A priest in a Co Cavan parish says he has no intention of paying a €500 fine imposed on him for saying Mass publicly and he intends continuing to do so despite the ban on public worship under pandemic restrictions.
PJ Hughes is parish priest of Mullahoran & Loughduff and received the fine by post on March 18th last following a Sunday Mass he celebrated on March 7th.
Three gardaí from the local Kilnaleck Garda station "arrived at the sacristy door. They stayed outside during Mass and the sergeant she came in after Mass and she said there were 40 people here in the Church. They were here before in November," Fr Hughes told The Irish Times.
"Why should I pay a fine for believing in God and celebrating the sacrament. No, I won't pay any fine. The last time that happened Cromwell was here after Queen Elizabeth introduced the Penal Laws and then Cromwell tried to force them down people's necks. He would pay people for reporting a priest and the priest had to say Mass behind a screen in case people might recognise him. I know my history" he said.
"I know the story of the faith. I know the church hasn't been in favour with the people but at the same time the bishop is not the church. Jesus Christ established the church. He is to be honoured and worshipped and that's what I'm doing whether the bishops like it or not or whether anyone else likes it or not. For those who want to come the doors are open and that's the way it should be."
He was “just absolutely sick at the whole idea of closing the church. The people who are making the decision about closing the church are not people of faith. They can’t be because if they were they would know the damage they are doing to themselves, their own souls and to the whole country.”
Fr Hughes is "disappointed with the archbishops, that they don't stand up and see what's going on, what's happening." He believed "the Archbishop of Armagh should be doing more, He's responsible for the souls of the baptised in this country because he is the Archbishop of Armagh."
Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Francis Duffy had told him "to close the doors. It does not represent the official church, what I am doing. They are towing the line of a Government who don't believe in God."
But "it's in the Constitution. It's a Catholic Constitution actually and states that we honour the Holy Trinity and now the Government, under the guidance of Nphet and Tony Holohan, have decided that the church is not a safe place. It's one of the biggest places in every parish. Small shops are full, businesses are still going on but seemingly we don't want God anymore.
“I don’t care what anyone else does. God is there or he’s not. If he’s not there then why don’t we just take him out of the Constitution and stop fooling ourselves? We either believe it or we don’t.”
The parish church has a capacity of about 500. At his daily Masses “not everybody wears a mask, but again there is social distancing. I understand to contract the disease I think you have to be in people’s company for an hour without a mask talking to the person. In the church people are all facing the one way and they are not talking to each other and they’re praying and they’re two seats apart.”
He fumigates the church after Mass. There is “a hand sanitiser at the door, every second seat is strapped off and all that and I encourage people to carry their own hand sanitiser as well.”
You "go to any of the supermarkets, SuperValu, Centra, Aldi, whatever, Dunnes Stores, there's queues of people outside and they're full inside." He wondered whether Covid was being spread in such places while churches were closed.
" There has to be fair play and reasonable thought put into any restrictions," he said. "As far as I am concerned restrictions are very firmly against the Catholic Church. I was watching the Late Late Show on Wednesday night, St Patrick's night, and I thought there were more than 10 people in the studio that night. They were there for two hours.
"I thought this is strange. There was a group of people there talking to Ryan Tubridy and then another group beside them over beyond. That was all in the studio. Nobody said anything about that. More than 10 people there and it wasn't a funeral."
He continued: "Health provisions my foot, who gave us life? Who made the world?" It was the case that "every country in Europe is celebrating Mass every day" while in Ireland "there is no allowance whatsoever".
To date there have been no Covid deaths in his parish. “How many people died of suicide since this year began? How many people died of cancer? You don’t hear because the news doesn’t tell us. All they tell us, I’m sick listening to it, is how many people died of Covid and how many people contracted Covid.”
He asked “how many people go to hospital? There were 700 yesterday [Sunday], how many of them went to hospital? How many of them only have a cough? If the report was to be serious, they should be serious and tell the truth, not be going round frightening people and brainwashing leaders and everyone else, this Nphet brainwashing the country.
“I believe in God. I don’t believe in what they say. If they tell me the truth I’ll start believing them, but they’re not telling me the truth.”
He agreed “of course its’s a killer disease but I also believe a report that came out there that nobody this year got the flu. There’s something wrong here. Of course people got the flu but it has been written down as Covid.”
The reality was that “everybody is trying to live their lives as normal as possible. They can’t just stop because Tony Holohan or Nphet say we mustn’t go here or go there. I mean the 5km restriction is a joke down the country. It’s okay for the people in Dublin, they have everything they need within the 5km, but down here you can’t restrict your movement to 5km – that restriction cannot be imposed down here. It’s not realistic.”