Government accused of being ‘profoundly disrespectful’ to church

Bishops expressed ‘deep frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ with handling of sacraments ban

The Apostolic Administrator Bishop of Ossory Denis Nulty  confirming 400 primary school children from Kilkenny city schools at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny on Thursday. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

The Apostolic Administrator Bishop of Ossory Denis Nulty confirming 400 primary school children from Kilkenny city schools at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny on Thursday. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

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Catholic Church representatives heavily criticised the Government’s communication and handling of Covid-19 restrictions around religious sacraments during the summer in letters to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said he found the way in which the restrictions on Holy Communions and Confirmations were communicated was “profoundly disrespectful” to families wishing to celebrate the sacraments.

The archbishop expressed “deep frustration” to the Taoiseach with the “dismissive manner” in which the restrictions were announced.

The Taoiseach had relied “on asides at press conferences in the absence of any official communication”, he said.

The archbishop was referring to the fact that he learned of the decision to postpone the ceremonies through a journalist’s tweet. The tweet detailed Leo Varadkar’s answer at a press briefing about whether or not sacraments could go ahead after July 5th.

“The manner in which the imposition of restrictions has been approached conveys a sense of indifference to the upset which is being caused,” he claimed, and the approach the Government had taken to regulating religious practice was “deeply problematic” .

The church believed that the families of children who were to celebrate the sacraments were “well capable” of understanding and respecting the guidelines at the time, “without having their religious practice restricted to lever compliance”.

In a separate letter the Bishop of Clogher in Co Monaghan, Dr Lawrence Duffy, expressed “great disappointment” at the manner in which the Government handled the “effective cancellation” of the celebration of the sacraments.

Dr Duffy’s letter claimed the Government showed “certain and unmistakable disrespect for people for whom the Catholic faith is important”.

He claimed it was also disrespectful to families, teachers and wider communities.

The communication of the decision was “appalling”, and left “many people very angry and confused.” The bishop claimed there was a “blatant disregard” on behalf of the Government for the interests of church communities.

Infections

The letters were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

There was no response from the Department of the Taoiseach to either of the letters.

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

Some weeks later Archbishop Eamon Martin wrote again to the Taoiseach to state that it was the church’s intention to advise parishes to go ahead in administering the sacraments from mid-August.

Over the summer a number of Catholic bishops across the State gave the go-ahead for Communions and Confirmations to take place in their dioceses in defiance of public health guidelines.

Under easing of Covid restrictions introduced by the Government, Communions and Confirmations were permitted to resume from September 6th.

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