Bishops have been formally told by Cura, the Irish Catholic Church's support service for women facing crisis pregnancies, that it is to close down tomorrow.

Cura has attributed the decision to a declining demand for its services and to the Republic's new regulatory environment for counselling.

Cura was one of two Irish agencies supporting women facing crisis pregnancies when it was established in 1977.

There are now 14 such agencies.

It has provided a national helpline, as well as counselling and information services, in what a statement last night from the bishops said was "an oftentimes judgemental and unforgiving social environment".

Last month, the Government initiated the process of regulating the counselling profession.

The bishops said they share the regret of Cura's national executive council that it has been compelled to close due to the new accreditation requirements.

In the past 21 years, the organisation managed on average almost 8,000 face-to-face and telephone counselling sessions with clients each year.

Cura advises people who need to access similar support, including counselling and support after an abortion or support for parents of a new baby, to use service providers that operate under the mandate of the Health Service Executive's Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

Meanwhile, the Catholic hierarchy's statement on their summer quarterly meeting effectively warns the Government not to proceed with plans to require doctors and nurses who conscientiously object to participating in the provision of abortion services, to refer a woman seeking a termination to a doctor who will perform one.

The bishops say this would only be "a way of pretending to respect freedom of conscience while actually requiring one person to co-operate in what he or she sincerely believes is the wrong-doing of another".