The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has told priests in his diocese they have permission to proceed with First Communions and Confirmations in defiance of the Government’s public health advice.
In a letter sent to priests on Tuesday, Archbishop Dermot Farrell said: “It is a matter of profound regret that there has been no engagement with Church representatives regarding revision of public health guidelines” since bishops first expressed reservations.
“Understandably, many have been concerned and disappointed that current guidelines restrict celebration of the sacraments on the apparent grounds that they may lead to family gatherings, which may breach public health guidelines on households mixing.
“This is perplexing, as no such prohibitions are applied to other events, such as sporting or civic events, or other family occasions, such as the celebration of birthdays and anniversaries, or indeed to weddings or funerals.
“Many have concluded that, in the absence of appropriate justification, these guidelines are discriminatory.”
He said he believed the guidance he issued on April 30th last - to the effect that celebration of the sacraments could resume this autumn - “still remains appropriate”.
However, it was important when such celebrations were being held that protocols regarding public worship were strictly complied with.
“The format of such ceremonies should be adapted appropriately, as was the case in many parishes last year, with shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies, which were nonetheless reverent and joyous.”
Earlier, the co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has said the decision of a number of Catholic bishops to allow First Communions and Confirmations to go ahead will “inevitably” contribute to the spread of the Delta variant.
Fr Tony Flannery said he could not understand the decision by the bishops given that the matter would no longer be an issue within five or six weeks.
Current Covid-19 measures say First Holy Communions and Confirmations should not take place at this time.
However, some Catholic bishops are allowing such ceremonies to take place in their dioceses this month, in defiance of public health advice.
Fr Flannery told RTÉ Radio's Today Show the bishops had missed an opportunity to "relocate" the preparation for sacraments from schools to parishes so ceremonies would be for only those who "really want it".
For many children and their families it was not the sacrament that was important, it was the social events after “and the money they will get”, he said, adding there was a commercial side to such events that had “cheapened” the ceremonies.
Fr Flannery's views were first reported by The Irish Times on Monday. The priest had accused the bishops of "effectively lining up with the anti-vaxers" in challenging medical and State authority.
Meanwhile, a Government Minister has appealed to communities to wait a little longer before holding Communions and Confirmations.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue asked churches to follow the public health advice and to hold off on hosting the ceremonies.
Guidelines advise the public that Baptisms, Communions and Confirmations should not take place. Baptisms can take place from August 5th.
“I fully understand the frustration people feel. Like many people in the country, I have very strong memories myself of both Communion and Confirmation and it’s a very important day in everyone’s lives,” Mr McConalogue said.
“The public health advice is still very clear in relation to being cautious in relation to the advice around Communions, and Confirmation.
“The important thing here, in relation to Communions and Confirmations, is while it is frustrating to to see these delays, no one’s going to get hurt by waiting a little bit longer to avail of it and to have that special day.”
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, the Donegal TD said people needed to remain “cautious”.
“There is a reality out here that people are still becoming infected by Covid. People are still going into hospital by Covid. And it’s important to stay and keep cautious and keep safe in that period,” he said.
Also speaking RTÉ Radio’s Today Show, Fr Brendan Kilcoyne said it was difficult for the Church not to feel left out in the current easing of restrictions. Organisations like the Church died contribute to society, he said.
The State had been founded on rebellion, Fr Kilcoyne said, adding that democracy had a rebellious quality at heart.
Fr Kilcoyne said that the reason First Communions were separate from usual services was to make the event special.
The bishops were behaving as they should and he was very proud of them, added Fr Kilcoyne. They were expressing “a real concern” for prioritisation of faith and were engaged “in a vigorous exchange” with the Government “and that’s good”.
Although some parents would break public health guidelines on gatherings, Fr Kilcoyne said that was not sufficient reason to keep restricting church life and that he had great confidence in “the majority of parents”.
In Northern Ireland, Holy Communions and Confirmations have gone ahead already due to more relaxed Covid regulations.
Fr Eddie McGee, spokesman for the Down and Connor diocese said as far as he was aware that all such celebrations had been completed for this year in the North, and certainly that was the case for his diocese.
“You will be aware that there are jurisdictional and therefore legislative differences between the South and North of Ireland,” he said.
“Following the voluntary suspension of public worship in January 2021, the Catholic Church resumed public celebrations in April 2021 in accordance with NI legislation and PHA (Public Health Agency) guidance and with social distancing measures in place.
“I can confirm that parishes across the Diocese of Down and Connor have already completed celebrations of Confirmation and Holy Communion which were facilitated in accordance with NI legislation and health and safety guidance,” added Fr McGee. – additional reporting PA