Irish Catholic dioceses defy govt’s no baptism, confirmation, communion rule

Several Irish Catholic dioceses are defying a government ban on celebrating sacraments of initiation. They are planning to hold the ceremonies from mid-August.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin says after consulting with clergy, baptisms, First Holy Communions and confirmation ceremonies will be held. The regulations for general religious services will be followed.

“The mission of the Church cannot be put on hold indefinitely,” he says. He describes the state’s guidance as “advice by government rather than regulation.”

Three other Irish Catholic dioceses will follow suit. Like Doran, the bishops of Clogher, Waterford and Lismore wrote to the government last week informing it that access to the sacraments “will go ahead from mid-August.”

Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin responded, saying he did not approve “any unilateral breaching of regulations no matter what quarter they come from.

“I’d say to the Church authorities that the government’s only motivation here in terms of the regulations we have brought in, in respect of gatherings and congregations, is to protect people and to protect people’s health.”

Last month Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is the Primate of All Ireland, accused the government of communicating in a “grossly disrespectful” way that the baptism, confirmation and communion ceremonies should be delayed due to COVID-19.

The government’s decision marked a “complete reversal” of its previous position in June, where the Taoiseach indicated the ceremonies could go ahead the following month.

Martin says he has been “deluged with calls from parishes” and priests and others have been extremely disappointed by the government’s change of mind.

By 31 July, Ireland’s 4.9 million people had recorded 299,549 COVID-19 cases and 5,035 related deaths. It is currently experiencing a fourth COVID wave driven by the Delta variant.

Waterford and Lismore’s bishop is criticising the way the government and its COVID health team saying its communications with the Church “regarding the sacraments leaves a great deal to be desired.

“We are all conscious of the need to remain vigilant. Parishes have been exemplary … but for any local parish community and their priest who wish to avail themselves of these sacraments, they must be allowed to do so.”

The bishop of Clogher, whose diocese straddles the border with Northern Ireland, says the ceremonies will take place in the Republic of Ireland from 20 August.

“The appropriate protocols presently in place in our churches will be maintained, and families are reminded of the need for adherence to public health guidance in relation to social interactions following the church celebration,” he says.

He says the diocese will follow the same practice as last year. The liturgies will involve small groups of children. Attendance will be restricted to the child, the parents/guardians, and sponsor.”

The new regulations effectively criminalise Mass with a congregation, Martin says.

After meeting with Ireland’s health minister, he stressed that priests’ pastoral work should be “deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction” amid the pandemic.



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