Priest calls for withholding of Communion for pro-choice MLAs
A Belfast priest has said politicians who supported changes to abortion laws "are damning their souls" and should be refused Holy Communion.
Fr Patrick McCafferty, from the Corpus Christi Parish, made the comments in an interview with the Andersonstown News after terminations and same-sex marriage became legal.
Speaking to this newspaper, the priest said it was "a complete and utter contradiction" to promote abortion and still consider oneself a practising Catholic.
However, pro-life SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly branded the comments "regrettable" and said that only the Vatican could make such an order.
She also hit out at claims that her party had the power to stop changes to abortion laws at a short-lived sitting of the Assembly on Monday.
Fr McCafferty said it was "impossible" to take Holy Communion while supporting abortion.
"There is no way in which that can be justified or accepted," he added.
"There's such a thing as automatic excommunication.
"Promoting abortion is just totally outside the faith.
"You cannot consider yourself a Catholic in good standing.
"You should have the honesty and integrity to not present yourself for Holy Communion."
Ms Kelly said Fr McCafferty's comments were made after "misinformation" about the SDLP's power to stop the changes to abortion law.
Writing in the News Letter, DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: "The pro-life electorate will not forget SDLP weakness.
"They had the power to support the election of a Speaker but walked out of the chamber."
Ms Kelly said only a reformed Executive, including the DUP and Sinn Fein, would have had the power to repeal the law.
"(The accusations) are manipulating the strongly held views and emotions on both sides of the argument," she added.
"Many people who are pro-life and practising Catholics will also be very alarmed and angry about Fr McCafferty's comments.
"I don't know much about canon law, but I know that such a decision would have to come from Rome.
"I know (pro-life) colleagues who are very troubled and anxious and probably losing sleep over some of the debates.
"I'm a pro-life politician. If I have the opportunity to have a vote to restrict the Westminster legislation, I will do that.
"I have to be guided not only by my faith but by what the doctors tell me.
"As a politician, it can't just be your faith that guides you. Your conscience and your faith are very much private matters."