7 April 2005 Edition

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Orange Chaplain mocks dying Pope

Presbyterian minister Stephen Dickinson, who serves as the Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, stands accused of sectarian bigotry after it was revealed that he ridiculed the Pope as he lay dying.

According to witnesses, Dickinson launched into an impression of the Pope suffering from Parkinson's Disease at a so-called prayer meeting in Drumbo Presbyterian Church near Lisburn, County Antrim, which was attended by senior DUP politicians, including Jeffrey Donaldson.

Dickinson was also accused of telling anti-Catholic jokes.

Now nationalist politicians are calling on the Orange Order chaplain to resign.

Sinn Féin's Paul Butler told An Phoblacht: "It's disgraceful that a religious figure can come out with comments like this while the Pope was seriously ill and near the point of death."

Brushing aside the criticism, Dickinson admitted that he had "taken the mickey" out of the Pope and the Catholic faith but said he did not mean to cause offence.

However, the Orange Order chaplain is no stranger to controversy, having been involved with the so-called Long Walk initiative in 1999.

The Long Walk idea saw unionist politicians leave Derry on 24 June 1999 on a march across the Six Counties to "highlight the real victims" of republican violence and was set to end in Portadown on Drumcree Sunday.

Dickinson set off on the march in the company of the DUP's Paul Berry and Gregory Campbell and present Craigavon Mayor Jonathan Bell, who said at the time that "no one should be offended if the march passes through nationalist areas".

The march, however, provoked a storm of criticism as its route took it past the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, County Derry, where seven people were killed by UDA gunmen in October 1993. Ballymoney, where the three Quinn brothers were burned to death by the UVF at the height of the 1998 marching season, was also on the route.

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