By Olivia Kelleher
The Catholic Communications Office has defended a decision by a Cork church to have a speaker address the congregation about the forthcoming referendum on abortion.
It comes after a woman contacted a local radio station to say that she walked out of an anniversary mass because she didn't want to be at a "rally".
The woman told the Neil Prendeville show, on Cork's Red FM, that she was at an anniversary mass in a church in the diocese of Cork and Ross last Saturday night when the priest decided to read the Bishop's letter about the forthcoming referendum in its entirety.
She said she has great respect for Bishop John Buckley and was quite willing to sit through the letter.
However, her personal difficulties with the Mass arose when the priest mentioned that a speaker would be coming up to the altar after communion to talk about the abortion referendum.
"What I was taken aback by is that, obviously, we have a very important referendum coming up.
"The priest after the gospel he explained that he had a letter from Bishop Buckley in response to the Repeal the Eighth Referendum and that there was a copy of the letter if anyone wanted to take it with them. I thought 'fair enough'.
"I had every intention of taking a copy of the letter home with me. He then proceeded to read the letter. He read it very well.
"I was in a small Mass with family members I didn't want to disrespect as I was there for a family member's memorial. He said "a member of the Pro-Life campaign will be speaking after communion.
"I thought 'hang on, I have come to Mass. I haven't come to a pro-life rally."
The woman said she was among about eight people who left the Mass at communion.
"I am pro-choice but I am not necessarily pro-abortion.
"I said to my mum 'I am really sorry you know I am here but I can't sit here physically.' I didn't sign up for a pro-life rally. I was just going to Mass. I just felt it was so inappropriate."
In a statement, the Catholic Communications Office said that the Diocese of Cork and Ross from time to time invites and allows experts and experienced speakers to address congregations at Sunday masses and other parish celebrations on important issues.
These topics include "respect for human life," "social justice issues" and the "promotion of the Gospel by missionaries."
They said: "The bishop, in collaboration with the Council of Priests, have agreed that appropriate speakers can be considered by local priests to address a congregation in relation to the forthcoming pro-life referendum.
"In such circumstances, speakers are not allowed to deviate from a text already approved by the diocese. In that context, content is discussed in advance, with a priority given to sensitivity around language and tone."
In his pastoral letter read out at masses in the Diocese of Cork and Ross over the weekend, Bishop Buckley said children conceived through rape must be "loved and cherished".
“The child in the womb is innocent of the circumstances of its conception and its health condition,” the letter said.
“There is no other situation in life where the ending of the life of an innocent person is the answer to a difficulty.”
He added that we can only speculate as to how many lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment.
"There is no cause more noble than to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.”