Archbishop queries church restrictions as people ‘wade through aisles for milk’

Religious worship generally has a ‘clear human priority’ over other activities

Continued restrictions limiting funeral attendances to just 10 mourners is “harsh and unfair”, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has said.

That some close family members are denied the right to be present at the funeral of their loved ones is “tolerable only in the most extreme circumstances and for the shortest possible period”, the archbishop said in a statement on Wednesday.

Elaborating on Thursday, Dr Farrell said when he went to his local shop for milk “I have to wade my way through the aisles to get there”.

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He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland “I’m not saying that the restrictions should be set aside, what I’m saying is the current restrictions are far too rigid, far too blunt, they could be relaxed somewhat and people would still be safe.”


Dr Farrell said that “when the cathedrals of commerce” reopen once Level 5 restrictions had been eased, there would be more people congregating in those settings while churches would remain closed.

“People of all faiths will find themselves locked out of worship when everything else in this country is open.”

People were safer inside church buildings, which were sanitised to almost medical levels, he said.

There was a constitutional right to worship, he added. The Archbishop said he was not suggesting “a free for all” but that a limited number of people be allowed to attend their local church.

A limit of 50 had worked the last time, he said and there had been a good system of pods which were 4 metres apart, with separate entrances and exits to the church.

People’s patience was running low, he added. “They are not going to accept a situation where they are being locked out of worship until we get to Level 2.”

In his statement on St Patrick’s Day, the archbishop said religious worship had a “clear human priority” over other activities, which must not be subordinated to “powerful commercial interests” as restrictions relax.

He said the right to public worship was protected by Article 44 of the Constitution of Ireland. He said the Catholic Church and other faith communities have been “vocal and clear in emphasising the civic and moral duty” of observing public health restrictions. However, guidelines must not only protect people’s health but also foster their wellbeing, he said.

In Northern Ireland, Catholic bishops have announced a “cautious return” to public worship from March 26th, ahead of the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter.

In a statement, the North’s Catholic bishops said individual parishes and Covid-19 support teams must carry out a “thorough risk assessment” before returning to public worship, and some parishes may decide their particular circumstances dictate it is not possible to return to in-person masses until a later date.

Adjustments and precautions will be necessary to ensure the safe celebration of Holy Week and Easter, they added.

Meanwhile, five of the main church leaders on the island of Ireland issued a joint statement for St Patrick’s Day, noting how Ireland’s churches have been captives to “the idols of state and nation” rather than the gospel over the past century.

Reflecting on the centenary of events in Ireland from 1921, they said: “We acknowledge and lament the times that we failed to bring to a fearful and divided society that message of the deeper connection that binds us, despite our different identities, as children of God.

The statement is signed by Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop John McDowell, Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr David Bruce, Methodist President Rev Dr Thomas McKnight, and President of the Irish Council of Churches Rev Dr Ivan Patterson.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times