Priests anxious about being held responsible for safety at Mass

Catholic clergy feel ‘bullied’ into ‘carrying the can’ for Masses and fallout that could follow

Spanish priest Antonio Gomez wearing a face mask and shield while giving Communion to worshippers. Photograph: Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty

Spanish priest Antonio Gomez wearing a face mask and shield while giving Communion to worshippers. Photograph: Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty

 

Catholic priests have expressed anxiety about shouldering sole responsibility for the health and safety of people attending Masses and other public church services from the end of the month. Under Government guidelines, people will be able to attend such services from Monday, June 29th.

“There is unease, upset and (in some cases) anger among priests that they are being manipulated, and (in some cases) effectively being bullied, into organising and ‘carrying the can’ for the reintroduction of public Masses and for whatever fallout emerges in time,” the Association of Catholic Priests has said.

It called for “withdrawal” of the Catholic bishops’ church readiness form, published last week, which charges priests “with individual responsibility for deciding when parishes are ready to proceed with public Masses and to situate that responsibility more appropriately in the management of a parish pastoral council or a designated parish committee”.

In a statement on Monday it said, “rather than bishops spelling out what priests are expected to do, it would make more sense if all dioceses might relieve some of the burden by, for example, centrally sourcing resources such as PPE and signage, as well as offering short training courses – possibly online – for those implementing the new regulations”.

Highly complex

There was “widespread unhappiness among priests with the expectation, indeed presumption, that they take individual responsibility for orchestrating this demanding and difficult task and by implication to accept blame for, say, a possible cluster of Covid cases in their parish”.

Both “the Irish Catholic bishops as a body and the western bishops have circulated meticulous and comprehensive directions”, they said.

These made it “very clear that a ‘new normal’ for religious services will be a highly complex project to execute”, with “a list of 13 specific guarantees in the Church Readiness Form that parish priests are expected to sign off on before permission is granted for public worship,” the association said.

Fr John Collins of the association’s leadership team said that with the reopening of churches for public worship, “everybody needs to feel safe and, clearly, a second Covid-19 wave is coming. All the experts say so and there was [in] China at the weekend.”