Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said the Church has “every right” to appeal for the suspension of public worship to be kept to the shortest possible time.
During his online Mass for the 19 priests who have died in the Archdiocese of Dublin over the past year, Archbishop Martin acknowledged: “We live in difficult and changing times. The experience of the pandemic leaves us uncertain.”
He warned that there is a danger that the experience of insecurity generated by the pandemic “can lead us to become inward-looking as individuals and as a Church”.
His comments were made as Irish businessman Declan Ganley mounted a legal challenge against the current ban on public worship in the Republic.
The 52-year-old entrepreneur, who is known for his Catholic faith, has initiated proceedings against the minister of health, arguing that the current restrictions on public worship breach the constitutional right to religious freedom. The case has been postponed until 8 December.
However, Level 5 restrictions are due to be lifted on 1 December. If the government decides to place the country under Level 1 or 2 restrictions, public worship will continue. But if it opts for Level 3, the suspension of public worship will continue.
In the Republic, places of worship remain open for private prayer, but religious services must be held online.
The only exceptions are funerals and weddings, which can be attended by 25 people.
Those lobbying for a resumption of public worship argue that there has been no evidence that gatherings for Masses have contributed to the spread of the virus, provided people have adhered to social distancing and other public health guidance, such as wearing masks.
This was a point made by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh at the meeting of the four archbishops, along with Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory, with the Taoiseach Micheál Martin last month to discuss the ban on public worship.
At the meeting, all agreed on the importance of ongoing constructive engagement, but the government has so far resisted calls for a relaxation of the ban on churches allowing people to gather for religious services.