Bishops have urged the Irish government to ease restrictions on public worship as the country’s severest restrictions plan to be eased.
Though some of Ireland’s Level 5 lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted on 5th April, religious services will not be permitted until the country enters Level 2.
“We strongly believe that the people’s freedom to worship publicly should be restored as soon as the current Level 5 restrictions begin to be eased,” the Irish Bishops’ Conference said in a statement on Tuesday.
Making the announcement on the second day of their Spring General Meeting, they noted the particular pain felt by Christians at not being able to celebrate Easter for the second year running.
“This is especially true given that it has been clearly demonstrated that church buildings are among the safest places for people to gather,” they said.
The importance of strong restrictions to the public health is necessary in grave times, they noted, but “restrictions on personal freedom sould be proportionate and for the shortest time possible.”
“Consideration must also be given to people’s mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing,” the statement read.
Last month, Ireland’s four Archbishops met with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the Church.
Reflecting on the assurances given by Martin, they expressed their disappointment that their concerns had not been responded to. And they urged the government to address the restoration of public worship and the number of mourners at funerals – currently 10 the republic, noting that Northern Ireland had not reduced the number below 25.
“For people of faith not to be free to worship until regulations return to Level 2, whilst many other restrictions are eased, is seen as particularly distressing and unjust,” they said.
Yesterday Ireland’s Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar announced that the country was “absolutely on track” with hospitlisations and intensive care admissions. As it stands, Ireland will be able to lift the 5km local travel limit, a key stepping stone, by 5th April.
However Varadkar was not optimistic about increasing funeral attendance.
“We would love to,” he noted, “and it is not the church, but there is very strong evidence that everything else that happens around weddings and funerals is a problem. It’s just the nature of these events.”
The Irish bishops’ announcement reflects discontent across the sea in Scotland, where the government faces a legal challenge in court today over its closure of churches during the latest lockdown.