THE presence of a conservative Catholic splinter group is causing concern to locals at Reenascreena, near Rosscarbery.
The group, the SSPX Resistance, has been based at an old farmhouse in a remote part of the West Cork countryside since it was purchased by ‘Fr Giacomao Ballini’ in 2016.
SSPX is a disgruntled spin-off from the controversial Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) group which was founded in 1970 by former archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who clashed with the church following his rejection of Vatican II reforms.
One of the founding members of the SSPX Resistance is convicted holocaust denier Richard Williamson, who visited the West Cork premises and said mass there in March.
The SSPX Resistance have been holding ‘masses’ in a chapel which they built on the site, and have recently started posting videos mocking mask-wearers during Covid-19.
A concerned local who saw the priests shopping in a Dunmanway supermarket without wearing masks or sanitising their hands, approached them.
Campaigner Fiona O’Leary, a former Cork County Council election candidate, said the men, dressed in long priestly attire, told her that they were based in ‘Ireland’ but didn’t acknowledge they were residing just a few miles away.
But the priest she spoke to, Fr Ballini, is the registered owner of the property in Reenascreena. The church’s founder Richard Williamson was convicted in German courts of denying the Holocaust and incitement related to those views, and an earlier excommunication was reimposed by the Pope.
In 2017, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that he was accused of harbouring clergy accused of sexual abuse in his ‘renegade’ SSPX Resistance order, which is headquartered in Kent in the UK.
Some West Cork ‘priory’ residents also attended a ‘Resistance Pilgrimage’ on the Hill of Slane in Co Meath on August 3rd, and later posted photographs online of the gathering ‘of around 100’ showing no social distancing and no mask-wearing.
The Resistance claims that Catholic church reforms over recent decades have ‘contributed and are still contributing to the destruction of the church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the sacrifice of the mass and of the sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life.’
It is also believed that the nuns living in makeshift dwellings in Corran, Leap, members of the Carmelite Order of The Holy Face, are regular attendees at the Latin masses being said in Reenascreena.
The nuns are currently in the middle of a legal battle with Cork County Council over planning at their own site. When The Southern Star contacted the nuns recently, they declined to comment.
In January 2019, Ballini applied to Cork County Council for permission to construct a ‘cemetery, incorporating an alter with life size crucifix’ on the site, but it was later withdrawn.
Ms O’Leary believes the plan was withdrawn after opposition was expressed by locals in the Drinagh area.
When contacted by The Southern Star, Fr Ballini responded by saying: ‘At the moment we are following a spiritual retreat and I am required to keep a spirit of recollection, interior and exterior silence. But he added: ‘We try, within the limits of our weaknesses, to live to Christ and consequently to seek only to please Him and to fear only to displease Him.’