The Bishop of Meath, Rev Tom Deenihan has been in contact with many politicians on the issue of reopening the churches for Holy week and Easter.
A spokesperson for the Bishop, told Meath Live that he is in support of having the churches open, as long as it is healthy to do so and is happy with working with politicians to urge the government to allow public worship and prayer. An announcement is expected from the government soon on this issue.
Previously, Bishop Deenihan had told The Irish Catholic newspaper that he is uncomfortable with the government saying that worship cannot be in public and must move online.
He said that “the church is sacramental and sacramental is not virtual”. Deenihan notes that he does have sympathy with politicians and that it is not an easy decision to make, because if you open up one sector, others will demand to open as well.
Many politicians would be of the same opinion as Deenihan, that churches are safe because churches are such large buildings and they are certainly safer than supermarkets as there is less movement and social distancing rules can be adhered to properly.
Many are of the belief that only elderly people rely on church services, Deenihan rejects that assertion, as he has received many letters from young people and young families who want the churches to open as soon as possible.
On the 23rd of March, Meath politicians,Senator Sharon Keogan (Ind) and Deputy Peadar Tóibín (Aontú), stood at the plinth outside Leinster House at 12 noon with placards announcing their campaign, urging the government to support the safe reopening of churches with limited attendance for Easter week.
Aontú have issued a call to the government, “not to cancel Easter”. The party leader, Peadar Tóibín stated at the plinth that “Religious practice is a human right according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
“It is an essential element in the lives of many many people in Ireland. Religious practice plays a significant role in the wellbeing of many people in these dark times”. Aontú understands the damage to health and life that has been wrought by Covid and the government’s handling of it.
‘Our party echoes Bishop Deenihan’s point that churches are safer than supermarkets and notes that many will travel to supermarkets for non-essential reasons, such as purchasing crisps or wine.
Navan based Aontú Councillor, Cllr Emer Tóibín, told Meath Live about her local church in Johnstown. She said they did great work to make sure everything is safe. She said transmissions are so low in churches. She claims she is not asking the government to open the churches for herself, she is making a plea on her constituents’ behalf.
Tóibín knows the government met with Bishops and other church leaders, but they still have not given an indication on whether places of worship will be allowed to open.
In response to social media criticisms about the ‘Re-open the churches’ campaign, she claims that a lot of the commentary on Twitter are from people who are anti-church and are just using Covid19 as an excuse to say the churches are not safe. Lastly, she reminds people that Aontú are a pluralist party and are inclusive of everyone.
Duleek based Senator Sharon Keogan has stated that “Ireland is the only remaining country in the European Union where churches are expected to remain closed to public worship at this time”. She notes that there is no evidence that small, socially distanced gatherings in churches are ‘spreader events’.
As Easter is the high point of the Christian year, she demands evidence to the contrary from the government if they do not open the churches.
In Cavan, Father PJ Hughes told The Irish Times that he vows to continue saying mass despite being fined €500, which he has no intention of paying. Aontú finds it ridiculous that he was fined and noted that Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly stated on the 22nd of October that it is not a penal offence to hold a church service.
In contrast to Bishop Deenihan, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Francis Duffy, told Father Hughes to “close the doors” and that what he is doing “does not represent the official church”.
Father Hughes notes his disappointment with the archbishops, suggesting that they don’t stand up and see what is going on and that they are merely toeing the line of the government.
This statement came after a constitutional case which was being taken by businessman, Declan Ganley. Judge Meenan has given the government instructions in relation to church services.
The State now has two weeks to clarify whether, in fact, there is a law against masses being said in public. With many frustrated priests, who would be of the opinion that faith is not virtual, claiming they cannot continue to have mass held online, an answer from the State is desperately needed.
Cllr Emer Tóibín, commenting on the Declan Ganley case, notes that this is ‘one big muddle’. As the government has 2 weeks to come up with a legal basis on closing the churches, she fears it might be too late when they eventually make their decision, as it is coming up to Easter week.