The speech was made in front of up to 100 children at the Church of Our Lady Conceived Without Sin in Mitchelstown, Co Cork. It coincided with the issuing of a pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland on abortion.
Parish priest Fr Michael Fitzgerald did not seek permission from the apostolic administrator of the diocese, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, to allow the woman to take to the pulpit.
Last night, the archbishop said he was “unhappy this speech took place”. He contacted Fr Fitzgerald about the guest speaker this week after he received complaints from parishioners who were disgusted the speech was made in front of children and that a special needs child was described as “punishment from God”.
Many of the parishioners were parents and relatives of children with special needs.
Fr Fitzgerald said he believed “the woman’s comments around her special needs child were misinterpreted”. He defended his actions but said allowing her to speak at Mass “was possibly bad judgment”.
“I did not know what hurt it would cause,” said Fr Fitzgerald. “I was contacted by an organisation who said they had a woman who could speak of her experience.
“At the time, I thought this is a story that not a lot of people get to hear. I knew the woman’s story but I did not know what hurt it would cause. She explained to the congregation that it was the guilt inside of her that made her feel like that. She was hurt at the time. She had not yet healed after the abortion.
“A central theme of her address was that all human life is sacred, that all children are precious and should be equally cherished and supported. It is a matter of regret that a small number of people were upset at some aspects of the lady’s address, especially as they related to children with special needs. I can assure you that was never intended.”
The woman gave her talk at several Masses last Sunday. There were children with special needs in the various congregations.
The woman, who lives in the Cork area, was a representative of the Rachel’s Vineyard organisation. Set up in the US by the pro-life Priests for Life organisation, Rachel’s Vineyard provides counselling and retreats to women who have had abortions. An Irish representative for the group said it “too believed the comments were misinterpreted”.
One of the parishioners, a parent of a child with special needs, said he was “gutted” and “horrified” by the speech. He described the decision to allow the woman to speak as “crazy”.
Inclusion Ireland said the woman’s comment was a “ridiculous statement with no basis in fact”. A spokeswoman said “it will cause great hurt to parents”. “This talk should never have taken place,” she added.
Last Sunday, a pastoral letter on abortion was delivered to the country’s 1,360 parishes. In the letter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland argued the Government “is under no obligation” to legislate for abortion due to a 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling.