Irish government Mass ban is ‘sectarianism’ and anti-Catholic Church, says parish priest
Mass being celebrated in Cardross by Archbishop Mario Conti and at Dumbarton by Archbishop Tartaglia and, Monsignor Paul and Canon Gerry Conroy. Pictures by Bill Heaney
By Bill Heaney
Scotland’s bishops are backing the right of Catholics in the Irish Republic to attend Mass during the Covid pandemic, it was revealed today.
Their support came after Irish police checkpoints were erected close to church in Cavan on Sunday as parish priest Fr PJ Hughes said Mass in defiance of the Covid-19 regulations.
The 10am Mass was delayed for about 20 minutes with many locals detained at the three police checkpoints erected on the roads into the church, which is in a rural part of the parish.
Fr Hughes said he was furious having got a call from a local man who was prevented from getting to the church.
“The guards attacked me and accused me of spreading the virus,” he claimed beforehand.
“A guard told me that I was putting the lives of elderly people at risk. It’s a sad day that three Garda [police] cars are circling around this church. Have they nothing else to do? God help us.
“It is our faith that brings us here and they told me that I wasn’t reading the statistics and didn’t know what was going on. I told them I did not accept the negative message being poured out by RTÉ [the national broadcasting station]. It’s not fair.
“This is sectarianism. This is against our faith. It’s a sectarian act against our Catholic Church encouraged by the Government who don’t believe in God anymore.”
Fr Hughes likened the Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions – which mean all religious services, other than funerals, can be held online only – to the penal laws and Oliver Cromwell. He admitted he had “no friends in the Church” and the bishops did not want him saying Mass.
Twenty people turned up for one earlier service and they were well spaced out in the church where every second pew was roped off.
During his homily, Fr Hughes told the congregation to turn off the news and focus on the events of Holy Week – “Our faith in God is being challenged by statistics and by so many people who want us to live according to their creed,” he said.
Commenting on the decision by the Irish Government to enact restrictions which do not allow public worship, the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Bishop Hugh Gilbert, said: “As the Catholic Church in Scotland this year celebrates the 1500th Anniversary of the birth of St Columba who brought the faith from Ireland to Scotland in the 6th century, the thoughts and prayers of the Church in Scotland are now directed to our brothers and sisters in Ireland.
“Recent developments that penalise the celebration of Holy Mass have been disturbing not only to the Irish Bishops’ Conference but also to the Bishops of Scotland. We all recognise the need for restrictions to protect the common good of all people in a pandemic but to enact legislation that criminalises those who gather to celebrate Holy Mass is indeed extreme and unjust.”
He added: “May the strong bonds between the Catholic Church in Ireland and Scotland established by St Patrick, St Columba, the Celtic saints and the faith of our forebears reassure our brothers and sisters in Ireland that they are not alone and are always in our prayers.”
During his homily in Ireland, Fr Hughes told them to turn off the news and focus on the events of Holy Week.
“Our faith in God is being challenged by statistics and by so many people who want us to live according to their creed,” he said.
“It is a challenge to somehow balance our faith with everything else that is going on in the world. I encourage people to turn off the television, turn off the radios and any negative news.
“Negativity does not fit along with faith. There is no hope in negative news. We are being destroyed.”
Fr Hughes wore a mask while distributing Communion. Some of the congregation wore masks too.
Fr Hughes has already been fined €500 for hosting an illegal gathering, but he said he will not pay it.
Several people had offered to pay it for him, but he has declined, stating he had done nothing wrong and a Mass is not an illegal gathering.
Fr Hughes said he had asked for “right-wing groups” to stay away from his Mass.
At the end of the Mass, a prominent member of the Irish National Party turned up. He said he had been detained at a checkpoint and prevented from attending the service.