18Apr Bishops seek meeting with Minister over ‘draconian’ ban

Sinéad Hussey of RTÉ reports:

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland is seeking a meeting with the Minister for Health over a “draconian” move to outlaw public mass and other religious services.

A statutory instrument was published earlier this week after Minister Stephen Donnelly signed a regulation allowing only virtual religious services.

In a statement Archbishop Eamon Martin said he became aware of this measure on Friday and consulted with the other Archbishops.

He said they considered the move, together with the associated penal provisions, to be “provocative” and “draconian”.

The archbishops say are now seeking legal advice and want an immediate meeting with Minister Donnelly.

Link to RTÉ article:


11 Responses

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    Re: The new government regulations in Statutory Instrument 171, published 16 April, regarding religious services.

    I see two anomalies with how these regulations are formulated.

    1) Section 2(f) permits the attendance only of the minister of religion to “lead worship or services remotely through the use of information and communications technology.”
    Government seems to envisage such services as led by only one person, the “minister of religion or priest (or any equivalent thereof in any religion).” There is no provision for a sacristan or reader or cantor or any person who is not a “minister”.
    Perhaps we can get around that by designating all other persons who take part in the worship as “ministers” – which indeed they are! Leadership is not a one-person function, but a community function.

    2) Statutory Instrument 171 adds an “Explanatory Note” on page 5, which says:
    “(This note is not part of the Instrument and does not purport to be a legal interpretation.)
    These Regulations amend the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2021 (S.I. No. 168 of 2021) to provide for restrictions on specified events. This is a penal provision.”
    It’s clear: “This is a penal provision” is not part of the instrument and is not a legal interpretation!
    So is it a criminal offence or not?
    Is it the designation of a “penal provision” which make it a criminal offence?
    Does the Minister know?

  2. Eddie Finnegan

    Might Minister Stephen Donnelly be related to Bishop Patrick Donnelly (1650-1716), sometime Bishop Of Dromore, aka the Bard of Armagh?

    He knew a thing or two about the Penal Laws, Mass Rocks, priests on the run and government requirements for hounding of bishops and registration of parish priests, etc.

    Not sure how the ACP may have functioned back then.

  3. Pádraig McCarthy

    Religious Worship and the Law: April 2021
    Update on #1:

    The government has published new regulations on 16 April in Statutory Instrument 171. Sadly, these regulations make it clear that it is a criminal offence to gather for religious worship, except in the case of a wedding or a funeral. This regulation is a “penal provision.”

    The regulation says:
    10A. (1) A person shall not attend a specified event in a relevant geographical location (regardless of whether or not, in the case of an applicable person, the event is held or to be held in his or her relevant travel area) other than in accordance with paragraph (2).
    (2) A person may attend a specified event in a relevant geographical location where the person attends the event in order to –

    (f) in the case of a minister of religion or priest (or any equivalent thereof in any religion) –
    (i) lead worship or services remotely through the use of information and communications technology, or
    (ii) minister to the sick.

    (4) In this Regulation, “specified event” means an event other than –
    (a) a wedding reception,
    (b) a sporting event,
    (c) a training event, or
    (d) a funeral.
    (5) Paragraph (1) is a penal provision for the purposes of section 31A of the Act of 1947.”

    The government seems to envisage worship or services as led by only one person. There is no provision for a sacristan or reader or cantor or any person who is not a “minister”.
    The document refers to “attending” such a function. This is a basic misunderstanding of what specifically Catholic liturgy is. It reflects a very much outdated understanding, when people spoke of “attending” or “getting” Mass, where only the priest was active and others were simply in attendance, like an audience at a show.
    The 1964 document on Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Paragraph 14) from the Second Vatican Council spoke of “fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”
    All who are baptised are called to this ministry, and to other ways of service in the world; all share, in a variety of ways, in the priesthood of Christ.
    The fundamental understanding is that the “celebrant” of the Eucharist is the assembled community, within which the presiding ordained minister and all others participate in particular ways. This is the very nature of the liturgy. There is no single leader, rather there are many, indeed all, leading and sharing in leadership in diverse ministries within a single celebration.
    The people gathered for worship are not equivalent to the audience at a solo stage performance. The whole assembly is the team actively celebrating.
    It seems unlikely that this would change the way the government deals with religious services!
    It is important that we do our full part in helping to slow or stop the spread of the Coronavirus. This involves taking good care in the living of our faith, both when we can gather as a community for worship and when it is not wise to do so. This is what we have done since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have already shown that we are willing to do this, taking full precautions. It is, however, sad that our government has seen fit to make it a criminal offence to gather except when they permit.

