Ireland's Catholic Church said yesterday it would take seriously a government minister's concern over the threat to health posed by incense.
The health risk was raised by Jim McDaid, a minister of state in Ireland's Ministry of Transport, who said the burning of incense could cause cancer. He highlighted the threat, particularly to altar boys and girls, in a comment on the Irish government's plan to ban smoking in the workplace from the beginning of next year.
Dr McDaid, who operated a medical practice before entering politics, and who supports the smoking ban, said he was not anti-church, anti-smoking or against the use of incense.
"But there is a serious aspect to this," he said. "We all know that carbon is a carcinogenic agent, and wherever you have smoke, you are actually looking at carbon molecules. And wherever you have carbon molecules and happen to be inhaling them, then there is that chance that you will be doing damage.
"On a daily basis, we see people that are doing things that are detrimental to their health, and we all know they are doing that," he said.
Responding to the minister's comment, a spokeswoman for the Dublin archdiocese said although there was no official position on Dr McDaid's remarks, any concerns about the use of incense would be taken seriously and subject to investigation by the church.
"Given it's been raised, I think it is seriously something that should be looked into," she said. "Obviously anything that sends a cloud of smoke into a child's face is something we would be concerned about."
The spokeswoman said incense had been widely used in the past during benediction and high mass, but was most often used now during funeral ceremonies, when the priest was performing a blessing over the coffin.
Father John McCann, master of ceremonies to the Archbishop of Dublin, said he believed there was growing awareness about the potentially harmful effects of the smoke from burning incense.
He said: "For example, in a large church building where there is plenty of space, I would be less worried. But in a small church building you have to be particularly aware, particularly if there are servers suffering from asthma."