Archbishop Dermot Farrell prays in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 2, 2021./ John McElroy.
The Catholic archbishop of Dublin said on Tuesday that the Irish government’s advice to delay First Communions and confirmations appeared to be “discriminatory.”
In a letter sent to priests on Aug. 3, Archbishop Dermot Farrell expressed “profound regret” that there had been “no engagement” with Church representatives over revising the guidelines.
“Understandably, many have been concerned and disappointed that current guidelines restrict celebration of the sacraments on the apparent grounds that they may lead to family gatherings, which may breach public health guidelines on households mixing,” he wrote, according to the Irish Times.
“This is perplexing, as no such prohibitions are applied to other events, such as sporting or civic events, or other family occasions, such as the celebration of birthdays and anniversaries, or indeed to weddings or funerals.”
“Many have concluded that, in the absence of appropriate justification, these guidelines are discriminatory.”
In the letter, Farrell said that parishes could move ahead with First Communions and confirmations “if you consider it safe,” reported RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster.
The 66-year-old archbishop added that it would “be prudent to ensure that families confirm their awareness of the public health guidelines regarding household mixing.”
Farrell, who was installed as archbishop of Dublin in February, is the latest Irish bishop to indicate that parishes can proceed with First Communions and confirmation, providing they follow measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The bishops of Elphin, Clogher, and Waterford and Lismore have also given the green light to the ceremonies in their dioceses.
RTÉ said that the bishops of Meath, Raphoe, and Killaloe had followed suit.
Farrell told RTÉ’s News at One on Aug. 4 that he advised parishes to hold the ceremonies in the fall and that many had scheduled First Communions and confirmations from September to November.
“But what I am saying is that also we need to trust parents. Parents know what’s right for themselves. They know how to protect their health,” he said, suggesting that the current advice was “unfair” as it seemed to show a lack of trust in parents.
He pointed out that large numbers of people were permitted to attend music festivals, weddings, and birthday parties, “and the only gathering that seems to pose any risk is a parent taking their child along to receive the sacrament of confirmation.”
“But that’s simply not credible. It defies common sense and that lack of consistency leads to a lack of credibility,” he commented.
The Irish government website currently says “it is advised that religious ceremonies such as baptisms, First Holy Communions and confirmations should not take place at this time. Further advice will follow on resumption of these ceremonies when it is safe to do so.”
Irish media reported that the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland — Farrell, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly, and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam — wrote to the government on July 28, indicating that the ceremonies would go ahead from mid-August.
Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, accused the Irish government in July of communicating in a “grossly disrespectful” way that ceremonies should be delayed due to COVID-19.
The archbishop said that the government’s decision marked a “complete reversal” of its previous position.
He noted that the Church had received a letter from the office of the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) in June indicating that the ceremonies could go ahead the following month.
He said: “We’ve been deluged with calls from parishes and I know that priests and others have been extremely disappointed by this reversal of the position that was written to us from the Taoiseach’s office from the very beginning of June that said that, in line with the gradual reopening of society from July 5, these ceremonies could take place.”
The Republic of Ireland, a country of 4.9 million people, has recorded 304,310 coronavirus cases and 5,035 related deaths as of Aug. 4, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The country is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant first detected in India.
Archbishop Martin previously criticized the Irish government’s approach to public worship during the coronavirus crisis.
In April, he accused officials of introducing “draconian” new regulations on public worship “in a clandestine manner.”
While public worship was suspended in the Republic of Ireland at the end of 2020 as a safety measure to prevent the spread of the virus, the new regulations effectively criminalized Mass with a congregation.
After meeting with Ireland’s health minister, Martin underlined that priests’ pastoral work should be “deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction” amid the pandemic.
Irish Catholics’ long wait to return to public Masses ended in May.
The Iona Institute, an advocacy group promoting the place of marriage and religion in society, unveiled the findings of a new poll on Aug. 4, suggesting that 46% of practicing Irish Catholics have returned to Mass.
More than half of weekly churchgoers told pollsters that First Communions and confirmations should resume.