By Cian Molloy - 30 March, 2020
“All priests who are aged 70 years or older and those who have underlying health conditions are not expected to take part in frontline pastoral ministry,” says Bishop Duffy, excusing more than a third of his priests from face-to-face duties.
All Catholic funerals in the Clogher diocese have been postponed until the COVID-19 crisis is over.
The move by Bishop Larry Duffy is likely to be copied by bishops in other dioceses.
As a result of the temporary ban in the cross-border diocese, the body of a deceased person in Clogher will now be brought directly to their place of burial, says Bishop Duffy. “The Rite of Committal or Burial will be led by a priest, deacon or, if necessary, a layperson.”
The bishop has also introduced measures to protect those priests who are most at risk from the consequences of catching coronavirus disease: “All priests who are aged 70 years or older and those who have underlying health conditions are not expected to take part in frontline pastoral ministry and are therefore excused from doing so. Clergy in each Pastoral Area will make arrangements for pastoral provision,” he said.
A large proportion of Clogher’s priests are now no longer available for active ministry, based on figures published seven years ago, in 2013, when 45 per cent of Clogher’s priests in active ministry were aged over 65. If this measure is introduced nationally, it could mean nearly a third of priests currently in ministry not being available for ‘front-line’ duty, though they would be available to contact parishioners via phone or the internet.
Bishop Duffy was born in November 1951, so he is not affected by the ban on ‘front-line’ service by those aged over 70.
The Clogher Diocese covers County Monaghan, most of Fermanagh, and parts of Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan, so it is affected by legislation on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
In the UK, a host of restrictions now surround the celebration of funerals: not only is the number of mourners restricted to a maximum of ten, relatives may not carry coffins or share vehicles with one another.
In Clogher, pastoral support to the families of the deceased will now be provided via telephone and other forms of electronic communications only, said Bishop Duffy. “Clergy will not attend wakes if one is held.
“Hospital visits will be conducted by full-time trained hospital chaplains and subject to the regulation of hospital management. There will be no house calls (including First Friday calls) at this time. Clergy may call by phone or similar mode of communications and pray with the sick or housebound.”
Churches are now closed and activities such as Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Hour, the recitation of the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross can only be held by online means in Bishop Duffy’s diocese.
“Individual Confessions are not now possible,” said the bishop, who served four years as a missionary in Kenya.
“People are reminded of the longstanding pastoral practice, when penitents’ access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is restricted, that they can be assured that their sins are forgiven if they make an act of contrition with a firm resolve to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation after the stay at home orders are lifted. Pope Francis has spoken on this in recent days and it is in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”