The Irish Times view on churches in the pandemic: taking a toll on the faithful

The crisis is hitting the churches hard, but it would be difficult to justify an exemption from restrictions for places of worship

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin last month said last month of Level 3 restrictions that “no matter how they may sadden us” they were “appropriate at this time.” Photograph:  Joe St Leger

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin last month said last month of Level 3 restrictions that “no matter how they may sadden us” they were “appropriate at this time.” Photograph: Joe St Leger

 

Ireland’s four Catholic Archbishops made an unrealistic request in asking Taoiseach Micheál Martin to allow them special arrangements where Covid-19 restrictions are concerned by allowing public celebrations of the Mass. This, at a time when all other churches and faith communities are also being advised against any public worship under Level 3 restrictions.

In their letter to the Taoiseach last Thursday the Archbishops said they wished to meet him “to ensure that our people have continued access to the support of Mass and the Sacraments and essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times.” The closure of churches is certainly taking a toll on the faithful, as well as on the churches themselves, but while social distancing may be more easily achieved in a church than, say, a pub or restaurant, it would be difficult to provide for an exemption for worship – not least given that the age profile of many congregations means many parishoners would be at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19.

As Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said last month, when Level 3 restrictions were introduced in the city and county, “the measures introduced, no matter how they may sadden us, are appropriate at this time.” Are we to conclude from the Archbishops’ letter that, while Level 3 restrictions are acceptable in Dublin’s archdiocese, they are not acceptable when extended to the archdioceses of Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam, or the Catholic Church outside Dublin?

In that September 19th statement Archbishop Martin pointed to a Vatican document which he said “strongly supports the application of restrictive measures and ‘painful decisions even to the point of suspending the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist for a long period’, when the need is great.”

It is true that a minority of Catholic voices have been protesting loudly at the application of Level 3 restrictions to the Church in Ireland. But it hardly seems appropriate that any institution or church should be allowed a special position in the matter.

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