By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — One of the longest-running feuds in the Catholic church had a happy ending Sunday when 75-year-old priest Father Michael Keane preached in a Dublin parish for the first time in 23 years at a service of reconciliation.
The archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Desmond Connell, officially lifted the 1977 suspension of the priest, who is also well known for decades of matchmaking as founder and director of the Knock Marriage Bureau.
Keane became a high-profile dissident and thorn in the flesh of church authorities after he was forbidden from saying Mass in public by then Archbishop Dermot Ryan in a row about authority and his role as a curate in St Jude’s parish in Templeogue.
It developed into a bitter dispute and resulted in Keane being evicted by bailiffs from his curate’s residence in 1981 on foot of a court order granted to the church.
For about 13 years, he campaigned against his suspension by standing in the church during Masses wearing a T-shirt that called for "Justice for Father Michael Keane."
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He even carried his protest as a walking placard to a Christmas Eve service conducted by Archbishop Connell shortly after he was appointed.
Internal church contacts, stretching back almost three years, have been healing the wounds and led to Sunday’s service.
"I am delighted it is all over and I have been rehabilitated," Keane said. "It has been long and traumatic, but it is a totally different world we are living in now."
Keane said the jubilee year and pressure from a loyal group of parishioners had helped in reestablishing him in the priesthood. He has been negotiating with a priest who was appointed eight months ago to act as a go-between.
"What originally triggered it all was extraordinary minor, but the lifting of my suspension means there is no big mystery behind it," he said.
"Quite naturally, after I was suspended there were all sorts of rumors in the parish. It was painful to hear stories that I had been caught behind the shopping center with women, I was a drunkard, was mentally ill or I had embezzled money.
"There is no right of appeal within the church when you are suspended. It is very deficient in the line of human rights. There is no machinery to turn to resolve these conflicts."
Keane preached Sunday on the theme of forgiveness and letting bygones be bygones. "We want to go forward. I will be available to say Mass and help out but I am too old for a permanent job," he said.
He told the congregation that he forgave anyone who had injured him in the past and said that if he had hurt anyone he was asking for their forgiveness.
Originally ordained in County Clare, Keane said he remains a dissident in the broad sense of the word, but he says things have changed a lot in the church.
"There was a lot of abuse of power and bullying in the past," he said. "I was only one of thousands of priests who were badly treated. The biggest number left because of conflicts with authority.
"Many subsequently married and were ostracized. It’s a shame. A lot of them were good men who left reluctantly."