In a meeting with Republic of Ireland Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Monday, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, explained the “deep concerns” previously expressed by the Irish episcopate concerning restrictions on public worship during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting came in the wake of last week’s “Statutory Instrument” which made religious gatherings, with few exceptions, illegal in the land of Saints and Scholars.
According to a statement from the Irish Bishops’ Conference, Donnelly argued that the new regulations were “not intended to single out worship” but were rather “designed to regulate indoor and outdoor gatherings that might pose a risk.” He claimed that “religious worship and spiritual well-being were taken by government,” which he said would give consideration to early re-opening of public worship in accordance with public health advice.”
Archbishop Martin, for his part, noted the support of the various churches “for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic,” and “reiterated the Church’s support for the protection of health, life and for the Common Good [sic].” He said people of faith considered “respecting and sustaining people’s spiritual well-being” was essential, on a par with concerns for physical and mental health.
In particular, the Primate argued that the “vital pastoral work” of religious ministers should likewise be deemed essential, rather than being subject to penal sanctions. He emphasized the importance of ministers’ work supporting “the sick, the bereaved, and those who are struggling to cope.” Pastoral ministry, he said, “ought not to be confined to a small number of legally acceptable and ‘regulated activities’.”
The Archbishop also “stressed the importance of regular and meaningful conversation and consultation between Church, State and public health advisers to ensure that there is mutual understanding and positive cooperation in supporting life and health during times like the Covid-19 crisis.”
The statement from the Bishops’ Conference indicated that Archbishop Martin would be briefing the other Irish Bishops on the discussion with the Health Minister, and noted that the Church is “seeking clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the Statutory Instrument.”