Priests warned to wear panic buttons to combat burglars
MORE than 80 priests in the Diocese of Meath have been urged to wear panic buttons after a number of attacks on their homes and churches in recent years.
Elderly priests – many of whom still serve ministerial positions in their 80s – have received advice on personal safety amid fears that they are targets for marauding gangs.
Parochial houses, churches and sacristies have been hit by thieves in search of easy money or valuable objects. Heating oil has also been a favourite target by robbers.
Clergy from all over the diocese, which includes parts of Westmeath and Offaly, were given the personal safety advice at their annual diocesan assembly in Navan on Monday.
In the past few years, priests have become "an easy target", according to Meath crime prevention officer Sgt Dean Kerins who was invited by the clergy to give the talk due to "growing concern for the safety and security of property and themselves".
He said: "Since I took up this position four years ago, I've become aware of numerous thefts on priests and in church grounds. There hasn't been a spike in attacks on the clergy but incidents have been consistent over a number of years.
"Unfortunately, priests have an open door policy for people, which increases the risk to their personal safety."
Among the advice given by Sgt Kerins was to photograph and keep an inventory of all possessions and to take precautions when admitting people into their homes.
Ashbourne parish priest Fr Derek Darby, who arranged the talk, said: "While working on the spiritual needs and support of priests, we realised that there was a real need for personal security and safety measures.
"Some priests, especially those living in isolated and rural areas, are somewhat vulnerable and we want to make sure there are structures in place to help protect them.
"We don't want to have to get into a situation where we have to tell people to only come to us during office hours because of safety concerns. We hope to be able to remain available to our parishioners whenever needed but there is a level of exposure we have to be wary of."
Speaking on panic buttons, he estimated that about 30 of the 100 priests in the diocese were over 70, many of whom were still serving in parishes.
"Many priests would be aware of panic buttons from visiting the elderly in the parish but would not have even thought of getting one for themselves."
Fr Darby said that priests had been "very reassured" by the talk and practical information given at the assembly, which also discussed pastoral concerns, housekeeping and visions for the future.
"The priests were very reassured by the talk. There's a misconception that money is kept in parochial houses. Most money is lodged straight away or kept in timelock safes," he said. "Unfortunately, there have been a number of priests who have been tied up and assaulted during break-ins in the diocese over the years."