Archbishop attacks rule criminalising church services

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has called for a new rule criminalising church services to be suspended.

The government introduced the rule last week in a surprise move.

Archbishop Eamon Martin (pictured) says the penal provisions associated with the new regulation are “provocative” and “draconian”.

They also potentially infringed religious freedom and constitutional rights, he says.

“From our initial reading of it, it is clear to us that it is now making it a criminal offence for a priest to say mass with a congregation and it’s making it a criminal offence for somebody to go to Mass.”

The Irish bishops are seeking legal advice about the new rules. They are also planning to meet with the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly.

Martin says along with other Churches and faith communities in Ireland, the Catholic Church has been cooperating fully with public health messages for over a year.

“It is highly disappointing then, that despite the reassurances of the Taoiseach to Church leaders only two days ago that he understood the importance of faith and worship to the people of Ireland, this statutory instrument was introduced in a clandestine manner and without notice or consultation. We consider this to be a breach of trust,” he says.

Donnelly says the new rule dealt with “the position that we have been in for quite some time”.

His response to the bishops’ concerns that the new rule targets religious worship, Donnelly says: “The measure isn’t focused specifically at religious communities or any other communities; the measure is focused explicitly at indoor gatherings.”

However, Martin says church services “are indeed singled out in this statutory instrument for particular attention.

“Statutory instruments are only published when there is something new to say, they don’t come out just to say what we already know. If it’s not doing anything new, then why have it?”

He is also concerned that the new rule is unclear and could cause confusion.

“A priest would be forgiven for wondering after this statutory instrument, if he is breaking the law by going over to his church to say mass if he hasn’t got a webcam.”

Another concern is the lack of clarity over weddings.

“For some reason, this statutory instrument does not specify that it’s okay to do a wedding Mass. It does say you can go to a wedding reception.”

Martin says in contrast to the dialogue that has taken place between church and state in Northern Ireland over public worship, “South of the border, it appears that everything has to be through statutory instrument, through regulation… and I wonder about the maturity of that relationship.”


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