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Catholic priest defends Protestant pastor on trial for calling Islam ‘satanic’

Pastor James McConnell surrounded by Christian supporters after appearing at Belfast magistrates court (Lesley-Anne McKeown/PA Wire)

A Catholic priest from Northern Ireland is to join a Unionist MP and an imam in defending a Christian pastor on trial for calling Islam “satanic”.

Fr Patrick McCafferty and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson are among defence witnesses in the case involving Pastor James McConnell at Belfast Magistrates Court from today.

Pastor McConnell faces up to six months in jail if convicted over a sermon he made last year at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast in which he branded Islam as “heathen” and “Satanic”. He was charged under the 2003 Communications Act with making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam.

Fr McCafferty, a parish priest in Crossgar, Co. Down told the Belfast Telegraph: “I will be delighted to give evidence on behalf of Pastor McConnell. We don’t see eye-to-eye on many things but his prosecution is an absolute outrage.

“There is no public interest in dragging a clergyman who is nearly 80 years of age and battling cancer into court. The police and the Public Prosecution Service need to wise up and leave the poor man alone.”

Also defending the pastor are prominent Muslim academic and London cleric Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini and Pastor Nick Park, the director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland.

The 78-year-old preacher said he will go to jail rather than retract his remarks.

Fr McCafferty claimed that Pastor McConnell had previously said “far worse things” about Catholicism than Islam in the past: “I heard him make some very offensive remarks about Catholicism but it never entered my head to go crying to the police about it.

“I went to hear him preach and I confronted him afterwards. I told him that he had got it wrong about Catholic Church doctrine on many fronts. We sat down and had a cup of coffee together and talked it through. Facing the things that divided us in an adult way was a very positive experience for us both and we became friends.”

Fr McCafferty said he disagreed with Pastor McConnell’s remarks about Islam.

“I’d never have preached a sermon like that against any other religion. But it’s not an issue for anybody to go running to the authorities about. Even at this late stage, the PPS should catch themselves on and abandon this farcical prosecution,” he said.

“It is ludicrous that taxpayers’ money is being wasted on this charade when we can’t afford to grit the roads in winter and hospital waiting lists are spiralling.”