Church told that coronavirus cases to peak before schools reopen

Archbishop of Dublin advised by Taoiseach against holding Communion and Confirmation

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell: ‘Lack of consistency leads to a lack of credibility.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell: ‘Lack of consistency leads to a lack of credibility.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


The Taoiseach’s office told the Catholic Church that Covid-19 infections would peak in the weeks before schools reopen and that the safe return to education was a priority, as it advised against holding sacraments.

A spokesman for Micheál Martin said the office of Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell was contacted and advised against holding First Communion and Confirmation ceremonies after the four archbishops wrote to the Taoiseach indicating their intention to allow the sacraments to go ahead.

Mr Martin’s officials told the archbishop’s office the issue would be monitored during August and reviewed at the end of the month, in the context of the vacation of 12- to 15-year-olds. But the safe reopening of schools had to be the priority, said the spokesman.

Church officials said the archbishops wrote twice to the Taoiseach, on May 25th and on July 27th, but that neither letter was formally replied to, and there was “no substantive response”.

The controversy over holding ceremonies intensified after Archbishop Farrell wrote to 200 parish priests in the archdiocese allowing them to proceed with ceremonies from mid-August “if you consider it safe”.

Archbishop Farrell later pointed to “a lack of consistency” in public health advice as he defended the decision to allow priests proceed with Confirmations and First Communions in defiance of coronavirus-related guidelines.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s News at One, Archbishop Farrell said there were gatherings going ahead in bars, restaurants, hotels, sporting events, concerts, weddings, funerals and birthday parties. But “the only gathering that seems to cause any risk is a parent taking their child along to receive the sacrament of confirmation and that’s simply not credible”.

Archbishop Farrell said “we have to trust parents that they will be very careful in terms of how they respect the guidance. They are well capable of respecting the guidelines .”

He also said “my preference is that the celebration of sacraments be postponed until the autumn” and many parishes had set dates into September, October and November”.

He referred to the event organised by former minister for children Katherine Zappone in July and asked why “it’s okay to have a bash in the Merrion Hotel with 50 people present. But yet, it’s not possible for a parent to take their child along to receive the sacrament”.

In his letter to the priests Archbishop Farrell said “it is a matter of profound regret” the Government had not engaged with the church on the issue.

The Taoiseach’s spokesman said, however, that the archbishop’s office was told that the measures taken had to be monitored over August. “If we’re talking about a peak in infection rates a week before the return to schools we definitely have to monitor it for that length of time.”

The spokesman added that a promise was made to review the issue at the end of the month before the return of schools and that the archbishop’s office was to inform the other archbishops.

Other bishops

Several other bishops, including Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Eamon Martin and Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, have similarly advised priests they can proceed with ceremonies locally from mid-August.

Sinn Féin Monaghan TD Matt Carthy said the Minister for Health should sit down with the Catholic bishops to resolve the row and to end the “ugly discourse” on the issue.

Mr Carthy said the situation “is turning into a bit of a mess I have to say and it’s a mess of communications. Clearly the bishops are saying they’re acting within the law and there are those in Government who are telling them they’re operating outside of the guidelines.”