An Irish Catholic bishop has told Premier the mission of the church “cannot be put on hold indefinitely” as several church leaders have decided to defy Covid-19 guidelines in Ireland.
The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Most Rev Phonsie Cullinan, is one of five bishops, who oversee 22 dioceses across the country, that have decided to go ahead with sacramental ceremonies scheduled in their parishes from 8th August.
“We cannot really put the mission on hold indefinitely, the mission of the church in this respect. So, we decided to go ahead, and of course, to go ahead, keeping all of the safety measures in place as the church has been doing and doing very well for the past year and a half.
“In this diocese, we only have a few parishes which had scheduled confirmations, especially confirmations for the end of August, and they will go ahead, and they will go ahead very safely,” Bishop Phonsie said.
Current Irish government guidelines advise that all confirmation and communion ceremonies “should not take place at this time” as there are fears of large social gatherings following the religious events.
However, for Bishop Phonsie, places of worship should not be “held responsible for what happens in people's houses”.
“The government's thinking, as far as we can see, was that they were afraid about the parties afterwards; that the parties would congregate people and therefore could be a means of the spread of infection. But in actual fact, all the anecdotal evidence is that the parties have taken place anyway. As church we have to be responsible for parties under our care. The church building itself has been kept very safe in each case around the diocese. We cannot really be held responsible for what happens in people's houses.”
Bishop Phonsie went on to say he hoped the impact of defying the rules will be for people to realise the importance of sacramental ceremonies.
“I hope that people will take a good look at [their] lives, as I have to, [and ask] where is my life going? What are the really important things? [Is it] the Lord Jesus and His Church and the sacraments? Are they vitally important for me? I believe that they must be.”
Coronavirus restrictions in places of worship in Ireland have been among the toughest in Europe, with churches only being allowed to open for gathered worship since May 2021, after being closed for nearly a year.
Baptism have been permitted since 5th August and the government has recently said it hopes to lift the sacramental ceremonies restrictions in September.