British Priest Who Died During “the Troubles”: “I Am Only Doing God’s Will”

Funeral for Fr. Gerard Weston

The paratroop brigade thought the world of him.  His friends described him as “gay, outgoing, generous and energetic.”

On February 22, 1972, Fr. Gerard Weston, chaplain with the Paratroop Regiment in Belfast, died along with six civilians when the Irish Republican Army detonated a car bomb at Aldershot, a town southwest of London.  It was the first major act of war against the British Army on English soil.

The young priest had been ordained by Archbishop Heenan in 1960, and spent his first years of priesthood as curate at St. Benedict’s Church in Hindley, Wigan, where he founded a very successful youth club.

After six years as a parish priest, he joined the British Army as an army chaplain. He served in Germany, the Persian Gulf, Kenya and Northern Ireland.

During the height of the Troubles, Father Gerry frequently went alone to the dangerous areas of Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge in Belfast, talking with local people in an effort to reduce tension. He was in great personal danger, especially when a rumor began circulating that a British soldier was operating in the area, disguised as a Roman Catholic priest. For his own safety, his commanding officer eventually ordered his withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

On February 15, 1972, he was awarded the MBE (the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for bravery.

Only seven days later, Father Weston drove his car to the the Officers’ Mess of the 16th Parachute Brigade in Aldershot. As he was exiting his vehicle, a huge bomb exploded—instantly killing him along with six civilians. The IRA claimed responsibility, in retaliation for the deaths of 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders in the Bogside area of Derry, in Northern Ireland, just three weeks earlier in what was called the “Bloody Sunday” attack. Public revulsion for the attack was in part responsible for the IRA’s ordering a ceasefire three months later.

Father Gerry’s last words to his parish priest at Great Crosby, Fr. Francis Danher, explaining his planned return to Northern Ireland, were, “I am only doing God’s will.”

He is buried in the churchyard at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Crosby.

Obama’s Education Quip in Northern Ireland: Sensationalized? Or Unabashedly Manipulative?

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry.

Earlier this week, I published a blog post regarding President Obama’s comments in Northern Ireland, on the subject of Catholic education.  That post seems to have drawn ire from some quarters; and even among those who agreed, it elicited a raw emotion which burst forth in the combox.

For the record:  I had relied on an early news report from the Scottish Catholic Observer.

Speaking to a crowd of some 2,000 young people, Obama said that having Catholic schools and Protestant schools was “divisive”, and he seemed to imply that the nation would be better off without religious education.  It’s easy to extrapolate from that speech, and to understand the American President as saying he’d like to see an end to Catholic education in the United States, too.

Anyway, the blogosphere exploded.  I had well over 100,000 hits on my article—and more than 250 of those readers took time to comment.  Even after I deleted all of the posts which relied on cursing and the *F* bomb to make their point, that’s still a lot of words in print.

Let me make it easy for you by paraphrasing the comments—first, from those who dislike and distrust President Obama:

  • Obama is a jerk.
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Obama is trying to undermine America.
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Obama thinks he can tell the whole world what to do, when he can’t even run this country.
  • Obama is a Muslim.

Some familiar accusations turned up, demonstrating the animus with which our nation’s leader is regarded by many:

  • “delusions of grandeur”
  • “idiot”
  • “fraud”
  • “shredding our Constitution”
  • “Alinsky”
  • “indoctrination”
  • “liberal bias”
  • “ignoramus”

And then, drawn from comments by people who took offense at my post:

  • “absolute rubbish”
  • “utterly hysterical”
  • “spurious accusations”
  • “enough with the paranoia”
  • “knee-jerk speculation”….

Well, you’ve got the idea.

So here’s my point:  Perhaps I was too harsh (or perhaps not).  But the readers, they were DEFINITELY too harsh.  The cumulative effect of the invective and ad hominem attacks, in my opinion, was to weaken the arguments and—even more important—to cause scandal among readers of a Catholic blog who expect people of faith to speak with the love of Christ.

Some reporters (Breitbart, for example, and Newsmax and Catholic World News) agree with the Scottish Catholic Observer and with me, that Obama was seriously overstepping his authority when he scolded Ireland for its parochial educational system, and that this is reflective of his attitude toward faith-based education in this country, as well.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League disagreed, and took to task the conservative media for their criticism.

A friend of mine, blogger Bill Kassel, took a different view and sent me his post.  He is much more generous than I in second-guessing the President’s intentions; but what impressed me is that he spoke respectfully and analyzed carefully.  I’d like to share a bit of Bill’s post here:

Obama’s text should have been flown by some Catholic authority, although that might not have been the easiest thing, given his relations with the Church just now. Well, at least somebody who’s clued in to local sensitivities — his advance people should have taken care of that.

We can too-readily blunder into other people’s issues and say something that strikes a discordant note, even if our intention is to be positive or flattering. The risks are all the greater when it’s a government leader crossing national/cultural/religious boundaries.

The points I want to make, after all of this, are two:

(1)    I don’t know everything.  I still think my report holds up to scrutiny and the President, in speaking against the system in Ireland, was showing his hand, giving us a glimpse of the disdain in which he holds Catholic education here in the United States.  Other writers—whose opinions I respect, and with whom I frequently agree—think otherwise and think this was much ado about nothing.

(2)    The comments REALLY took a wrong turn, in my opinion, degenerating into verbal fisticuffs and name-calling.  People whose opinions may have been worth considering lost credibility because their message was gift-wrapped in angry rhetoric.

In all, I guess what I mean is:  Mea culpa.  And You-a culpa, too.