Ireland’s Catholic Church, government clash over COVID-19 restrictions

A general view of the crowded street as retail business fully reopens as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions continue to ease after a long period of lockdown in Dublin, Ireland on May 17 2021. REUTERS / Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Five Roman Catholic bishops from Ireland’s 22 dioceses set to challenge COVID-19 restrictions after asking local parishes to hold communion and confirmation services this month , prompting a stern reprimand from the government, which begged them to wait until they consider easing restrictions further later this month.

Ireland has gradually loosened its third and longest lockdown and will only consider easing measures beyond a recent reopening of indoor meals in late August amid concerns over the more infectious variant of COVID -19 Delta.

Regular church services resumed for the first time this year in May. However, baptisms will not return, under one of Europe’s strictest lockdown regimes, until this week, with ministers fearing to warn that communions and confirmations could take place due to large gatherings. social events that usually follow these Catholic ritual events, called sacraments.

While mass attendance has declined dramatically in once deeply Catholic Ireland, the church still owns around 90% of the country’s primary schools and both sacraments are major family occasions for many.

“I see no reason why the celebration of Confirmation or Holy Communion should be of concern for public health reasons as we have Masses in all of our churches, carefully regulated for 50 people,” said the Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran, the first to make the move on Friday, said national broadcaster RTE.

Doran said the ceremonies, which were postponed to March, would be “lightened” in the same way as last year, with families being urged not to hang out in the church for photos afterwards and invited to. limit the number of any subsequent gatherings.

Prime Minister Micheál Martin has said he does not approve of any unilateral regulatory violations, while Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said such a violation could put lives at risk.

The Reform Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland criticized the bishops, saying the move would inevitably help spread the disease and inadvertently boost anti-vaccine groups by being seen as defying the authorities.

“I’m quite amazed, I think it’s an amazing thing for bishops to do considering it’s only a matter of five or six weeks before they get the green light anyway,” the group’s co-founder, Father Tony Flannery, told RTE on Tuesday.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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