THE Catholic bishops have described the report findings of the Government-appointed expert group on abortion as flawed.
The hierarchy was giving its first official response to the report, which sets out how the Government might respond to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in A, B and C v Ireland.
At a news conference in Maynooth, the bishops said they were dismayed by the fact that three of the four proposals made by the group would involve direct abortion, which is "morally wrong".
They expressed concern over several aspects of the recommendations and criticised the failure to take all possible options into consideration.
Speaking in Maynooth, Bishop Leo O'Reilly of Kilmore said that although the expert group's terms of reference "gave them wide scope", they had not looked at all the options available "or even at all the options that were suggested by the judgment of the European Court".
He said the Strasbourg judgment did not oblige the Government to introduce legislation for abortion.
Bishop O'Reilly asked why Health Minister James Reilly had imposed a restriction on the expert group's terms of reference which prevented it from looking at the option of a constitutional amendment to reverse the 1992 Supreme Court X Case judgment.
The bishops favour enhanced medical guidelines within the current legislative framework as the best option.
"The medical guidelines that are there have been very effective. If it is necessary to improve those guidelines to make them more specific so that doctors have better guidance in the treatments they can give to save the lives of the mother and child – then by all means introduce those. We think that is probably the preferable solution," Bishop O'Reilly said.
The bishops also criticised the omission of an expert in ethics from the expert group, though the terms of reference required them to look at the ethical implications of their findings.
Speaking to reporters, accompanied by Cardinal Sean Brady, and Bishop Kieran O'Reilly of Killaloe, Bishop O'Reilly warned that one of their major concerns was that the expert group failed to take on board the experience of other countries where the introduction of very limited abortion led inevitably to abortion on demand.
Dr Brady said that limited abortion never remained limited, as the experience of other countries had shown.
The bishops called for a calm, rational, informed debate before any decision about the options offered by the expert group report were taken.
Dr Brady said this should take into consideration the findings of the inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.
"We're concerned that the Government would take time to consider this issue and would not rush into it – that they would give people and public representatives time to listen to their people."
Referring to Tuesday evening's vigil by pro-life supporters outside Leinster House, the bishops said five of them, as well as the administrator of the Diocese of Derry, had attended.
Bishop Kieran O'Reilly said the rest of the bishops' conference had "engaged in a vigil of prayer" for the success of the rally, and for Ireland, on this issue.