A delegation of four archbishops failed to secure a commitment from the Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the current “blanket restriction on public worship” would be revoked at a meeting last week.
The discussion between the Taoiseach and the bishops focused mainly on the effect which the current Covid-19 restrictions are having on the health and well-being of the faith community and the “great desire to return to worship as soon as possible”, the bishops said.
Speaking about the meeting, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he hoped Mr Martin would bring the bishops’ concerns to the Cabinet and discuss it with public health authorities.
In an interview with RTE Radio’s News at One, Archbishop Martin criticised the imposition of the ban on all public worship with the introduction of Level 3 restrictions in the Republic on 7th October. He said this had been done “without any meaningful consultation with religious leaders right across the island – north and south”.
“It is one of the things I really can’t understand – why the restrictions are put in place without consultation with the bodies concerned. In Northern Ireland all of the Christian traditions, all of the faith leaders have ongoing contact with the executive office.”
He said he believed that public worship could take place safely and in a way that meets public health concerns.
“There is absolutely no evidence, that we know of, that our church buildings have actually been a source of contagion or of spreading the disease,” he said.
Of the meeting, the Catholic Primate said the bishops got “a very respectful response from the Taoiseach” and that they had tried to convey to him “the strength of feeling that we’re hearing on the ground from so many people in our congregations” and from other Christian church leaders.
Acknowledging the challenges for the government Archbishop Martin said different groups would be making the case for concessions but that faith was different as it was “very fundamental to people’s lives”.
Meanwhile, some priests have publicly criticised the ban on public worship. In a Facebook live stream, Fr Gearoid Walsh, parish priest in Ballymacelligott in Co Kerry, asked why people can gather in a supermarket with low ceilings and not in a church where social distancing is being observed and ceilings are much higher.
Separately, Fr Sean Mulligan of Carrickmacross Co Monaghan said it was “gravely wrong that God is not seen as essential, but off-licences and abortion clinics are”.