29 May 2020, The Tablet

Priests in Ireland prioritise safety

Priests in Ireland prioritise safety

A statue of the Virgin Mary in Dublin allows people pay their respects for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Religious groups demanding special treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic are motivated by self-serving and self-interested agendas, the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has said.

In a statement the group, which represents over 1,000 priests in Ireland, criticised those demanding that public Masses be reinstated earlier than the Government’s roadmap.  

The priests warned that gathering people together – especially elderly people who are most at risk – is “grossly irresponsible” and “will lead to great pain, suffering and loss of life for many individuals and families”.

Churches or religious groups claiming entitlement to special treatment, in the ACP’s view, is “inappropriate and unacceptable” and they stressed that moral responsibility trumps individual rights.

Meanwhile, one of the most important annual pilgrimages in Ireland has been cancelled over public health concerns.

Those who had intended taking part in the 2020 National Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday on 26 July have been invited to take part instead in a vigil Mass celebrated by Archbishop Michael Neary which will be streamed live from Westport Parish on the eve of Reek Sunday. The Archbishop has also invited pilgrims to send in their petitions by email or post and these will be remembered at the Mass.

Speaking to the Tablet, the Administrator of Westport, Fr Charlie McDonnell said: “We are appealing to people’s goodwill not to try to climb the mountain on Reek Sunday.”

Fr McDonnell’s parish restarted confessions again last weekend and saw a steady stream of penitents turn up for confession in a specially adapted booth, which screens off the priest and the penitent with two layers of Perspex. 

The kneeler has been changed from cloth to leather, and will be disinfected  after use, but Fr McDonnall believes it would be better if people stood while making their confession.

St Mary’s Westport is the third largest church in the Connaught region after Galway Cathedral and the Basilica in Knock. It has a capacity for over 1,200 people but with social distancing measures it will only be able to be able to cater for 90 people when it reopens for public worship.

However, the size of the church has allowed Fr McDonnell and the parish team to set up the confessional with plenty of space around it for privacy and to maintain at least 3 metres between penitents, should a queue form.

“After confession, we will immediately spray down the whole confessional booth with disinfectant and then ask people to wait a few minutes before we let the next person proceed to confession.” Penitents will also be told to make their confession within 15 minutes.

“We spent nearly two to three weeks looking at how this could be done. We’ll keep an eye on it and if it doesn’t work, or if it is putting anybody in any way at risk, we’ll call the whole thing off. But at the moment we are happy that it is very safe and it meets all the guidelines.”


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