A priest in Co. Cork was warned by gardaí that they would “apply the full rigours of the law”, after he celebrated Mass with a small congregation The Irish Catholic can reveal.
The priest, who did not wish to be named, said the garda involved did not specify what the penalty would be, but insisted that one would be applied.
“I mean, the reality is that the priest can be arrested based on my understanding of what was signed into law,” the priest told The Irish Catholic, “and that people flaunting the rules can be fined €400 as far as I know. But he [the garda] didn’t define what the penalty would be.”
The Cork priest described himself as a “conscientious objector” with regard to the restrictions on public worship.
“The churches are spotlessly clean: there’s hand sanitiser everywhere, people are social distanced and they’re wearing masks, whycan’t we have maybe 20 people coming into a church which has a capacity for 500?” he asked.
He explained that he and another priest had been celebrating Mass publicly for the last few weeks. On average, ten people attended the Masses, which were also streamed on the church’s webcam.
“Obviously someone saw it on the webcam and… they got onto the guards,” he said.
The gardaí contacted the priest and asked him if he had been celebrating Mass with a congregation, which he admitted.
“He [the garda] rang me back and said that he was onto the sergeant and the sergeant said he’d leave it go for today, but if there were people in for public worship after that he would have to enforce the law,” the priest said.
The next day, another priest held a Mass with people in attendance and a garda patrol spotted people exiting the church.
The priest was contacted again by the gardaí and warned that “if there were people in the church again, they would have to apply the full rigours of the law. He didn’t indicate what the penalty would be but he did indicate that there would be a penalty.”
At a recent Dáil debate, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that priests would not be arrested or fined for saying public Mass.
The Department of Health offered a similar interpretation last week following a request from The Irish Catholic. However, confusion remains since the law as written makes it clear that it is a prosecutable offence.