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Priest hits out at COVID rule breaches in churches

By Ann Marie Foley - 19 September, 2020

Fr Power concluded that these two breaches show a lack of concern for the health and safety of others. He added: “Priests and other communicants could have been exposed to Covid infection.

A microscopic image of the Covid-19 virus

A county Waterford priest has highlighted two breaches of COVID-19 rules in churches and called on churchgoers to have concern for the safety of others. He added that the behaviour of a few could lead to tighter restrictions and less people allowed to be physically present at mass.

In his fortnightly column in the Waterford News and Star titled A Question of Faith, Fr Liam Power, highlighted how the actions of a few can put the lives of priests and others at risk.

He described how one church had special permission to divide the church into two sections or pods separated by four metres and with 50 parishioners in each. Yet at one Sunday Mass a parishioner crossed from one pod to the other to receive from a priest rather than a minister of the Eucharist thus causing potential cross-contamination between the two groups. This parishioner then demanded communion on the tongue which is not allowed in any church. The priest refused and there was a standoff.

Fr Power described it as: “an embarrassing situation as the congregation witnessed this stand-off during a most sacred moment of the service.” He said that when this person was challenged later they spoke about “the constitutionality of the COVID-19 regulations” and inferred that the right to religious liberty was being undermined.

On a separate occasion, someone was refused Holy Communion on the tongue by a priest who was helping out in a parish. They then turned up at that priest’s parish church and sought Communion on the tongue from an elderly priest who has underlying health issues. Again there was a tense moment and a scene during the celebration of the Eucharist which Fr Power stated: “is meant to be a breaking of bread together to build up community.”

He concluded that these two breaches show a lack of concern for the health and safety of others. He added: “Priests and other communicants could have been exposed to Covid infection. Nor was there any consideration given to the fact that the blatant disregard of separating barriers could well result in the closure of churches or at least limiting numbers again to 50.”

He went on to suggest that such actions are symptomatic of the behaviour of “ultra-traditional Catholics” who proclaim their loyalty and support of the church but who “vehemently oppose change”.

He went on to give the example of protesters outside Croke Park after the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha Festival, when Archbishop Diarmuid Martin attended as a representative of the Catholic church.

He said there were also objections to the two invited members of the Muslim community in a church in Co Mayo, despite the fact that they were there to show solidarity with frontline workers and to pray for the eradication of COVID-19. Fr Power cautioned against a global trend towards accommodating what he called “alt-right” Catholics.

Fr Power works in the communications office of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. His article was posted on the Association of Catholic Priests’ website and one response was from Donal Dorr who posed the question: what might be the best strategy for Church authorities to adopt in responding to extremism? Donal Dorr cautioned that paying attention to a minority gives them the illusion that they are important and can foster division in the church and society.

Separately on Friday 19 September several people contacted Liveline on RTE Radio One protesting against the cancellation of First Holy Communion celebrations in Dublin due to the worsening COVID-19 situation. Some felt that the Catholic Church authorities had cancelled ahead of a definitive lockdown being called. Others felt that this was the responsible thing to do and alternative ceremonies can be held when the time is right. On Friday evening it was announced that Dublin city and county were to go into Level 3 restrictions which means that churches will close for regular Mass but not for private prayer, and with limited numbers at weddings and funerals.

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