Niagara Falls’ priest says he has no intention of cancelling school mass over Pride flag

While the Diocese of St. Catharines has left it up to its priests to decide whether they will continue holding mass at Niagara Catholic schools while the Pride flag is displayed, Father Paul MacNeil of Niagara Falls’ Our Lady of the Scapular Church said he never had any intention of “not going into our schools because of this issue.”

Earlier this week, Elizabeth Murphy-Semple, a teacher with the Niagara Catholic District School Board, told The Standard her Grade 5 virtual class has not had children’s mass — given through Our Lady of the Scapular Church and Father MacNeil — since the end of May.

When asked whether the cancellations had to do with the Pride flag, MacNeil did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

After publication, MacNeil contacted The Standard to clarify the children’s mass cancellations were due to technical issues with the church’s live streaming system — which he said have now been resolved — and nothing to do with the Pride flag being raised.

“I am completely open to going into the schools and having the schools coming into the church,” said MacNeil, in an interview Saturday.

“I’m not going to let anything stop me from getting involved with those kids because they’re the future.”

He said the live streaming of children’s masses, as well as his attendance at local schools, will continue next week.

MacNeil said he did receive messages seeking comment from The Standard, but thought he would “leave it in the hands” of the Diocese of St. Catharines.

The Standard spoke with the diocese’s spokesperson Margaret Jong Thursday, who said Bishop Gerard Bergie has given priests, individually, the choice to decide if they were “comfortable or not comfortable to go into the schools” during Pride month.

“Some priests might have a reluctance to go into the school and the Bishop gives them the freedom of the conscience to make that decision,” said Jong.

In Fort Erie, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Elementary School confirmed its staff received a letter from St. Michael’s Church, written by Father Patrick Gilmurray, which stated he has “made the very difficult decision not to enter the school while the Pride flag is being displayed.”

Citing the symbol of the flag as “widely mistaken in our society today,” Gilmurray said the flag is a symbol of a “wide range of issues that form a worldview that is incompatible with Christian (not just Catholic) anthropology, and Catholic teaching.”

St. Michael’s Church has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

MacNeil said he knows priests in Niagara have made the decision to not enter school grounds while the flag is raised, but reiterated he never had that intention himself.

He said he should have clarified his position earlier.

“That was a mistake … it’s no problem for me or for Scapular,” he said. “I’ll be saying mass for St. Paul High School Tuesday morning, I’ll be doing live streams mass again on Tuesday … doing mass for the Grade 8 graduates on Friday.”

Last month, Niagara Catholic informed families of its decision to fly the Pride flag, for the first time, at all board schools and sites, throughout Pride month.

In a letter explaining the decision, director of education Camillo Cipriano said the flag is a visible statement schools are “safe, inclusive places to learn and grow.”

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