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'Trust parents': Archbishop says sacraments should proceed despite public health advice

Dermot Farrell claimed the Government’s Covid-19 measures were “discriminatory” to the Catholic Church.

Image: Brian Lawless/PA

Updated Aug 4th 2021, 2:01 PM

THE ARCHBISHOP OF Dublin has written to his priests indicating that they can proceed with confirmations and first holy communions, despite public health advice to the contrary.

Dermot Farrell, leader of the largest Catholic diocese in Ireland, hit out at what he called “discriminatory” Covid-19 guidelines.

Public health guidelines advise that baptisms, communions and confirmations should not currently take place, with baptisms allowed to go ahead from 5 August.

It is understood that preparations for communions and confirmations took place during the year in many primary schools. 

Many primary school children would have received their religious instruction for the ceremonies in advance of a date being set.

However, most of the preparations would have taken place in schools and there would have been few visits to churches.

On Tuesday, minister Charlie McConalogue asked churches to follow the public health advice and to hold off on hosting the ceremonies.

However the Archbishop urged priests to proceed with the sacraments if they “consider it safe” and suggests “shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies”.

His letter stated: “If you consider it safe to celebrate the sacraments in this context, it would be prudent to ensure that families confirm their awareness of the public health guidelines regarding household mixing.”

It added that “the format of such ceremonies should be adapted appropriately, as was the case in many parishes last year, with shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies, which were nonetheless reverent and joyous”.

The Archbishop criticised the Government for failing to engage with church representatives on the matter, describing it as “a matter of profound regret”.

He adds: “Understandably, many have been concerned and disappointed that current guidelines restrict celebrations of the sacraments on the apparent grounds that they may lead to family gatherings, which may breach public health guidelines on household mixing.

“This is perplexing, as no such prohibitions are applied to other events, such as sporting or civic events, or other family occasions, such as the celebration of birthdays and anniversaries, or indeed to weddings or funerals.

“Many have concluded that, in the absence of appropriate justification, these guidelines are discriminatory.”

The Archbishop is the most senior member of the clergy to call for the sacraments to proceed, following moves by some bishops last week.

However, he added that public health protocols must be complied with, where ceremonies proceed.

He said: “Where, nevertheless, parishes are considering holding such celebrations, in consultation with the Parish Pastoral Council and the families concerned, it is important that public health advice and protocols regarding public worship are strictly complied with, not least with regard to gatherings in the church grounds both before and after ceremonies.”

Speaking to the News at One, Archbishop Farrell said the lack of consistency in public health advice has lead to a lack of credibility. 

He said he’s regularly a witness to gatherings in bars, restaurants and sporting events “but the only gathering that seems to pose any risk is a parent, taking their child along to receive the sacrament of confirmation”. 

“That’s simply not credible,” he said. 

Referring to the private event held by former Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone last month, the Archbishop questioned why “it’s okay to have a bash in the Merrion Hotel with 50 people present but yet it’s not possible for a parent to take their child along to receive a sacrament”. 

Hold off

Genetics Professor at Trinity College Dublin Aoife McLysaght told RTÉ Radio’s Today programme that the Bishops and Archbishops are not setting a good example by encouraging the defiance of public health guidelines. 

She said events such as communions and confirmations are not overly time sensitive, like funerals, and could therefore happen at any time. 

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“Our reopening is quite delicate. We can’t do everything all at once.

“By definition, we’re talking about unvaccinated children because there are no vaccines available at all for under 12 and the 12 to 15 years haven’t had the opportunity yet so you’re talking about a gathering of this age group a few weeks before school, potentially a super spreader event. I think everything we do now matters. 

“Every bit of opening we’d do has a potential effect in terms of increasing case numbers and we’re seeing that our cases are going up.

“Even if the events have similar risk profiles, it’s not to do with the fact that they’re similar, it’s got to do with the fact that we need to make choices in this context.

There’s a way to engage in the public debate, and that isn’t simply making an announcement that you don’t agree with the public health guidelines and that you’re therefore going to defy them. 

Earlier this week McConalogue urged the Church and the public to hold off on the sacraments.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “I fully understand the frustration people feel.

“Like many people in the country, I have very strong memories myself of both communion and confirmation, and it’s a very important day in everyone’s lives.

“The public health advice is still very clear in relation to being cautious in relation to the advice around communions and confirmation.

“The important thing here, in relation to communions and confirmations, is, while it is frustrating to to see these delays, no-one’s going to get hurt by waiting a little bit longer to avail of it and to have that special day.”

He added: “There is a reality out here that people are still becoming infected by Covid. People are still going into hospital by Covid. And it’s important to stay and keep cautious and keep safe in that period.”

Additional reporting by Adam Daly and Orla Dwyer.

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