and in the broader context of what he felt was the moral decline in Irish society and the growing number of parents giving birth to children outside of marriage.

When earlier approached by the Irish Independent, Fr Duffy declined to comment before driving away in his Mitsubishi Colt car with his fist aloft.

Fr Duffy, however, later agreed to a brief interview outside the church in which he made the scathing attack in his homily during Saturday evening mass.

``I am truly sorry if I caused any hurt to Sonia O'Sullivan or her family,'' said Fr Duffy. ``I made the comments in the context of the moral decline that has hit our country and in light of the fact that people were congratulating her and heaping congratulations on her because of this.

``This is the whole trend in society but I am sorry if I hurt her and regret in particular the use of the word `slut'.''

Fr Duffy made the comments during his homily at Saturday evening mass in front of a packed congregation at Ballinamore Church.

The comments left the vast majority of the congregation aghast and yesterday most people interviewed in the town by the Irish Independent were still expressing their disappointment over the attack.

Among them was local athletics figurehead and Life Vice President of the BLE, Padraig Griffin, who was coach to an Irish team that included the Cobh athlete in an international meeting in Austria in 1990. ``I am just very disappointed that these comments were made about such a splendid young woman. This just shouldn't have happened. I know Sonia since she was a kid in her school days in the late '80s and always found her to be a very good and solid young woman, who is very dedicated and decent in every way,'' he said.

``These things are often said in the heat of the moment and happen without people thinking about what they are saying. Fr Duffy is a very nice and decent priest but this was her personal life and she just should not have been spoken about in that manner.

``I would certainly hope now that the Bishop of our diocese (Kilmore) would take a serious look at what is being said down from pulpits, especially when it may cause severe hurt to people in the congregation,'' he added.

While there was almost unanimous condemnation of Fr Duffy's comments, there were still a handful of locals who were prepared to back their parish priest.

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``I think he was perfectly entitled to say what he said,'' said Mary Conon, from Ballinamore.

``Society is breaking down and I don't think he went too far. It is the truth and he was entitled to say what he said,'' she added.

Pastor who pulls few punches

OUTSPOKEN parish priest Father Seamus Duffy may have sickened the vast majority of his congregation with his weekend homily comments about athlete Sonia O'Sullivan but few would have been surprised by his controversial outburst.

The Co Meath native has been in the Co Leitrim parish for a long number of years, first as curate before his appointment as parish priest, and has developed a reputation of a man who shoots from the hip.

The 72 year-old parish priest is known locally as a pastor who is ultimately kind-hearted and sociable but one who rarely shies away from making controversial statements when he feel the need arises.

Retired local athlete Patricia Griffin, who competed on an Irish team in an international meeting along with Sonia, said: ``He is a very outspoken priest who will speak his mind whether you like it or not.

``Fr Duffy can be a bit controversial at times but if I meet him out socially I find him a very, very nice man but he will say what he has to say and that's it. I wasn't at the mass but I have heard what he said and certainly disagree with it,'' she added.


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