26 February 2021, The Tablet

Irish bishops appeal for vaccines for priests

Irish bishops appeal for vaccines for priests

Dublin city centre during tier five lockdown this week.
Artur Widak/PA

The Irish bishops have appealed to public health authorities to make vaccines available to priests who are chaplains to nursing care facilities and who preside at funerals “as a matter of priority”.

In a statement on Wednesday, Bishop Michael Router, chairman of the Bishops’ Council for Healthcare, reiterated the bishops’ appeal to everyone to support the vaccination programmes in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. 

He also appealed for carers in the Republic of Ireland to also be vaccinated as a priority.

Speaking to The Tablet, Bishop Router explained that he was “highlighting the important work that priests do” and advocating that they be considered as a priority when decisions are being made on the further rollout of vaccines.

“Considering that most priests are over 60, some with underlying health conditions, and are dealing with gatherings of people, however small, for funerals and weddings I think it is reasonable to ask that they be considered for vaccination as soon as possible,” he said.

He added that very few priests are in a parish with other priests and so if they get sick it is difficult to find cover. “Many are also providing pastoral care to nursing home facilities and would feel much more confident about that if they were vaccinated.”

Bishop Router, who is an auxiliary bishop of the cross-border diocese of Armagh, highlighted that “Unfortunately, some priests have got Covid-19 or have had to isolate because of contacts made in the course of their essential services. Full-time Hospital Chaplains are employees of the HSE or NHS and are vaccinated as a result. This is not automatically the case for occasional chaplains to Nursing Homes.”

The bishops have also appealed to everyone to support the vaccination programmes currently in place both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

“We encourage all parishes and Church personnel to promote this programme and to encourage elderly parishioners, relatives and neighbours to avail of the opportunity to protect their health and the health of the whole community.”

They said the development and provision of the vaccines is already providing reassurance for those who are most vulnerable to the virus and added that the vaccine rollout would “help us to return to normality in terms of work, education, religious practice, and sporting and leisure activities as soon as possible”. 

At present the group prioritised in the Republic of Ireland to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks are those over 70 years of age while in Northern Ireland it is those over 65 years of age along with others who are clinically vulnerable.

Last December the bishops encouraged Catholics to support the programme of vaccination “not only for their own good, but for the protection of life and the health of those who are vulnerable and for the common good of humanity”.

They said, “safe and effective vaccination is an essential aspect of the prevention of disease”.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a similar call to all Catholics in December.

The bishops’ statement follows concerns raised by the Association of Catholic Priests on Monday over the proposed re-opening churches for public worship for Easter.

In a statement, the group, which represents 1,000 priests, said its members have “significant misgivings about re-opening churches for Easter ceremonies, believing it to be a premature and potentially detrimental move.”

Though they commended the four catholic archbishops for their engagement with the Taoiseach Micheál Martin about public worship last weekend, the ACP highlighted that, “Numerous priests, many elderly and not yet vaccinated, are Covid-19 frontline workers as they journey with families during sadness and bereavement.” 

The group also noted that the post-Christmas surge in new Covid-19 cases and the threat from Covid-19 variants represented “a persuasive evidence-based platform to strongly argue against an early return to congregational worship”.

The bishops have highlighted that trustworthy and updated information on vaccines is available on https://www2.hse.ie/covid-19-vaccine/  in the Republic of Ireland and https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/northern-ireland-covid-19-vaccination-programme in Northern Ireland   

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