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A Roman Catholic priest in Newfoundland is speaking out against the Roman Catholic church's opposition to same-sex marriage, saying it is hypocritical.

"I will not perform same-sex marriages here, but I also will not encourage anyone to try to stop the government from allowing same-sex couples to do so elsewhere," Rev. Paul Lundrigan of Goulds, Nfld., said in his weekend sermon.

Father Lundrigan said the church has picked a poor issue to oppose vehemently when it has stayed silent in the past on sexual abuse of children.

"The church should have spoken out on so many other tragic issues and didn't," the priest said.

"The church, in recent years, has had thousands of children paraded across the same television screens telling horror stories of how their lives have been shattered by the abuse they suffered in Catholic-run orphanages and residential schools."

"I think that the hierarchy of our church has lost the moral ground to make judgment on how best to raise children."

As a Catholic priest, Father Lundrigan said he is neither for nor against performing same-sex marriages and respects the right of the church not to perform the unions. But he said he hasn't seen any evidence that the marriages cause moral harm to society.

Father Lundrigan received a letter from his own archbishop, Brendan O'Brien, urging all priests of the archdiocese of St. John's to encourage parishioners to lobby MPs to vote against same-sex marriage legislation.

Father Lundrigan assured his parishioners that same-sex marriages would not be performed in the church.

He pointed out, however, while the Vatican opposes the unions because the couples involved cannot procreate, opposite-sex couples are married in the church whether or not they are able to have children.

The sermon drew applause Sunday morning at St. Kevin's in Goulds, a community on the outskirts of St. John's. Father Lundrigan also delivered the sermon at St. Joseph's in Petty Harbour and in Goulds on Saturday night.

About 700 Catholics heard his words, and since then the sermon has been e-mailed as far away as Ontario.

"I was surprised. It was very positive. People have been very supportive and encouraging," Father Lundrigan said.

The priest said he has not heard from the church hierarchy, which vehemently opposes same-sex marriage and is lobbying the federal government not to bring in a bill allowing the legal unions.

Under the legislation, churches will not be forced to perform the marriages.

Calgary Bishop Fred Henry has said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien risks the eternal damnation of his soul by pushing forward with the law.

Father Lundrigan said if two women or two men want to get married and live a normal, happy healthy life, they should be allowed to do so.

"However, they cannot do it here (in the Catholic church). Yet this institution that will not allow such marriages, and of which I am a part, demands that its leaders lead a celibate life and suppress their sexuality to the point that hundreds of them around the world have been perverted into abusers of children."

"So, while I cannot perform same-sex marriages, neither can I support the institution of the Roman Catholic Church in its efforts to suppress those who wish to live a more open, honest and healthier lifestyle."