As festive stories go, the tale of the Priest who Stole Christmas was not one the locals of Lixnaw wanted broadcast, for reasons every parent understands.
And so yesterday a veil of silence was drawn over the quiet rural parish in North Kerry, which made headlines in the wake of controversial comments by a priest during a school talk.
Fr Martin Hegarty mistakenly claimed the Man from the North Pole was about as tangible a character as the animals in the manger. His superior in Rome recently demoted these animals from the Nativity on the basis that they weren’t really there.
Neither the priest, parents, nor the board of management at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, was prepared to say more about an issue that has aroused strong feelings.
“Enough has been said about this matter already,” said one parent. “We just want to forget about it and to let the children enjoy Christmas. Santa will definitely be coming.”
The board of management is understood to have discussed the issue this week, but has not commented publicly.
Fr Hegarty was talking to sixth-class pupils about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. During an exchange with children, he is believed to have suggested Saint Nick was a myth and that the pupils were too old to be believers. Some of the children became upset and one 11-year-old started to cry, said sources. The issue was subsequently raised with children and parents. Some parents also spoke to children at home on the issue.
Fr Hegarty, retired parish priest of nearby Ballybunion, was standing in for Lixnaw parish priest Fr Mossie Brick.
In a statement released through the Diocese of Kerry, Fr Hegarty said: “I regret any upset that I have caused to children and parents of Scoil Mhuire gan Smál. My intention was to talk about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. I must admit that Santa Claus is not my area of expertise.”
Fr Hegarty, was quoted in this week’s Kerry’s Eye newspaper saying “no harm was intended” and that he did not even know the children were upset.
He was also quoted as saying a sizeable number of sixth-class pupils had raised their hands to say they had “given up” on Santa.
Given the Church has always preached that you don’t have to see to believe, it seems odd to question the existence of someone who makes such a contribution to the magic of Christmas.
In response to a query from the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Mr Claus said: “The good news for believers is that Santa rewards those with faith in him.”
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