A well-known Belfast priest has won praise after he said that politicians who supported laws which foisted abortion onto Northern Ireland should be refused Holy Communion.

Political campaigners sought to stir controversy about the priest’s comments, but he has been commended for showing leadership and courage by Catholics in Northern Ireland who feel betrayed by politicians who co-operated with the British Parliament

Fr Patrick McCafferty, from the Corpus Christi Parish, said it was “a complete and utter contradiction” to legalise abortion and still consider oneself a practising Catholic.

He also warned that politicians who promoted abortion should not present themselves for Holy Communion, saying it was “impossible” to receive the sacrament in that instance.

“There is no way in which that can be justified or accepted,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “”Promoting abortion is just totally outside the faith. “You cannot consider yourself a Catholic in good standing. “You should have the honesty and integrity to not present yourself for Holy Communion.”

Fr McCafferty, who had previously excoriated Sinn Féin for pushing abortion, and now said the other political party traditionally representing Catholics in the region, the SDLP, was also now “speaking out of two sides of its mouth on the crucial matter of the inviolable sanctity of human life”.

Politicians hit back saying the priest had no right to make his comments, but hundreds of messages on social media took a different view.

Kathleen Mcleary wrote: “Totally agree with you father, 100 per cent behind you. They don’t know what they are doing, if only they could understand and realise how many women suffer forever by regretting their abortion.

While others praised the priest’s leadership. “Thank you Fr Paddy McCafferty  for all that you are doing. We are blessed to have your wise, measured and holy leadership as we all ‘fight the good fight,” wrote Lisa O’Hare.

The Belfast priest said that “We now have the grotesque situation where medical staff, in a hospital, will be battling to save the lives of premature infants and, in the same hospital, other doctors will be deliberately killing babies of the same age. It’s an obscenity.”

In light of that, Fr McCafferty said, politicians could not separate lawmaking from their conscience and their faith. “n matters of faith and conscience, you cannot believe something “in private” and, in the public domain, promote something that is the complete opposite – something that is irreconcilable with true Catholic Christian faith. Jesus has clearly said: “whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33),” he said.

And he quoted Pope Francis who wrote in May, 2013: “you cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged” (Letter to the bishops of Argentina, May 7th, 2013).

Fr McCafferty had previously won widespread admiration for his courage in speaking out on the issue of abuse in the Catholic Church.

“It is no secret that I myself am a victim of one of those predators who have caused such ruin,” he told his congregation. “The harm I suffered was extensive and long-lasting. Others have suffered worse and may never be healed in this life. These are shocking crimes which cry out to God in Heaven.”