THE Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Ireland has said it "deeply regrets" comments made by of its priests at a recent mass comparing gay people to "infected zombies".
In his homily to parishioners at the Capuchin Friary in Kilkenny town last weekend, Brother Tom Forde also said pro-choice and pro-contraception supporters were akin to "the living dead".
According to local radio station KCLR 96FM, a number of mass-goers got up and left the service on Saturday June 8 after being left outraged by the friar's remarks.
Following the mass, Brother Forde posted his homily on an online blog with a photo of zombies and the title: "The living dead are all around us and Christ alone has the cure: the Holy Spirit".
The blog post has since been removed and the Irish Capuchin Franciscans have now expressed regret at their cleric's comments.
In a statement to KCLR Live on Wednesday, the Catholic order said: "This homily, which had been published as a blog is no longer posted online. On reflection Fr Tom removed the blog as it was not his intention to cause hurt to anyone.
"The Capuchin Order wishes to state that all are welcome in our churches, irrespective of sexual orientation.
"Unfortunate comments were made about homosexuality last Saturday, which gay people would have found hurtful, and we deeply regret this."
What did the priest say?
Before delivering his homily on Saturday, Brother Forde admitted to parishioners that it "may destroy whatever respect you have for me".
The former University College Cork (UCC) chaplain then proceeded to list films and TV shows featuring zombies, including the hit series The Walking Dead.
He acknowledged that these were "ridiculous" horror stories, but then suggested certain communities in Ireland were "physically alive but spiritually dead, morally rotten or at least infected".
The priest added: "We see this when the mask slips and someone we thought a friend is revealed as a fiend, full of anger, spite, malice, lust, or pride we had not seen before. We see it in self-destructive, irrational behaviour.
"It is visible in the abuse of drugs and alcohol, in adultery, fornication, and homosexuality... as well as in acceptance of abortion and contraception and in the move to legalise euthanasia.
"In the zombie genre once you’re bitten you’re infected and there’s no hope. The only way to deal with the monsters is to stab or shoot them in the brain. Otherwise they are merciless, relentless, and unstoppable.
"Zombies, thank God, do not actually exist, but I would suggest spiritual-zombiehood does."
The comments came as members of the LGBT community in Ireland and abroad stepped up celebrations for Pride Month, which continues throughout June.
Eddie McGuinness, communications manager of Dublin Pride, said he was "flabbergasted" by Brother Forde's remarks.
He told the Irish Mirror: "Those words are harmful, not just within the LGBT community but within society.
"The Catholic Church is trying to tell people how to live their lives when they should be looking internally and cleaning up what they did themselves."
The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M.Cap.) - founded in the 16th century - is an order of friars within the Roman Catholic Church, among the chief offshoots of the Franciscans.
There are eight Capuchin friaries in Ireland and five in the UK, with over 10,000 members of the order overall in more than 100 countries around the world.