ONE OF the wealthier parishes in Dublin's Catholic archdiocese has been entrusted by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to the care of Opus Dei.
The Our Lady Queen of Peace parish on Merrion Road, across from St Vincent's Hospital, will be the first parish in Ireland to be run by Opus Dei. From Monday next, September 1st, the new parish priest there will be Opus Dei's Fr Fergus O'Connor, to be assisted by Opus Dei colleague Fr Charlie Connolly.
A church source said the decision by Archbishop Martin to hand over the parish to Opus Dei was done without consultation with the people of the parish or with the priests of the diocese.
"People are gobsmacked by the decision, priests and people alike," the source said. It was suggested the decision may have been influenced by the Vatican's disposition towards Opus Dei. Attention was drawn to the fact Pope Benedict stayed with Opus Dei in Sydney on his recent visit for World Youth Day, which Archbishop Martin also attended.
When contacted, a spokeswoman for the diocese said "the decision [to entrust the parish to Opus Dei] was made by the archbishop, as was the case with all the other parishes attributed to religious orders. There was no difference in practice on this occasion; the parish pastoral council was informed in advance. Parishioners were informed last Sunday."
The diocese already has 40 parishes run by religious orders, the greater number of these in its disadvantaged areas.
The principal reason Merrion Road was entrusted to Opus Dei was "the fact that it was a parish where the parish priest (Fr Seamus Moore) was retiring and it became possible both to replace the PP and also add some other priests. Merrion Road is a complex parish," the spokeswoman said.
She added that "in addition to regular parish activities it is also a 'service church' with large numbers of people calling on a regular basis, due to its position on a main transit road and its presence near a large hospital. The decision to assign the parish to Opus Dei was influenced by their ability to provide a number of priests who would be able to provide a wide range of services and ministries throughout the day.''
Queried on whether Vatican politics had influenced the decision to hand over Merrion Road to Opus Dei, the diocesan spokeswoman responded that "there is a shortage of priests in the diocese and the needs of parishes such as Merrion Road are changing. The policy in the parish will continue to be that of the diocese and this will be set out in a contract, as with any religious order. There is no sense of giving any special status to Opus Dei."
As to whether Opus Dei had requested the parish, she said: "Opus Dei did not ask for this particular parish. The parish was one which was available."
Opus Dei has 700 members in Ireland, mostly based in Dublin,Galway and Limerick, including 17 priests. It has parishes in London, Amsterdam, Toulouse, Cologne, Budapest, two in Rome, Chicago, Melbourne and Johannesburg.