Bishop John McAreavey's fury after Sinn Fein distorts his stance on abortion
Sinn Fein has had to issue an embarrassing apology to a senior Catholic cleric over party literature which significantly misrepresented his views on abortion.
The public climbdown came after a leaflet distributed in west Belfast claimed Bishop John McAreavey "shared" the party's position on the termination of unborn human life.
It was issued in the names of West Belfast MLA Sue Ramsey and Upper Falls councillor Matt Garrett.
Although Sinn Fein does not support abortion, it accepts the final decision rests with the woman in the case of rape, incest or sexual abuse, or where her life or mental health is in danger.
The Catholic Church is opposed to abortion under all circumstances.
Bishop McAreavey said he was "appalled" that his name had been misused.
He said how any political party could have been mistaken about the pro-life position of the church "defied belief".
In a statement, Sinn Fein apologised and accepted the letter had seriously misrepresented the Bishop's views.
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said: "It has come to my attention that a number of letters were issued in west Belfast by local representatives on the issue of abortion in response to queries from constituents.
"These letters seriously misquoted and misrepresented the position of the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, in this fundamental area of church moral teaching.
"Sinn Fein accepts that references in the letter to Bishop McAreavey were inaccurate and these letters should not have gone out.
"I apologise unreservedly to the bishop for any hurt and distress caused.
"I can assure the bishop that all reference to him on this issue has now been removed from all print and electronic literature.
"Sinn Fein has also removed the offending comments from Facebook."
Bishop McAreavey said he accepted Sinn Fein's apology, but criticised their attempt to misrepresent the Catholic Church's pro-life position.
He said Sinn Fein's claims were "an untrue and most damaging assertion".
"I cannot emphasise enough the seriousness of this action which has misused my good name and impugned the teaching reputation of my ministry as bishop," he said.
"Political representatives must answer for their own position on abortion and they should not try to misrepresent the pro-life position of the Catholic Church to their constituents."
Bishop McAreavey continued: "This inaccurate publication does not represent the moral teaching of the Church, nor does it add any credibility to the political process.
"Because of the importance that the Catholic Church accords to the protection of human life, our position cannot be politically misrepresented."
Bishop McAreavey said that a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.
"Last year, in the context of the abortion act which was debated and passed in the Dail, our pro-life message was vigorously promoted across the island," he added.
"Therefore how any party could be mistaken about the pro-life position of the church defies belief."
The Catholic Church has always been strongly opposed to abortion. Its catechism states: "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." Sinn Fein accepts that in cases of rape, incest or sexual abuse, or where life or mental health is in danger, the final decision rests with the mother.