Irish Health Minister Simon Harris criticized a Catholic parish this week for publicizing on social media Church teaching against in vitro fertilization (IVF).
The Tullamore parish’s post on Facebook, which has since been removed, underscored that IVF treatment is incompatible with the Catholic faith.
“The process of IVF damages embryonic stem cells and thus life and is therefore completely, clearly and totally incompatible with our Catholic faith,” the post read. “For all believers in God, all life is sacred at all times.”
“As Catholics — we are unapologetically pro-life and are proud and are honoured to stand up for the voiceless and for the vulnerable unborn persons whom we are called to love, cherish and to bring closer to God,” it read.
The message also asked for prayers “for couples struggling to naturally conceive life and who are avoiding IVF treatment.”
According to official Catholic teaching, as summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, IVF techniques are “morally unacceptable” because they “dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act.”
“The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another,” the Catechism continues, “but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.”
Mr. Harris said the parish’s promulgation of Catholic teaching on the matter constituted “inappropriate interference” in people’s personal decision-making.
The parish posted its message just days after Harris announced the allocation of two million euros to support people with fertility issues in accessing public service consultations.
“The comments were, I am sure unintentionally, extremely hurtful to many families who are struggling with fertility issues,” Harris said.
“I thought and certainly hoped we had moved to a point as a country that this sort of inappropriate interference in decisions that individuals and couples make about their own lives would be left to them,” he added.
Mr. Harris also said that he found the Church’s position on the matter inconceivable. “I will never understand and I will never comprehend” moral opposition to IVF, he said.
According to David Quinn, the president of the Iona Institute for Religion and Society, a think tank and advocacy group that promotes marriage and religion in society, Harris’s comments were illustrative of his renowned anti-Catholic animus.
“Simon Harris never misses an opportunity to bash the Church,” Quinn posted on Facebook. “Incredibly cheap politics.”
Regardless of the motivations behind Harris’s criticism, it was sufficient to make the parish back down and delete its post, replacing it with a public apology. The parish said it was sorry for the “great distress” the comment had caused.
“Matters concerning fertility are sacred and sensitive, and all children are cherished and God-given, this is the essence of the Christmas message,” the new message reads.
“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,” it states.