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holy row Archbishop Eamon Martin slams Government’s ‘grossly disrespectful’ sacrament postponement

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Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

The head of the Catholic Church has criticised the Government for what he called the “grossly disrespectful” treatment of the Church over the manner in which the postponement of Communions and Confirmations was announced.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said he was “extremely disappointed” over the “cavalier approach to communication”.

He said he learnt of the decision from a journalist tweeting Leo Varadkar “dismissively saying ‘oh, they're off’, “at a press briefing when asked about whether the sacraments could go ahead after July 5.

He said the Government’s lack of communication with the churches had resulted in “a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration and deep disappointment and indeed anger” among priests and parishioners over the decision to defer Communions and Confirmations.

He said this was a change of direction from a letter he received from the Taoiseach’s office at the beginning of June.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio’s News at One, Dr Martin said: “We've been deluged with calls from parishes, and I know that priests and others have been extremely disappointed by this reversal of the position that was written to us from the Taoiseach’s office at the very beginning of June, which said that in line with the gradual reopening of society, from July, 5 these ceremonies could take place.”

“The Department of the Taoiseach wrote to us at the beginning of June basically giving us the go ahead to begin to plan and stressing to us that we should encourage families to make sure that they’re going to adhere to the prevailing public health advice.”

The Archbishop, whose diocese straddles the border, said a huge amount of preparation had already been done with children in schools and with their families to safely hold these ceremonies, which he said were “very important moments in the journey of faith of our young people and their families”.

He said the Church had been consistently told the reason for the deferral of these sacraments was not because of concerns over people’s safety in churches, but as a way to try to deter the kind of social gatherings and celebrations that typically follow the sacraments.

Dr Martin said priests and parishes had been reinforcing the message with families and schools to keep any gatherings afterwards very safe and within public health gatherings. “I think we could have done it,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, revealed to Opposition TDs he did not make any specific recommendation in relation to Communions and Confirmations to the Government.

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However, today Mr Varadkar said that Dr Holohan did not recommend cancelling confirmations because they were not supposed to be happening anyway as “people who are not vaccinated are not supposed to gather indoors”.

Archbishop Martin said since Easter, the parishes in his diocese that lie within Northern Ireland have seen all their Communion and Confirmation ceremonies “held very carefully, very safely”.

He said the bishops “would really love to know why this almost cavalier approach to communication happened” and questioned if, as one parent said to him, it was because “we're just easy targets”.

It comes as baptisms, holy communions, and confirmations, have been deferred in parishes across the mid west.

The mid west has experienced one of the highest incidence rates of Covid-19 in the country, particularly in Limerick, where a local lockdown was mooted last month after daily cases surged.

However, according to latest provisional data from the Department of Public Health Mid West, cases in the Treaty City, and county, have been “significantly reducing” over the two weeks, by that they were monitoring fluctuations in neighbouring county Clare.

While Limerick’s 14-day cumulative incidence rate per 100,000 population declined significantly from 435 on June 4 to 162.6 on June 30, it remains considerably higher than the national average of 100.8, the spokesman said.

“There have been 1750 cases in Limerick since May 21, and while the decline in cases is welcome we would consider the incidence rate 162.6 not to be low, and it is still too high for people to relax or let their guard down, as the virus is still in the community,” he said.

Clare has been identifying single figure daily cases for the past two weeks however numbers more than doubled in a 24-hour period between June 28 and 29, albeit from a low of five cases to 12 cases.

“The incidence rate in Clare is 65.6, and in the past two weeks it has had a total of 78 cases. It is the only county in the mid west seeing an increase, so we are keeping an eye on it,” the spokesman added.

Catholic Church leaders in the region have asked their parishes to defer all religious ceremonies.

In a letter yesterday to priests, parents and schools, Archbishop of Cashel-Emily, Kieran O’Reilly, asked that all religious ceremonies be deferred “until it is safe to hold them”.

“I am disappointed to have to convey this decision to you as I know it impacts on many throughout the archdiocese, especially the young members of our church communities preparing for the sacraments, their parents, families, and the school personnel.

“In the interest of the week being of our communities and society I ask you to abide by the advice we have received.”

The Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has also asked parishes to defer the religious ceremonies until further notice on foot of “communication from the Taoiseach’s department”.

“No ceremonies should be rescheduled until public health advice allows,” advised Bishop Leahy.

He said this was not anticipated “a number of weeks back when we were requested to defer until after the anticipated post July 5 lifting of restrictions” however, he added, “given that the Taoiseach’s request, based on public health advice, has come so quickly following last week’s recommendation from the HSE in the Mid-West, it is clear that there is really no choice but to take this on board”.

“We should not ignore warnings given about the substantial threat from the Delta variant, if anything, this latest Covid-19 set-back is reminding us all again of our vulnerability,” he added.

The diocese of Killaloe, also located in the region, has been contacted for comment.

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