The Taoiseach has said he backs Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan after she led prayers in a church last weekend when a priest failed to arrive.

Speaking to reporters, Leo Varadkar said his understanding of the incident was that when the priest had not been able to attend, a number of women from the congregation, including Ms Madigan, led prayers but had not said mass.

"I think what she did was actually a very nice thing," he said.

In relation to female priests, Mr Varadkar said he believed in equality of all things including the workplace and that would include allow priests to marry and allowing women to become priests.

However, he stressed that he also strongly believed in the separation of church and State, so that was not something the Government was going to be legislating about.

The minister told RTÉ Radio earlier this week that she welcomed people to the church and explained the situation, but they did not read the gospel and there were no sacraments.

She also said that the Catholic Church should be ordaining women and allowing priests to marry.

However, her comments prompted a strong response from Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who said she had caused distress to parishioners and was pushing an agenda.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has said he believes Ms Madigan was trying to push her own agenda when making comments about the Catholic Church.

He said that "it's silly season at play" and he accused the minister of trying to gain "notoriety" with her comments about ordaining women priests.

Mr McGrath said the minister should examine her own conscience "about being on the altar and being a strong proponent" of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

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