TWO of the most senior archbishops in the country have differed on whether pro-choice Catholics should be prevented from receiving communion.
The first signs of division among senior clerics emerged yesterday with clear differences of opinion.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said he does not want to see the sacrament of communion being used "for publicity reasons" by anybody in the debate surrounding abortion.
And he urged politicians to "examine their coherence" between their faith and what they proposed in the forthcoming abortion legislation.
His comments came after Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, warned that politicians who knowingly introduced legislation "aiding and abetting abortion" should not approach a priest looking for communion.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, who succeeds Cardinal Sean Brady next year, said that legislators who supported abortion were excommunicating themselves.
"You cannot regard yourself as a person of faith and support abortion," he told the 'Sunday Times'. "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.
"You are excommunicating yourself. Any legislator who clearly and publicly states this should not approach looking for communion."
When questioned about his colleague's remarks, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin pointedly failed to back his hardline stance.
He said he believed communion "should not become a place of debate and contrast and be used for publicity reasons by anybody".
While he said he had only had a "quick look" at how the story concerning his fellow archbishop had been presented, he felt that the term excommunication "may have been used in a rather large way there".
Excommunication was a "very specific measure" under Canon Law, he told the Irish Independent.
"There is a danger that it would be looked at as a life sentence by some people and that is not what it does," he said.
The line taken by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin appears to be in keeping with the Pope's own decision not to give communion in public, except on rare occasions, apparently for fear that it could be politicised.
While Pope Francis has given no explicit reason for his decision, he spoke of his reluctance to give communion and be photographed with people who engage in indecent behaviour.
At the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, US Vice-President Joe Biden and Democrats' leader, Nancy Pelosi – both publicly pro-abortion and Catholic – were present and received communion but not from the hands of the Pope. He was seated behind the altar.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has urged politicians to examine their own faith as they make up their minds on the issue.
However, he also said the question of a time limit on late abortions should be "seriously looked at".
"We believe that current (medical) practice will be to try always to defend the mother and the child. We have to make sure that continues."
He also praised the strong ethos and tradition in the Irish health service.
"We have this tradition in Ireland where there are very low levels of maternal mortality, very low levels of mortality of children at birth. That's due to the fact that there really is a real pro-life ethos in the tradition of obstetrics in Ireland."