Bishop Kevin Doran./ Courtesy of the Diocese of Elphin.
A number of Irish Catholic dioceses have said that they will proceed with First Communions and confirmations after the government advised them to delay the ceremonies.
The bishops of Elphin, Clogher, and Waterford and Lismore have given the green light to First Communions and confirmations in their dioceses.
Irish media reported that the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland wrote to the government on July 28, indicating that the ceremonies would go ahead from mid-August.
The Irish government website currently states: “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.”
“From Thursday, Aug. 5, baptism services may proceed. However, they must follow all protective measures and social gatherings afterward should be avoided.”
Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, western Ireland, said on July 30 that, after a consultation with clergy, the ceremonies would be held following the regulations for general religious services.
“The mission of the Church cannot be put on hold indefinitely,” he wrote in the Irish Independent, describing the state’s guidance as “advice by government rather than regulation.”
Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin responded by saying that he did not approve “any unilateral breaching of regulations no matter what quarter they come from.”
“I’d say to the Church authorities that the government’s only motivation here in terms of the regulations we have brought in, in respect of gatherings and congregations, is to protect people and to protect people’s health,” he commented.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, accused the Irish government earlier this month of communicating in a “grossly disrespectful” way that baptisms, First Communions, and confirmations should be delayed due to COVID-19.
Martin said on July 1 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 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.”
Ireland, a country of 4.9 million people, has recorded 299,549 coronavirus cases and 5,035 related deaths as of July 31, 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.
RTÉ reported that Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore, in southeastern Ireland, criticized the way that the government and National Public Health Emergency Team for COVID-19 (NPHET) communicated with the Church.
“The communication from the government and from NPHET regarding the sacraments leaves a great deal to be desired,” the bishop said.
“We are all conscious of the need to remain vigilant. Parishes have been exemplary in taking the health guidelines seriously and will continue to do so, but for any local parish community and their priest who wish to avail of these sacraments, they must be allowed to do so.”
“Therefore in line with the four archbishops’ letter to the government this week, access to these sacraments for our children will go ahead from mid-August.”
RTÉ also reported that Bishop Larry Duffy, whose diocese of Clogher straddles the border with Northern Ireland, said that the ceremonies would take place in the Republic of Ireland from Aug. 20.
“The appropriate protocols presently in place in our churches will be maintained, and families are reminded of the need for adherence to public health guidance in relation to social interactions following the church celebration,” he said.
“As with the practice last year, these liturgies will take place with small groups of children where attendance is restricted to the child, the parents/guardians, and sponsor.”
“The celebration of First Holy Communion and confirmation has been completed already in the parishes situated in the northern part of our diocese, with full adherence to public health protocols.”
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 on May 10.