A Catholic priest has caused uproar in Ireland after declaring that the deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, and other gay politicians will go to hell.
Fr Seán Sheehy, 80, condemned homosexuality, trans rights and abortion rights from the pulpit and in media interviews this week, drawing widespread censure, including from his own bishop.
Some called the comments a throwback to a vanished Ireland, others linked them to Sheehy’s exposure to US culture wars during 42 years serving in US dioceses.
The row flared on Sunday when the priest gave an outspoken homily at St Mary’s church in Listowel in his native County Kerry, reportedly causing dozens of people to walk out.
The bishop of Kerry, Raymond Browne, apologised and said Sheehy’s views did not “represent the Christian position”.
However, the priest confirmed his view in radio interviews. Asked if he thought Varakdar and other gay politicians who supported gay and abortion rights would go to hell, he replied: “Absolutely.”
Sheehy said politicians, the media and the Catholic church itself had misled Irish people into approving same sex marriage and abortion rights in referendums. “You had an agenda that was really being pushed and the sad point about it is that the hierarchy was mute: they never educated the people at all,” he told RTE’s Liveline.
Sheehy likened homosexuality to a disability “because it leans a person in an abnormal direction in terms of expressing sexuality”.
Government ministers called the comments disgraceful. A spokesman for Varadkar said he disagreed with the priest but respected his right to express his beliefs. “The tánaiste does not believe that gay people will go to hell for being who they are, nor does he believe that any man or woman can make such a judgment,” said the spokesperson.
Sheehy returned to Ireland from the US in 2008 to serve as a parish priest. He was removed from his post a year later after telling a court a convicted rapist had “not an abusive bone in his body”. Sheehy is now retired and delivered the homily in Listowel while covering for a parish priest who was away.
• This article was amended on 6 November 2022. Fr Seán Sheehy is 80, not 65 as an earlier version said.