Catholic bishops are urging church members to lobby their TDs over Covid-related restrictions on Masses and funerals, saying limits on public worship should be “proportionate and for the shortest time possible”.
In a move met with “surprise” by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the bishops requested an immediate increase in the number of people permitted at funerals and a return to regular church services once Level 5 restrictions begin to ease.
In a statement on Tuesday, the bishops noted the Taoiseach met the four Catholic Archbishops - Eamon Martin of Armagh, Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Kieran O'Reilly of Cashel and Emly, and Michael Neary of Tuam - on February 19th.
“Despite assurances from the Taoiseach last month that the concerns expressed by the Archbishops would be given serious consideration, we note with disappointment that none of the issues raised has been responded to.”
The archbishops said they were therefore making an urgent appeal that a number of matters be addressed.
These include "that the number of mourners permitted at funeral services be increased, with immediate effect". They noted that in Northern Ireland this number had not been reduced below 25.
“The current restriction places immense burdens on grieving families, compounding the pain of their loss,” the statement continued.
They have also requested a restoration of public worship as part of the next easing of restrictions, as opposed to later on.
“For people of faith not to be free to worship until regulations return to Level 2, whilst many other restrictions are eased, is seen as particularly distressing and unjust.”
They added: “We encourage Catholics to make their views on these issues known to their own TDs and local representatives.”
On Tuesday evening, a Government spokesperson said: “The Taoiseach is surprised at the bishops’ statement on the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
“He carried out a virtual meeting with the four Archbishops on February 19th in good faith, when he explained the impact of the new variant and the importance of suppressing the virus while the most vulnerable in society are vaccinated.
“He also acknowledged the importance of the church community in people’s lives and agreed to maintain an open dialogue.
“The Taoiseach explained at the meeting that, due to the serious nature of the pandemic, it was not possible to give guarantees on future levels of restrictions, however, the next steps would be clarified in the lead up to April 5th.”
In their statement, issued on day two of their Spring General Meeting, the bishops said their meeting last month with the Taoiseach had been about continuing dialogue around the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on people’s lives.
“It is particularly painful for Christians to be deprived, for the second year running, of the public expression of our faith during the most sacred time of Holy Week and Easter,” they said.
They maintained that church buildings “are among the safest” gathering locations and stress that ongoing limitations of ten people at funerals is “causing untold grief” to families.
“Throughout this time of pandemic the approach of the Church has been firmly grounded in the protection of health and life and in the promotion of the common good. We recognise that strong restrictions are necessary in times of grave threat to public health,” they said.
“However, such restrictions on personal freedom should be proportionate and for the shortest time possible. Consideration must also be given to people’s mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. For people of faith, gathering for worship is fundamental to their identity and to their spiritual lives.”
The bishops said, in keeping with public health guidance, they had recommended the postponement of the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies “for the time being”.