It was supposed to be Ireland’s first floating church, a vessel for spreading the unique appeal of Ireland’s faith-healing Tridentine Catholic bishop, Michael Cox.
But Mr Cox’s 26-metre ship, a Swedish-built trawler called The Patriarch, burst into flames pn Wednesday, then exploded and sank minutes after a rescue helicopter winched its three crew members to safety.
Nobody was reported injured. Mr Cox was not on board. The fire, apparently caused by electrical faults in the engine room, destroyed what would have been Mr Cox’s latest effort to grab headlines. Mr Cox said he had hoped to shadow a Dutch ship that performs abortions in international waters and last traveled in 2001 to Ireland, where abortion remains illegal.
A despondent Mr Cox, 58, said he had a vision of “going around the coast with her, and challenging any abortion ships that might come into the area, and fighting evil.” But he said he couldn’t afford to buy another ship.
Mr Cox, a former Irish soldier and policeman who has a son from an annulled marriage, says he was ordained a priest by a Vietnamese Tridentine bishop in 1978, then consecrated to become Ireland’s only bishop of the Tridentine sect, which rejects Vatican II reforms and the authority of Pope John Paul II. The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, in turn, has excommunicated its leading members for performing such ordinations.
For the past decade, Mr Cox has preached the virtues of the Latin Mass, his skills as an exorcist and water diviner, and his healing powers, a practice that attracts scores of ill and disabled people to his remote base in Birr, County Offaly.
Mr Cox has attracted special attention with a string of stunts, including exorcizing alleged demons from a Dublin radio station and the national parliament; setting up a confessions-by-phone hot line; and selling a “Heal yourself, by the miracle bishop” home video.
In recent years he has been recruiting followers to a new sect he calls the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church. In 1998 he consecrated a high-profile gay Catholic priest from Northern Ireland, Pat Buckley, as a bishop – an act that earned them both automatic excommunication under Roman Catholic canonical law.
Mr Cox followed that up by ordaining Ireland’s flash-in-the-pan pop icon, Sinead O’Connor, as a priest in 1999, though she subsequently stopped referring to herself as Mother Bernadette Mary and said she’d found the celibacy rule impossible to follow.
Ms Buckley then split from Mr Cox after learning that O’Connor had given Mr Cox a reported donation of more than 200,000 euro ($355,900).
The Patriarch ship was traveling north from the port of Fenit, County Kerry, to Belmullet, County Mayo, in western Ireland when the blaze destroyed it.