Guidance on religious services is “advice by Government rather than regulation”
The Bishop of Elphin is set to defy public health advice by holding confirmations and communions in the coming days.
Despite a ban on the religious ceremonies, Bishop Kevin Doran said he plans to offer the sacraments to children and families who wish to take part in the services.
Writing in today’s Irish Independent, the bishop says he consulted with senior priests in his diocese and they decided the ceremonies should be held in line with public health regulations for general religious services.
“The mission of the Church cannot be put on hold indefinitely,” Bishop Kevin writes.
He says the guidance on religious services is “advice by Government rather than regulation”. The bishop also asks families to “pay full attention to the public health guidelines” if they are celebrating after communions and confirmations.
Priests in the diocese, which covers parts of Sligo, Roscommon, Galway and Westmeath, are expected to contact local communities in the coming days to begin the process of scheduling the delayed religious services.
Children were asked to register for the sacraments in March and dates have been set for some services.
The bishop’s intervention follows the Government easing restrictions on baptisms and weddings while continuing to prohibit communions and confirmations.
From August 5, up to 50 people are allowed attend christenings inside churches but the Government urged people not to hold social events after the ceremonies. Meanwhile, the number of people who can attend weddings was doubled to 100 guests from next week.
The rules for general religious ceremonies allow 50 worshippers in smaller buildings and pods of 50 spaced out by four metres in bigger premises.
The ban on communions and confirmations has been in place since Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions were introduced at the start of the year.
Last month, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, criticised what he called the “grossly disrespectful” way the Government announced the continued ban on communions and confirmations.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar mentioned the ban would be extended at the end of a press conference.
Bishop Doran says the “rather cavalier manner” that the Church was asked to postpone communions and confirmations shows the Government has “very little understanding or respect for the meaning of Church and sacrament, especially in the lives of young families”.
The Bishop says Catholics “understood and supported the public health restrictions and the periods of lockdown and restriction”.
However, he says he does not understand why communions and confirmations are still prohibited two months after restrictions on religious services were lifted.
“In all our churches at the moment it is possible for us to have congregations of 50 for mass and, in the larger churches, this may extend to a number of pods of 50 people,” he says.
“Nobody has given me a satisfactory explanation as to why it is a problem if some of those 50 people happen to be receiving communion for the first time,” he adds.
The bishop also notes it is accepted by politicians that what happens inside churches has not led to a significant spread of the coronavirus but rather the issue is the social events that take place after religious services.
“The difficulty with that argument is that under Government guidelines, both indoor and outdoor dining are now in operation. The guidance for social and family gatherings both outdoors and in people’s homes have already been significantly relaxed,” he adds.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said christenings were given priority as there is an “inevitability of baptisms taking place across the summer periods”.
“In relation to confirmations and communions... they’re more likely to be happening when schools come back from September onwards,” he added.