The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan, believes that churchgoers are being ‘discriminated against’ by COVID-19 restrictions which prohibit them from attending religious services.
In a statement, the Bishop noted his belief that the spiritual and mental wellbeing of people has been ‘eroded’ as a result of being unable to attend Mass. Bishop Cullinan says that he feels compelled to speak out for these unrepresented voices.
“Patience is wearing thin. People are frustrated, and feel unrepresented and discriminated against”.
Bishop Cullinan noted that while he is still able to celebrate Mass without a congregation present, people are still able to go shopping and buy takeaway coffees, but are not allowed enter a wider space which can accommodate for social distancing.
“When I celebrate Mass each Sunday in the Cathedral, I do so behind closed doors. I am very conscious of those faithful barred from attending, and yet within a few steps of our Cathedral, people can go to shops for essential things – to their pharmacy to get medicine, to their supermarket to get food and even to a café for an outdoor coffee. Yet they cannot receive Holy Communion in their church which is spacious and can accommodate dozens of people safely.”
The Bishop noted that Ireland is one of few countries in Europe where public worship is currently off the table, and says that it is not a case of stopping public worship to safeguard physical health, as he believes both can co-exist safely.
“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. Across the country, priests and parish volunteers have been very diligent in ensuring that our churches are sanitized and safe. I do not believe that it is an either/or situation. It is not that we must stop public worship to safeguard physical health. We can do both. We must safeguard people’s health and support their spiritual wellbeing.”
The movement of services online was described as ‘dismissive’ but the Bishop did maintain sympathy for government officials in this difficult period. He feels that the spiritual care of ‘hundreds of thousands’ of Catholics to exercise their rights to celebrate their faith under the constitution is currently being denied.
“I feel that the spiritual well-being of our people has not been given any serious attention by the authorities. To say that ‘services go online’ is very hard to take and feels dismissive. I sympathise with the governmental authorities at this very difficult time, but appeal to them to take into consideration the spiritual care of hundreds of thousands of Catholics and many people of other faiths who wish to exercise their rights as guaranteed by our constitution.”