A priest at the centre of complaints about visiting homes for "exorcisms" has said he was not referring to performing formal exorcisms, but to placing "a blessing on the family home against evil".

Fr Michael Doyle told RTÉ News that he told parents of first holy communion and confirmation children in the parish of Poulfur-Templetown in Co Wexford that he would like to visit the homes to carry out blessings, but only by prior arrangement.

The diocese of Ferns confirmed today that it had received "a number of complaints" from parents in the area about Fr Doyle's comments and that it had referred the matter to the diocese’s vicar-general, Fr Joe McGrath.

"I would visit a house and do blessings," Fr Doyle said, adding that he performs "a blessing on the family, a blessing on the family home against evil," and would call ahead in advance.

"When I was using the term 'exorcism’ that’s what I meant," he said. "Not an exorcism in the formal way. Just a family blessing on the home."

He added: "I should have probably teased it out a bit better. A blessing on the family and a blessing on the home."

The situation had been "blown out of proportion" he said, with somebody hearing the word "exorcism" at mass, and he has already written to parents "as soon as I got the word, I could see there was some misunderstanding".

Fr Doyle said that his usual practice with children who are receiving the sacraments of holy communion or confirmation is that he sends a statue of the Sacred Heart home with a different child each week and the family is invited to use the statue "as a focal point for family prayer".

He would then call to the family by arrangement, he said.

In relation to Mass attendance for the families, he said he does not require it, but "the normal practice for Catholics is that they go to Mass every week, it's called keeping the third commandment, respect the Sabbath.

"It can’t be enforced", Fr Doyle added.

"Hopefully what we’re trying to do is grow in our relationship with Jesus and, because of that relationship, they will want to come [to Mass] and not come because of a rule.

The diocesan spokesman told RTÉ News that "if we have to rectify or clarify anything, we will do so."

Domini Codd, the principal of the national school, which has a total enrolment of over 170 children, said they have received "no complaints" about the matter and said that preparations for the sacraments are continuing as normal.

However, the diocese confirmed that "there were a number of parents on complaining" about the matter.