A Catholic priest has come out of the closet to his congregation whilst celebrating mass at St. Nicholas Myra Church in Dublin on Saturday night.

Father Martin Dolan shocked his parishioners  with the announcement that he was gay but was greeted with cheers and a round of applause.

The Irish News reported than Father Dolan was often described as a “very outspoken” and much loved member of the clergy. Church authorities have yet to add comment.

Irish LGBT rights activist and policy director of GLEN (Gay and Lesbian equality network), Tiernan Brady has commended the priest for his brave actions, describing the reception of the priest’s news as “fabulous” and noted the announcement as “a brave step” forward.

The staunchly conservative Catholic church does not prevent gay men serving as priests because they commit to a vow of chastity.

This is a positive move ahead of the referendum on equal marriage due to take place in Ireland in May.

The latest newsletter from Father Dolan’s parish has quoted Father Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic priests as saying the Catholic church was “destined to lose” the battle against the equal marriage movement. The reaction of the St. Nicholas Myra clergy to Fr. Dolan’s announcement certainly seems to show this to be the case.

The first serving Irish priest to come out as gay was Father Joseph McGuigan of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast. Fr. McGuigan came out of the closet in 2003 and also received widespread support from his parishioners, however he chose to resign from the ministry several months later.