Catholic priest fined for public Masses in lockdown

Police in Ireland have fined a Catholic priest for celebrating public Masses during a nationwide lockdown.

The Gardaí (police) fined Fr. P.J. Hughes, 500 euros (NZ$830) after he offered Masses with a small number of parishioners present.

This was the second time Hughes defied the gardai’s request to lock the church’s doors when he celebrated Mass to prevent parishioners from attending. He ignored their first request last November and continued to leave the church open.

Despite the police action, Hughes remains adamant that people should be able to enter the church and participate in public Masses.

“I do not accept this demand by people who do not realize the wrong they are doing. It is our constitutional right to protest so long as it is peaceful; it is our constitutional right to practice our faith and assemble to pray together.”

“For those who are afraid of catching the virus in the church then they have the free choice to stay at home and live their lives as they think it best to do.

“I will exercise my constitutional right even though people are complaining, even though I am not obeying my bishop when I go against his advice. We can’t just reject Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.”

Sources close to Hughes say he is not willing to pay the fine and is ready to be jailed rather than cease public worship.

In a parish newsletter dated March 21, Hughes wrote:

“Next Sunday marks the journey of Holy Week.

“It is hard to believe that for a second year people cannot come to take part in the ceremonies of Holy Week.

“Despite the size of the church and the holy place that it is because of the presence of Jesus in the Holy Tabernacle, the church has been deemed a hot spot for the spread of the virus by the gardaí.”

Emphasising his constitutional right to celebrate public Masses and encouraging parishioners to make up their own minds, he said:

“The majority of people are healthy and able to go shopping, bring their children to school and many are working in enclosed environments.

“We are committing a grave mistake by rejecting our Lord and God Jesus Christ by staying away because government officials say we must.”

This is the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that public Masses have been suspended in a nationwide lockdown in Ireland.

The first lockdown ran from March until June during the pandemic’s first wave.

Public worship was suspended again last October and remains off-limits.

Ireland is under strict “Level 5” COVID-19 restrictions until at least April 5. The government has not revealed what COVID-19 restrictions will be in place after that.

In Northern Ireland, bishops have announced that public worship may resume from 26 March in time for Holy Week.

Ireland, a country with a population of almost five million people, has recorded a total of 230,599 cases of COVID-19 and 4,587 deaths as of 22 March.

Authorities reported 769 new cases on Sunday, the highest figure since 26 February.


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