Monday, November 26, 2007

Cura to receive €2.2 million in state funding

The Catholic Church’s pregnancy advice service, Cura, is to receive €2.2 million in state funding over the next two years, despite refusing to provide pregnant women with abortion information.

Cura, which is an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, offers pregnancy advice through 17 centres, staffed by more than 300 volunteers.

Four Cura volunteers in Letterkenny were sacked from the organisation for complaining publicly about the organisations’ abortion referral policy in 2004.

In October 2005, at a hearing of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health, Deputy Fiona O’Malley asked whether it was appropriate for ‘‘an agency with a particular religious or moral belief to be in receipt of public monies’’.

She praised the stance of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) on the issue, which she said she supported 100 per cent.

‘‘I have forgotten how much funding the agency provides to Cura, but it is substantial,” said O’Malley. ‘‘When will this issue come to a head, because it needs to be resolved?”

Former CPA director Olive Braiden told the committee that the CPA had ‘‘not had much communication with Cura since the problem last year when some members of Cura would not allow a referral system’’.

She said the CPA had worked with Bishop Fleming, who was head of Cura at the time. They agreed that, if a woman wanted information on abortion, the counsellor would inform her that Cura could not give her this information directly, but 13 state-funded agencies could give such information.

‘‘The Cura counsellors were to give women what we call the ‘Positive Options leaflet’, which lists all the agencies and their services,” said Braiden. ‘‘This meant they did not need to deal with the subject directly, which is against their ethos. However, they were happy to deal with it in this way, and we were happy to accept that."

‘‘I am adamant that there needs to be a separation between Church and state, especially as there are many religions and faiths in this country. The state has decided to provide an information service to give women the data to which they are entitled. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency believes that all agencies funded by the state should offer all forms of information.”

The CPA has now drawn up a new service-level agreement with Cura.

Paragraph 7.1 of the agreement says: ‘‘Any service provider wishing to exercise a conscientious objection to the provision of this information may do so. Where a pregnant woman. . . requests act information, an appropriate referral must be made.”

But last week, Martin Long, director of the Catholic Communications Office, said Cura would not make available the Positive Options leaflet.

‘‘We don’t give the leaflet out, and are not obliged to give out the leaflet under the service level agreement,” he said.‘‘We won’t and don’t give abortion information to anyone.”

The CPA refused to answer questions about the provision of abortion information.

Director Caroline Spillane said: ‘‘We have said what we are going to say and that is the end of the matter.”

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