  4. richard o'donnell

    The archbishop does not seem to realise, or perhaps care, that we are experiencing a global pandemic. There will be plenty time for public worship in the future.
    In the meantime, I suppose there is little chance that he might consider making “his” empty churches available to shelter the homeless.
    Would that qualify for worship or would the messiness of such people’s lives disturb our private prayer in these churches?

  5. Joe O'Leary

    “The document refers to “attending” such a function. This is a basic misunderstanding of what specifically Catholic liturgy is. It reflects a very much outdated understanding, when people spoke of “attending” or “getting” Mass, where only the priest was active and others were simply in attendance, like an audience at a show.”

    You’re talking about a government document, which deals with people’s external movements. It would be very inappropriate for such a document to “make windows into men’ ssouls” (Eliz. I) or to indulge in eucharistic theology.

    This deadly pandemic is far from over. The variants are quite terrifying. We slip into dreamy complacency at our peril.

  6. Pádraig McCarthy

    #4: “we are experiencing a global pandemic. There will be plenty time for public worship in the future.”
    #5: “This deadly pandemic is far from over. The variants are quite terrifying. We slip into dreamy complacency at our peril.”
    I know we are in a pandemic, and that it is of serious concern. I have not slipped into dreamy complacency.
    We may well debate the merits of outlawing religious assemblies under strictly controlled conditions, while elite athletes can get up close and personal in a scrum.
    The fact however that the government last week included religious assemblies for worship under a criminal offence would seem to indicate that they think that religious assemblies have shown they cannot be trusted to observe all the safety measures up to now. I do not argue that we should resume services right now, although the rest of Europe and the UK have done so.
    The government seem to see penal provisions as the only way open to them to take control of this situation. Law, it seems, is the only tool in their kit; when the only implement available is a hammer, then everything to use it on appears to be a nail.
    They have given up on leadership and effective communication, although, from the perspective of religious practice they have seemed very effective so far.
    Taking this provocative step indicates a serious failure on the part of government in addressing the serious pandemic.
    Criminal law has its usefulness in society. It should be used only when and where clearly necessary.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    Rugby scrums are allowed? Doesn’t sound as if the Government is very serious (same can be said of the situation here in Japan, where Draconian measurss have been avoided while the Govt dreams about the Olympics that no one wants).

    A friend pooh-poohed the first accounts of infections in India — “only a drop in the bucket given their huge population.” Now we hear that one in three are infected in New Delhi.

    “The Vaccine is here, the problem is over, the future is bright”– we must hope so, though the variants that there is no vaccine for may wreak havoc. If vaccination does change the landscape then the churches will safely open. Only a little Patience is required until the danger passes.

    In addition: The attachment of the clerical church to routinized liturgy is one reason for their outcry. Surely the current situation is a challenge to find new ways of communication, using the social media or other possibilities. A challenge also to get back to basics, to decide what the entire business of our religion is meant to be about. A church without any real dialogue, any real scriptural or theological sharing, any concretely defined pastoral or social mission, a church dominated by the clergy’s schedules and in which lay expression is anaemic, is left high and dry in this situation. Recall Carlo Borromeo, when the churches in his diocese were closed for two years during a plague, and how he tried to fulfil his ministry in other ways.

  8. Joe O'Leary

    1. “they think that religious assemblies have shown they cannot be trusted to observe all the safety measures up to now.” Have religious services been going on all this time? Is there reason to think they have spread the virus?

    “I do not argue that we should resume services right now, although the rest of Europe and the UK have done so.” Under very tight restrictions, as we saw in the royal funeral and in the police interruption of a Good Friday liturgy in the UK. French churches celebrated Easter with two in three seats empty. I suppose that requires booking your seat in advance. Notre Dame allowed only 7 participants: https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20200410-paris-s-notre-dame-celebrates-good-friday-with-small-ceremony

    UK Govt advice on Easter ceremonies: ‘people from different households (or support bubbles) must not mix when participating in communal worship.’

    2. Meanwhile the Paris churches are open to visitors: https://www.france24.com/en/culture/20210211-with-museums-shuttered-paris-churches-are-well-worth-a-mass

    Are Irish churches open for individual prayer or adoration of the Bl Sacrament?

