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Wednesday 21 March 2018

FG TDs suffer Communion snub

Several government deputies 'discouraged' from taking sacrament after voting for abortion legislation

SINGLED OUT: FG's Aine Collins was subjected to abuse from Youth Defence while on pilgrimage. Photo: Damien Eagers
SINGLED OUT: FG's Aine Collins was subjected to abuse from Youth Defence while on pilgrimage. Photo: Damien Eagers

DANIEL McCONNELL Political Correspondent

SEVERAL government TDs have been "discouraged" from taking Holy Communion over their support for the controversial abortion legislation, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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.

One minister claimed he was threatened with excommunication by his local priest from the altar.

"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 TD told the Sunday Independent.

Meanwhile, a large number of government TDs have revealed how they have been publicly pilloried from the pulpit over their support for the abortion legislation.

One Fine Gael minister said he was subjected to a ferocious campaign by priests and bishops.

"The attitude of some young, very conservative priests was atrocious," the minister said.

"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."

Another TD revealed that his parish priest used a meeting on a separate family matter to "make his position on abortion clear again and again and again. It was wrong".

Another rural-based deputy said that he was subjected to "rantings from the altar, week after week after week".

He added: "He (the priest) said any TD who voted for this thing should be excommunicated and therefore shouldn't expect to receive Communion. Bloody hell, the church should be encouraging people in, not scaring them away."

Another TD was warned that the long-standing tradition of the church gate collection would be stopped if they supported the bill.

Some of the 25 deputies contacted by the Sunday Independent told of disturbing instances of intimidation and "vitriolic harassment" by members of pro-life and religious groups.

One rural TD was told by a priest from the altar that passing the bill would have the same devastating impact as the Omagh bomb, a reference to the fact that two unborn children were killed in the 1998 IRA atrocity. The TD, who did not want to be identified, said he has not returned to Mass since.

Even weeks after the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill became law, another TD, Aine Collins, was subjected to abuse from Youth Defence while on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina in August. She was also targeted on her arrival back at Cork Airport.

Ms Collins said she was "deeply shaken" by the manner and timing of the protest.

"I did feel it was totally inappropriate given where I was and when it was," she told the Sunday Independent.

A number of Fine Gael TDs said they have stopped going to Mass because of the way they have been treated by their local clergy.

However, a number of government deputies said they did not receive any abuse, nor were they singled out by members of their local clergy, over their support for the legislation.

"Some people protested but I was always treated with courtesy. I heard of some of my colleagues getting some heat, but I assure you I had no bad experiences," Fine Gael Cavan- Monaghan TD Joe O'Reilly said.

The controversy comes after Taoiseach Enda Kenny was awarded Communion at the funeral Mass of Paddy Leneghan, the late father of former President Mary McAleese in Rostrevor, Co Down, on August 19.

Mr Kenny received the sacrament 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, despite comments by Archbishop Eamon Martin and other senior church leaders that any politician who supported the abortion legislation would be excommunicated.

Technically, the offering of Communion to Mr Kenny is a breach of the church's code of practice, Canon Law clause 915, which states that anyone who supports abortion legislation is automatically excommunicated.

Last week Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was seen on television receiving Communion at the funeral of poet Seamus Heaney, despite his party's support for the abortion legislation.

Senior Vatican officials as well as Archbishop Martin, who will succeed Cardinal Sean Brady next year, have said that those who support the legislation will automatically excommunicate themselves.

Several senior Vatican figures, including Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, said that no politician who supports abortion legislation should be given Communion.

In July, Archbishop Martin said: "You cannot regard yourself as a person of faith and support abortion. You can't believe you are with our church and directly help someone procure an abortion."

He added: "This includes medical professionals and the legislators. 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."

However, one government TD this weekend said Archbishop Martin's intervention was "totally inappropriate".

"He did more damage than good and certainly didn't endear himself to many of us," Jerry Buttimer told the Sunday Independent.

"The level of vitriol and abuse was horrific. I received death threats which I referred to the gardai. I also got a lot of nasty stuff about my sexuality. This stuff came from the pro-life side, even though I myself have pro-life views."

The spokesman for the Irish bishops, Martin Long, insisted that there has been no diktat from the hierarchy about whether politicians should or should not receive Communion or whether they are excommunicated from the church.

"It is a matter for the individual to reconcile with their own conscience as to whether they remain in communion with the church. It is a very personal matter that cannot be decided upon by the bishops," he told the Sunday Independent.

Mr Long said he had not heard of any such instances of politicians being discouraged from taking Communion and therefore could not comment on the matter.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said he had "no response" to our queries for comment.

Sunday Independent

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