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Congregation in masks in church covid coronavirus St Andrews Cathedral Glasgow church Credit PA Wire Andrew Milligan.jpg
Congregation in masks in church covid coronavirus St Andrews Cathedral Glasgow church Credit PA Wire Andrew Milligan.jpg
World News

'They have criminalised Christianity': Faith leaders respond to the outlawing of religious services in Ireland

by Chantalle Edmunds

Faith leaders have reacted with anger to the outlawing of public Mass and other religious services in Ireland.

Health Minister Stephan Donnelly signed a regulation last week making in-person services temporarily a criminal offence and only allowing religious services to take place virtually.

Ireland's four Catholic archbishops, Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all-Ireland, Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Michael Neary of Tuam and Kieran O'Reilly of Cashel and Emly told The Times they would be taking legal advice following the move which they described as "a breach of trust" and "a potential infringement of religious freedom and constitutional rights."

The archbishops added that the ban on services with congregations, other than funerals and weddings, was not mentioned during a meeting last Thursday between the taoiseach and bishops, including Martin.

John Ahern, an All Nations Church pastor, based in Dublin told Premier he would be going ahead and holding an outdoor service this Sunday.

"This ongoing lockdown is indefensible. The government passed a law that criminalises religious gatherings so to either organise or to attend a religious service has now become a criminal offense in the Republic of Ireland, and for myself as a pastor the situation's become untenable. I cannot in good conscience continue in this situation, knowing and seeing the damage that's been done in people's lives. I've made a decision that I'm going back to pastoring my people and so this Sunday, I've decided I'm going to meet in the Phoenix Park, there's a beautiful 50 foot cross there and I suppose we'll see what happens. 
"If gathering to worship is a criminal act all I can say is, I hope the government have plenty of prison space, because there's going to be a lot of ministers who will be willing to go to prison over this. And we've done everything we can, over this last season to engage respectfully with the Irish government."

He told Premier he believes the move has criminalised Christianity:

"I think it was a very cynical move by the government after a year. We have done everything over this last year to ensure we have complied and to engage respectfully and responsibly with the government over this season. However, to me, it was a very cynical move, and one that, you know, betrays a great hostility towards Christianity because whether or not they have realised that they have criminalised Christianity, and it may be inadvertently, it may not be deliberately, I'm not trying to infer any malicious motive. But as a pastor, you know, they have criminalised the organising and attending of a religious service. And ultimately that is my calling as a pastor, my calling is to organise religious services, so that I may preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so that I may see people come to Christ and minister to them."

The penalty for breaches of the new law are a fine or up to six months behind bars.

The Irish government is set to review worship restrictions on May 4.

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