Churches closed for public Mass are a ‘scandal’ says author priest

Churches closed for public Mass are a ‘scandal’ says author priest Fr Paddy Byrne Photo: Agnes Sasiada

A well-known parish priest and author has said that it is a “scandal” for churches to remain closed for public Mass in the wake of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

“I think it’s an absolute scandal, I think it’s just selfish. I can’t warrant it, as our Christian leadership, they’re erring on the side of caution but to a cost of discipleship and reaching out to people,” Fr Paddy Byrne PP of Abbeyleix in Co. Laois told The Irish Catholic.

His comments come as dozens of churches decided not to facilitate public Mass as this paper went to press, including some of the largest churches in the Midlands, due to Covid-19.

Fr Byrne said: “We’re on a long road to returning to where we were but we must offer the sacraments to people and I think it’s just upsetting to be so legalistic.”

When asked if he would turn people away, he said he had “no intention” and instead had “mechanisms in play whereby the doors were left open and we had our speakers outside”.

However, Fr Declan Shannon, administrator of St Mary’s parish in Athlone defended the decision of his parish committee not to open for public Mass.

“If you imagine you’re going to your grandparent’s anniversary Mass and you can’t get in because you’re No.51 in the queue, it has the potential to lead to offence. We didn’t want to exclude people, the vision we have for our churches is that they be places of welcome. This isn’t a decision that was taken lightly or made solely by the priest.”

Government guidelines state that places of worship can have more than 50 people in the church, given that social distancing can be maintained and they are in different sections that are at least four metres apart. Fr Shannon said the sections in their church are not four metres apart.

He said: “There’s a balancing act here, the biggest one is respecting the health advice. We have to weigh that balancing act with people leaving the church because they couldn’t get entry and feel offended. We’re not going to put people’s health in jeopardy, I don’t want to put people in a position where they feel their health or wellbeing was compromised having been there.”