The “thoughts and prayers” of the Church of Scotland are with Irish Catholics, says Bishop Hugh Gilbert, OSB, President of the Scottish bishops’ conference.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Bishop of Aberdeen says, “Recent developments that penalise the celebration of Holy Mass have been disturbing not only to the Irish Bishops’ Conference but also to the Bishops of Scotland.” While recognising the need for health care measures in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gilbert nonetheless argues that “to enact legislation that criminalises those who gather to celebrate Holy Mass is indeed extreme and unjust.”
Bishop Gilbert concludes his brief statement by assuring “our brothers and sisters in Ireland that they are not alone and are always in our prayers.”
The statement comes in response to new Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the government earlier this month. On 16 April, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly signed a “Statutory Instrument” that appears to make attendance at Mass in the Republic of Ireland a criminal offence.
In the wake of the new regulations, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, said, “The precise provisions are unclear and at first reading appear to be draconian, going further than the restrictions we have been cooperating with throughout the pandemic to date.” The Bishops of Ireland have repeatedly emphasised their compliance with government restrictions during the pandemic. “Together with other Churches and faith communities, we have been cooperating fully with public health messages for more than a year now,” said Archbishop Martin. “At the same time, we have consistently impressed on (the) government that people of faith value highly their spiritual well-being and consider the public practice of their faith as essential—something which has not been sufficiently recognised in statute.” He added that the Irish Bishops consider the new Statutory Instrument to be “a breach of trust.”
Archbishop Martin met with the government’s health minister on 19 April, during which he “explained the deep concerns already expressed with regard to the criminalising of leading, and gathering for, public worship at this time in Ireland despite the consistent support from the Churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic.”
A statement from the Irish bishops’ conference following that meeting noted that the Catholic Church was “seeking clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the Statutory Instrument.”
The full statement from the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Hugh Gilbert, OSB, Bishop of Aberdeen:
As the Catholic Church in Scotland this year celebrates the 1500th Anniversary of the birth of St Columba who brought the faith from Ireland to Scotland in the 6th century, the thoughts and prayers of the Church in Scotland are now directed to our brothers and sisters in Ireland.
Recent developments that penalise the celebration of Holy Mass have been disturbing not only to the Irish Bishops’ Conference but also to the Bishops of Scotland. We all recognise the need for restrictions to protect the common good of all people in a pandemic but to enact legislation that criminalises those who gather to celebrate Holy Mass is indeed extreme and unjust.
May the strong bonds between the Catholic Church in Ireland and Scotland established by St Patrick, St Columba, the Celtic saints and the faith of our forebears reassure our brothers and sisters in Ireland that they are not alone and are always in our prayers.