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The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, the Most Rev Colin Campbell, received "nasty" emails after he urged Catholics to oppose a new abortion clinic for Invercargill.
More than 8000 parishioners across the Otago and Southland diocese yesterday were read a letter from the bishop saying Catholics were opposed to abortion and "we must do all we can to prevent this culture of death spreading in our country".
Bishop Campbell said he had emails supportive of his stance.
"But I have received some nasty emails too, and some are quite personal."
He declined to talk about the exact contents, saying only "I would describe them as offensive".
"The unfortunate thing about this is that the people think this is just a religious thing, but it not just a religious matter.
"It is a human matter.
"It is not just a woman's life ... There are two lives involved."
Bishop Campbell said those opposing the church's stance tended to argue that as abortion was legal "they seem to presume that [abortion] is moral, where in fact that is not the case".
"This is taking the life of an unborn child," he said.
By opposing the Southern District Health Board's plan to establish the Invercargill abortion service, it could potentially stop the "spread" of abortions to Dunedin and elsewhere, he said.
"We don't believe [abortion] should be anywhere."
He intended to write to the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, to express his concern over the board's decision, and campaigners were also seeking a ruling from the Ombudsman.
Some Invercargill medical practitioners were unhappy with the decision, and the bishop cited the decision of a senior pediatrician at Southland Hospital, Dr Vili Sotutu, who tendered his resignation last month in protest.
Western Southland parish priest Father Vaughan Leslie said people were not surprised by the contents of the letter "because it's no surprise to Catholics what the church teaches on abortion".
However, parishioners might have been surprised by the directness of the letter, which stressed the view the board and management were in error, he said.
"There would have been some board members sitting in congregations this weekend hearing the letter, so I would be most interested to have watched them if I was reading it."
One of those SDHB members, Tim Ward, said the contents of the letter were unlikely to put him off attending Mass.
"Since this first came to light, I have had a number of discussions with people both in a church environment and outside of church, and a lot of people understand the position of the SDHB."