DUBLIN, September 12, 2013 ( – Despite a climb-down by their leadership, some Irish priests are reportedly warning their political parishioners that a vote for the country’s new abortion legislation means they must seek reconciliation with the Church before presenting themselves for Holy Communion.

The Sunday Independent reports that a group of TDs, whom they do not name, have complained that their priests have told them they should not receive Communion.

The Independent reported this Sunday, “A number of TDs, particularly in more rural areas, have told of how they were warned off from seeking Communion by their local priests if they voted for the bill.”

The paper said that up to 25 TDs have called complaining of “vitriolic harassment” over their support for the new law that allows the abortion of babies at any stage of the pregnancy if the mother claims she is suicidal.

“I was approached by one priest during the week and was told very clearly not to go to him looking for Communion that Sunday as I would be refused,” one said.


Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute confirmed reports that some TDs have been refused or warned they will be refused Holy Communion, but said that so far no priests have dared to be named publicly.

She told there have been reports of politicians pushing the issue by attending funerals where they present themselves for Communion, knowing the priest will not want to disturb grieving families by “making a fuss at Communion time.”

Pro-life activists, however, are frustrated with what many have seen as a lack of commitment on the part of the Church leadership to robustly enforce Church teaching on the defense of human life.

One Irish pro-life activist told today that while it is perfectly just within Catholic practice for priests to tell politicians they may not support abortion legislation and still consider themselves to be in good standing, it should be up to their bishops to present a unified face on the issue. “The bishops should be taking it out of the hands of the priests,” she said.

Niamh Uí Bhriain said, “The Church needs to speak on what voting for abortion means for politicians.” This should not “be the burden of individual priests.”

“The Church showed leadership and courage in opposing this cruel and horrific abortion legislation. Now they need to be consistent and pronounce on this issue,” she said.

“This is Communion, the most sacred sacrament of the Church. Politicians know that, but it seems it needs to be spelled out to them, so let’s have that from our bishops, please,” she added.

A “minister” complained anonymously to the paper that they have been “subjected to a ferocious campaign” by Church leaders. Notably, the anonymous minister said it was not the older, but the “young, very conservative” priests who have objected.

“One priest was threatening all sorts from the pulpit one weekend which made life uncomfortable. Excommunication…direct threats came from the altar about us receiving Communion. It was outrageous,” the minister is quoted saying.

But Uí Bhriain countered, “This is purely a Catholic issue so the usual commentators can’t moan that the Church is interfering in politics. Irish politicians who voted for abortion should know that, according to the laws on the Church, they cannot receive Communion.”

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One Fine Gael TD, Aine Collins, who also supported the bill, complained to the Independent that she had been “subjected to abuse” during a pilgrimage abroad, with protesters confronting her at a shrine in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina in August, action she described as “totally inappropriate.”

But Uí Bhriain called the claim of abuse “ridiculous.”

“She went on pilgrimage to Medjugorje with her parish, just weeks after legalizing abortion,” she said. “Young pilgrims there were appalled and made that known to her in a peaceful, prayerful way. They also sat down and discussed the issue with her.”

“These politicians tried to stifle debate all year by claiming pro-life people who made contact were abusive when they weren't and now they want to cry ‘abuse’ when anyone challenges them on what they have done,” Uí Bhriain added. “What they have done is made abortion until birth legal in a pro-life nation: and we are going to make sure that reality stays before the electorate.”

The Independent reports that Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who ignored all calls from senior prelates to shelve the bill, was “awarded” Communion at a funeral Mass. The Prime Minister, the Independent adds, received Communion at this Mass in the presence of the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, the Bishop of Down and Conor, Noel Treanor, and the Bishop of Elphin, Christy Jones. Even the heavily secularist Independent commented that this act of defiance by Kenny, who has frequently publicly attacked the Church in recent years, was in direct contravention of the Church’s code of Canon Law, “clause 915, which states that anyone who supports abortion legislation is automatically excommunicated.”

The Irish bishops have not made an unequivocal stand on the issue, with some stating that holding politicians to account for their support for the bill, which legalizes direct abortion for the first time in Ireland, is a side issue.

Although the Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, had already stated that abortion-supporting politicians have “ruptured” their communion with the Church, he later backpedaled, saying he would not directly refuse them the Eucharist.

In May, Eamon Martin said, “You cannot regard yourself as a person of faith and support abortion. If a legislator comes to me and says, ‘Can I be a faithful Catholic and support abortion?’ I would say no. Your communion is ruptured if you support abortion.”

In response, the popular Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin spoke against the bill itself and said that such politicians should not present themselves for Communion, but clarified that this is not the same as refusing.

“Communion should not become a place of debate and contrast and be used for publicity reasons by anybody,” Dublin’s Martin told the Independent. In comments on his Armagh colleague’s statement, Diarmuid Martin said that the term excommunication, “may have been used in a rather large way there.”

In a separate interview with the Tablet, the Dublin archbishop said, “I believe that the important thing is to create a wide consensus around pro-life issues rather than going after [individual politicians].” These, he told the left-leaning UK magazine, include the problem of gang violence, poor quality of care for the elderly and racial hatred.

By the end of August, Eamon Martin of Armagh had told Radio Ulster that he had never refused Communion to anyone and had no plans to start. Echoing similar statements from prominent prelates in the U.S., Martin, who will soon take the position of Primate of Ireland, said he does not believe “the altar rails are the place to be making a public statement.”

The insistence that politicians must be held to account by their Church leaders is not only the opinion of individual Catholics, pro-life activists or groups, however. In 2004, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, “when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest,” as in the case of politicians voting for a bill legalising abortion, “his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist”.

The document, titled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” went on to say that when instruction fails and the person still presents himself to receive the Eucharist – which the Catholic Church teaches is the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ – “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

This action, the future pope went on to say, “is not a sanction or a penalty” but is intended as a corrective for the salvation of his soul.

The requirement for bishops and clergy to withhold Communion in such cases, is frequently repeated by the Church’s highest jurist and authority on Canon Law, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, the equivalent of a Supreme Court. In April this year, Burke urged pro-life advocates to contact their bishops and ask them “to give that pastoral leadership that they’re called to give on this very critical issue.”


Archbishop Eamon Martin
Ara Coeli, Cathedral Road,

Armagh, Northern Ireland,
BT61 7QY
Tel: (+) (028) 3752 2045
Fax: (+) (028) 3752 6182

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop's House,
Drumcondra, Dublin 9,
Tel: (+) 83 73 732.
Fax: (+) 83 69 796

Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore
Bishop's House
44 Armagh Road
Newry, Co. Down, Ireland BT35 6PN
Tel: (+) (0) 28 30262444
Fax: (+) (0) 28 30260496

Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Conor,
Down and Connor Diocesan Curia
73 Somerton Road
BT15 4DE
Tel: +44 (0) 28 9077 6185
Fax: +44 (0) 28 9077 9377

Bishop Christy Jones of Elphin,
through the Vicar General
Msgr. Gerard Dolan
Rosses Point,
Co. Sligo, Ireland
Tel: 071 9177133
[email protected]