‘Not clear’ why rise in funeral attendance limit delayed, says archbishop

Bishop of Waterford claims religious people feel ‘frustrated and discriminated against’

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell intends to continue emphasising to Government the importance of the earliest possible return to public worship. File photograph: The Irish Times

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell intends to continue emphasising to Government the importance of the earliest possible return to public worship. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has welcomed the forthcoming increase in allowable number of funeral attendees but said he did not understand why it has been delayed for a month.

Measures set out by Government on Tuesday included that from April 26th, funeral Mass attendance can rise from 10 to 25 people.

Restrictions have been a continued source of frustration to the church whose bishops had communicated the importance of funerals, and of wider services, to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

In his Chrism Mass homily at the Pro Cathedral on Wednesday, the archbishop said everyone understood the “worrying context” in which the decision on a slow return to worship was taken.

“It is clearly a matter of concern that the reported level of Covid-19 infection has stayed well above what had been expected, while the pace of vaccination has been much slower than promised,” he said.

“I welcome the announcement of the increase in the number of family members who can attend the funeral Mass of their loved one, although it is not clear why this measure has been delayed for one month.”

The archbishop also said he would continue to emphasise to Government the importance of the earliest possible return to public worship “and that the easing of restrictions must not be subordinated to powerful commercial interests. There will be further direct engagement with Government to ensure that specific positive consideration is given to public worship by the end of April.”

He added: “The significant care with which any reopening of churches for public worship will be approached by church authorities is well attested.”

However the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Dr Alphonsus Cullinan was critical of the Government’s handling of religious worship, saying that it had left a very large cohort of people feeling “frustrated and feel unrepresented and discriminated against”.

“I must speak out to represent the voices of a very large cohort of people who are growing increasingly weary of being unable to attend Mass and whose spiritual and mental wellbeing is being eroded. Their patience is wearing thin,” he said.

Bishop Cullinan said that every Sunday that he celebrates Mass in Waterford Cathedral, he does so behind closed doors, conscious that people are barred from attending, while within metres of the cathedral, people can go shopping for essentials or even go to a cafe for an outdoor coffee.

“Yet, they cannot receive Holy Communion in their church which is spacious and can accommodate dozens of people safely,” said Bishop Cullinan, adding that it was difficult to explain to people why they are banned from public worship in Ireland, unlike in most of the rest of Europe.

He said priests and parish volunteers had been diligent in ensuring churches are safe and he believed it was not necessary to stop public worship to safeguard people’s physical health. It was entirely possible to both safeguard people’s heath and support their spiritual wellbeing, he said.

“I feel that the spiritual wellbeing of our people has not been given any serious attention by the authorities. To say that ‘services go online’ is very hard to take and feels dismissive,” said Bishop Cullinan as he called for proper consideration by the government of “public worship”.

“I sympathise with the governmental authorities at this very difficult time, but appeal to them to take into consideration the spiritual care of hundreds of thousands of Catholics and many people of other faiths who wish to exercise their rights as guaranteed by our constitution.”