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Holohan says advice against indoor gatherings still stands after report of mass held at Dublin church

Government guidelines advise that places of worship should not reopen until 20 July.

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Updated May 28th 2020, 8:00 PM

THE CHIEF MEDICAL Officer has said the advice against indoor gatherings still stands, after reports of a church in Dublin opening its doors for mass. 

It was reported that the Church of the Guardian Angels in Blackrock had reopened for mass, with the congregation spaced out on chairs. 

At this evening’s Department of Health briefing, Dr Tony Holohan said he had not heard of this specific instance, reiterated that health officials “are advising against indoor gatherings for the reasons we’ve set out”

“We don’t think now is the right time,” he said.

Government guidelines advise that places of worship such as churches should not reopen until phase four of its roadmap for lifting restrictions, which is set for 20 July.

“We’re sensitive to people’s religious convictions and beliefs and so on and we’ll be giving ongoing consideration to question as to when we might think it is the right time,” Holohan said. 

“There are certain exceptions to that, funerals in particular we’ve made specific guidance in relation to that available. ”

Earlier, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said public health policy will only work when its proposals are fully respected by all.

“The Dublin parish referred to in media reports in these days has in fact a policy statement on its website stating unambiguously ‘public attendance at daily or Sunday Mass is not permissible during the current pandemic’,” he said.

“I am assured that the parish has now returned to that policy.

This Irish church is working intensely to ensure that the reopening of churches for public worship will take place in a manner and at a time that is safe. I appeal to all churches in the Archdiocese of Dublin to adhere strictly to public policy, even if it involves patience and personal suffering.

Tweet by @Archdiocese Dublin Source: Archdiocese Dublin/Twitter

Martin added that the Irish Bishops Conference will shortly publish a detailed document and checklist regarding the steps that each parish must take before the reopening of churches.

He said: “I repeat the words of Pope Francis when churches in Italy were reopened for public worship – ‘but please, let us proceed respecting the norms, the prescriptions we are given to safeguard the health of each individual and the people’.”

Online worship

The message comes after it was revealed that the coronavirus restrictions have sparked a surge in online religious worship.​

Before the pandemic, 44% of faith communities in Ireland did not provide online worship; that has now fallen to 13%.

The situation has also seen denominations reach out, with 74% from the largest – Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist – providing social services to the wider community, according to research.

The findings come from a study carried out by academics at Queen’s University Belfast.

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Dr Gladys Ganiel, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, questioned people of faith about coping with the pandemic.

She said many faith leaders revealed “surprising” numbers of people tuning in for online services, including some who they believe would not have entered a church building.

“Moving faith online has created new opportunities for religious practice. In some cases, lay volunteers have assisted faith leaders in moving faith online,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to increase and enhance lay involvement in many aspects of ministry and should be encouraged.

The research also found that 70% said they would retain aspects of online ministries after lockdown, 46% of faith leaders said their ministry had been more stressful than usual, and 82% who are cocooning for age or underlying health conditions have continued their ministry.

The survey was distributed to more than 2,000 faith leaders across Ireland via direct email, with 439 responses received between May 6 and 22.

Of the respondents, 35% were Catholic, 18% Church of Ireland, 14% Presbyterian, 9% Methodist, 23% other Christian and 1% other religion.

The full report, entitled People Still Need Us, is available here.

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