A Catholic parish in the midlands which was at the centre of controversy over the weekend after circulating a message to parishioners critical of IVF treatment has apologised.
A message posted on the Facebook page of Tullamore's Catholic parish on Christmas Eve was accompanied by an image of a foetal Jesus with a halo over his head and the words "He's on His way" and "Christmas starts with Christ". Its message called for prayers "for couples struggling to naturally conceive life and who are avoiding IVF treatment".
It added: “The process of IVF damages embryonic stem cells and thus life and is therefore completely, clearly and totally incompatible with our Catholic faith. For all believers in God, all life is sacred at all times.”
It was taken down following a virulent social media reaction.
The message was descibed on Monday as extremely hurtful and unfortunate by Minister for Health Simon Harris.
He could never understand how a Christian could find it objectionable that people wanted to have a baby and care for and love that baby, he said.
The parish Facebook post came just days after Mr Harris announced plans to provide a publicly funded IVF service in State hospitals for the first time. It is likely to be in operation by 2021.
The Tullamore parish website posted a message on Monday acknowledging the Facebook message of December 24th had caused great distress.
It said: “A post published on the Tullamore Parish Facebook page on Christmas Eve concerning IVF has caused great distress to many members of our parish community and beyond. For hurt caused we apologise.
“Matters concerning fertility are sacred and sensitive, and all children are cherished and God-given, this is the essence of the Christmas message.
“The parish understands the great suffering experienced by mothers and fathers who long for a child. At this time, we offer our pastoral and prayerful support to all parents and expectant parents.”
Speaking earlier on Monday, Mr Harris said he “thought and certainly hoped we had moved to a point as a country [beyond] this sort of inappropriate interference in decisions that individuals and couples make about their own lives”.
"We know that one in seven people in Ireland can experience fertility issues at any time. We know that we need to support them better and we know we need to regulate IVF. The idea that an individual who wishes to have a baby and love that baby and care for that baby, the idea that any Christian would find that objectionable is something, I will never understand and I will never comprehend," he said.
While he was sure the comments by the Tullamore parish were unintentional, they were “extremely hurtful to many families who are struggling with fertility issues,” he added.
“I want those families to know that their Government stands full square behind them and that we are moving ahead with plans to regulate IVF for the first time in our country through the assisted human reproduction Bill and through the creation of our new regional infertility hubs .
“We know 50 to 70 per cent of people with fertility issues can have these addressed without needing IVF if they can see a specialist in a regional fertility hub and I have provided €2million to the HSE to get on with doing that,” he said.
The Tullamore Facebook post drew many negative comments on social media, the great majority from women strongly criticising it and calling for the author to be identified.
Attempts by The Irish Times to speak to priests in Tullamore parish on the matter were unsuccessful. One priest contacted simply said “bye” and hung up when contacted. A second attempt to speak to the priest elicited a “no comment” before he hung up again.