The Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has described as "grossly disrespectful" and "almost cavalier" the manner in which churches were told this week that Baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations should be deferred due to the Delta variant of Covid-19.
“It’s just very disrespectful the way this was done,” he said. “A journalist’s tweet. The Tánaiste dismissively saying `oh,they’re off, that was how we were told about the change in direction. The manner of communication in this case was grossly disrespectful. We are extremely disappointed by this,” he said.
All of it made him think it was time “for a proper dialogue about the place of faith and its expression in public life and that’s something I’d be very very open to.”
A statement, posted on the Government website on Wednesday, stated that “religious ceremonies such as Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations should not take place at this time. Further advice will follow on resumption of these ceremonies when it is safe to do so .”
Speaking on RTÉ Radio I's News at One on Thursday Archbishop Martin said there was "a lot of frustration and deep disappointment and indeed anger" in response to the statement.
“We’ve been deluged with calls from parishes and I know that priests and others have been extremely disappointed by this reversal of the position that was written to us from the Taoiseach’s office at the very beginning of June.” It said such ceremonies could take place “in line with the gradual reopening of society from the 5th of July,” he recalled.
“A huge amount of preparation,” had taken place for this “very important moments in journey of faith for young people and their families,” he said.
In Northern Ireland First Communions and Confirmation ceremonies were held very carefully, very safely, he said.
However,the church had been “consistent in encouraging our parishes to adhere to public health advice. The public health advice at the moment is that these sacraments are deferred and we have to be respectful of that,” he said.
“At the same time we would really love to know why did this almost cavalier approach to communication happen?,” he said.
In the Dáil on Thursday the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) did not recommend the cancellation of First Communions and Confirmations because “they were not supposed to be taking place anyway”.
Mr Varadkar rejected claims that in an “off-the-cuff” remark on Tuesday he had cancelled these ceremonies.
He said his comment was an “on-the-record response to a question I was asked at a press conference. Those are the facts.”
As controversy continued over the prohibition of the religious events and claims the Tánaiste had been dismissive, Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews said “that’s no way to treat people” as he called for Mr Varadkar to “see sense” and allow the ceremonies to go ahead.
The Tánaiste pointed out however that “what the CMO said yesterday is that Nphet did not recommend the cancellation of communions and confirmations because, in the view of Nphet, they were not supposed to be taking place anyway.”
They had hoped the ceremonies could resume after July 5th but that was not possible.
The public health advice was clear that “people who are not vaccinated should not gather indoors.
“Unfortunately, that’s what communions and confirmations inevitably involve, people who are not vaccinated gathering indoors and, on some occasions, having family gatherings and parties afterwards and that results in clusters and the spread of Covid.”
The Tánaiste added that “that’s the rationale behind the decision but I appreciate it’s a big disappointment for a lot of people”.