Bishops urged not to resume confirmation and first communion ceremonies


A diverse group including Ireland’s Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, a clerical abuse survivor and the co-founders of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) are urging Catholic bishops not to resume confirmation and first communion ceremonies.

“When you’re dealing with a deadly virus, ultimately what you’re doing is putting people’s lives at risk,” Donnelly says.

Clerical abuse survivor Andrew Madden says the bishops are placing children at risk of “reckless endangerment. Again.”

At least three of Ireland’s Catholic bishops have said they intend to resume First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies in their dioceses, despite the Government’s anti-Covid-19 guidelines.

The bishops’ stance is yet another COVID controversy between the Church in Ireland. The Church is also arguing with the government about the increase in numbers permitted to attend weddings, which went up from 50 to 100 this week. At the same time, the COVID guideline for funeral attendance remains unchanged at 50 mourners.

In announcing his diocese’s intention to resume celebrating these ceremonies, one bishop said he and senior diocesan priests had decided they should be held in line with public health regulations for general religious services.

“The mission of the Church cannot be put on hold indefinitely,” he said. The ban is a “guideline” and not a binding law, he pointed out.

Madden, however, says taking public health guidance as advice rather than regulation, reminds him of the late Cardinal Desmond Connell’s description of the Church’s then child protection measures as “only guidelines” with no authority in canon or civil law.

“That was why Children First [State’s child protection legislation] was put on a statutory level,” he points out.

In Madden’s opinion, the defiance of health guidelines show some bishops “have learned nothing from any of this and are now encouraging people to ignore health and safety … church before children, old habits die hard”.

The Health Minister acknowledges Doran is right to say the communion and confirmation ban is “a public health guideline – not a law” and as such can be ignored by the Catholic bishops.

“But we have a lot of evidence of ‘spreader events’ arising out of communions and confirmations. We know this and that’s the only reason the public health advice is there not to do it.”

Donnelly also says he understands the frustration people of religious faith are feeling and salutes the patience shown by church leaders of all denominations.

“The public health measures have been very difficult for people of faith and for religious institutions. In spite of this, the churches have played an essential role in Ireland’s national efforts to suppress COVID,” he says.

They are there to keep people safe and ultimately to keep people alive, he added.

“Ireland is doing well and I would ask any clergy considering going against the public health measures to stick with them.”


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