The Irish bishops have sharply criticized the government for continuing to ban public worship, insisting that leaders fail to grasp the importance of religion for the people.
Ireland has distinguished itself for the harshest suppression of religious practice in all Europe, with months of lockdown and no Masses. Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns attributed the harsh restrictions to an “unwillingness or inability in Ireland to appreciate the value of religion or spirituality” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I share the pain of many in Ireland at present as public worship is still not permitted,” the bishop told Ireland’s Sunday Independent on April 4.
While the prelate said he is “very conscious” of the need for measures to curb the spread of the virus, it must not be at the expense of “religion and spirituality.”
“I think this reality is worthy of attention and reflection at this time,” he said.
Ireland is unique in placing public worship below most businesses in order of importance, and worship services will remain banned until the country reaches Level 2, when many non-essential businesses will already have reopened.
In a similar statement, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore protested government discrimination against people of faith, saying on March 31 that the spiritual wellbeing of the Irish was being “eroded” because of ongoing bans on worship.
“I must speak out to represent the voices of a very large cohort of people who are growing increasingly weary of being unable to attend Mass and whose spiritual and mental wellbeing is being eroded,” the bishop said. “Their patience is wearing thin. They are frustrated and feel unrepresented and discriminated against.”
“It is very difficult to explain to people why they are banned from public worship bearing in mind also that Ireland is one of the tiny few countries in Europe where public worship is not allowed,” he added.
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis lamented such “severe” measures, calling for a lifting of restrictions to public worship.
“Dear brothers and sisters, once again this year, in various places many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations,” the pontiff noted during his annual Easter blessing.
“We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely,” he said.