Sinn Fein has apologised to a Catholic bishop for misrepresenting his views on abortion.
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said letters sent out to his constituents had “seriously misquoted” the Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey in regard to a “fundamental area of church moral teaching”.
Mr Maskey said he apologised unreservedly for the literature, which was issued in the names of party Assembly member Sue Ramsey and councillor Matt Garrett.
In response, bishop McAreavey said he accepted the apology but strongly criticised the content of the letters.
He said how any political party could have been mistaken about the pro-life position of the church “defied belief”.
Mr Maskey said the literature was issued by local representatives in west Belfast 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,” he said.
“Sinn Fein accepts that references in the letter to Bishop McAreavey were inaccurate and these letters should have not 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: “When I became aware of party political literature which was jointly issued in the names of Sue Ramsey MLA and councillor Matt Garrett of Sinn Fein, which stated that I “share” their position on the “termination” of unborn human life, I was appalled.
“This is 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.
“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.”
The senior cleric said he appreciated that Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Mr Maskey had intervened in the matter.
He added: “But to be clear: this inaccurate publication does not represent the moral teaching of the Church nor does it add 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.
“By virtue of their common humanity, 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. Therefore how any political party could be mistaken about the pro-life position of the Church defies belief.”