Ireland’s bishops challenge government’s restrictions on some ceremonies – dpa international

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St. Saviour's Catholic church in Dublin in mid-July 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

St. Saviour’s Catholic church in Dublin in mid-July 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government and several Catholic bishops have clashed over whether already-postponed first communion and confirmation ceremonies should be put off until later in the year.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said plans by three of Ireland’s 26 dioceses to proceed with the ceremonies, which usually take place during the school year but have been postponed as part of pandemic curbs, amounted to “putting lives at risk” due to the spread of the Delta variant of the virus.
Donnelly’s warning followed similar comments by Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Michéal Martin late last week. However the health minister acknowledged as correct an interpretation advanced by Kevin Doran, bishop of the western Elphin diocese, that the apparent bans are guidelines rather than laws.
Alphonsus Cullinan, bishop in the southern town of Waterford, said on Saturday he could “see no valid reason for the further postponement of the sacraments,” after crowds returned to sports events.
Other critics labelled the guidelines as contradictory, given that schools were kept open during the most recent third lockdown, which ran from December to May, when Ireland was also for a time the only EU member-state to ban public religious worship.
Funerals and more recently regular church services have been given the green light, while this week the number of people allowed at weddings doubled to 100.
Adding to the confusion, several dioceses are either within or straddle the frontier with British-run Northern Ireland, where the ceremonies already have proceeded “very carefully,” according to Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and head of the island’s bishops, whose influence has plummeted in recent decades in the wake of high-profile clerical sex abuse scandals and as Irish society belatedly aped the secularisation seen elsewhere in Europe.
Indoor drinking and dining at restaurants and pubs reopened in Northern Ireland in May, two months ahead EU member Ireland, which unlike the north requires proof of vaccination or prior infection for anyone hoping to sit inside a bar or café, and unlike similar ‘vaccine passports’ in France and Italy, does not include accepting a recent negative virus test.
The Irish government’s concerns about holding communion and confirmation ceremonies came despite weekend boasts that vaccinations measured as a percentage of the adult population had overtaken Britain’s.
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