    3. The trouble is that everyone is thrown into a state of uncertainty and indecisiveness about how to handle this shifty viral threat. Better be safe than sorry remains a good principle, but hard to apply with total consistency without bringing life to a halt. Churches should not be sources of division and contention in this state of affairs.

    4. Criminalization of unsafe liturgical ceremonies is found in Greece https://greekreporter.com/2020/11/23/greek-priest-fined-for-celebrating-liturgy-after-government-ban/

    An Irish case: https://extra.ie/2021/03/22/must-see/priest-refusing-to-pay-e500-fine-ill-go-to-jail-for-right-to-say-mass

    Also in USA: https://www.ktvu.com/news/san-jose-church-fined-2m-for-virus-violations-other-churches-open-doors-following-new-ruling


    And in Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/church-of-god-fined-1.5816259


    And in France: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/coronavirus-priest-mass-paris-lockdown-france-saint-nicolas-du-chardonnet-a9462551.html

    5. Tokyo universities opened quite freely at the start of April, to the joy of frustrated students (library open to 10 pm). But a lot of teaching is still by zoom. My impression is that sanitary measures were a mere formality. I imagine there’ll be another closing of universities.

  9. Joe O'Leary

    Above I referred to Good Friday in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, but that was the 2020 ceremony. The 2021 event is described here: https://www.cnews.fr/france/2021-04-01/paques-une-ceremonie-exceptionnelle-notre-dame-diffusee-sur-cnews-1065153

  10. Paddy Ferry

    Bishops seek meeting ….

    I have to say I don’t think this shows our institutional Church in a very good light and, surely, we don’t need anything else to bring further discredit on an already seriously discredited institution.

    I agree with Richard @ 4 and Joe@ 5 and 7.

    Now, of course, we have to recognise the serious financial consequences of the pandemic and impact the closure of our churches has had, which Brendan has written about in a recent article.

    This became very apparent to us Vincentians ( SVP which is now referred to in Scotland as SSVP) here in Edinburgh just yesterday.

    Our Archdiocesan SSVP Council has made holidays available in its two large mobile homes at the Seaton Sands resort in East Lothian to families from our parishes for twenty-five years.

    Sadly,they informed us all yesterday that due to a fall in income in our parish conferences it is no longer feasible to continue with the maintenance of the homes and, they have, with great regret, decided to sell them.

    This is a really heart breaking development as it means some of the most disadvantaged families in our parishes will no longer have the chance to get away for a week during the summer. Really, really sad news.

  11. Liamy Mac Nally

    Statement taken the Irish Bishops Conference website:

    Meeting between Archbishop Eamon Martin and Minister Stephen Donnelly
    19. APR, 2021

    Following contact from Minister Donnelly’s office today, Archbishop Eamon Martin had a meeting with the Minister this afternoon to discuss concerns that have arisen following the publication on Friday of SI 171/2021. Minister Donnelly was joined at the meeting by Dr Colette Bonner from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.

    Archbishop Eamon Martin explained the deep concerns already expressed with regard to the criminalising of leading, and gathering for, public worship at this time in Ireland despite the consistent support from the Churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic. He reiterated the Church’s support for the protection of health, life and for the Common Good and he emphasised the importance of respecting and sustaining people’s spiritual well-being alongside their physical and mental health. For people of faith, he added, this is deemed essential.

    The Archbishop emphasised that the vital pastoral work of priests and other ministers on the ground should also be respected and deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction. Ministers of religion are often on the front line supporting the sick, the bereaved, the isolated and those who are struggling to cope. Pastoral ministry and spiritual support, which are so important for people during the time of pandemic, ought not to be confined to a small number of legally acceptable and “regulated activities”.

    Archbishop Martin stressed the importance of regular and meaningful conversation and consultation between Church, State and public health advisers to ensure that there is mutual understanding and positive cooperation in supporting life and health during times like the Covid-19 crisis.

    The Minister outlined that the Statutory Instrument was not intended to single out worship but was designed to regulate indoor and outdoor gatherings that might pose a risk. He said that religious worship and spiritual well-being were taken very seriously by government and consideration would be given to early re-opening of public worship in accordance with public health advice in the coming weeks.

    The Archbishop said that he will meet with the other Archbishops to brief them on this exchange. Meanwhile the Church was seeking clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the Statutory Instrument.


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