Many priests will be amongst those ordered to be ‘cocooned’ in the latest regulations to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin confirmed that some Irish priests and deacons have tested positive for Covid-19.
In an email to parishes on Friday, Dr Martin said “we are all reminded to keep in our prayers those who have contracted the virus and their families.
“There are already some priests and deacons who have contracted the virus or are in isolation. Please pray for them especially,” the archbishop wrote.
Following the announcement of more stringent measures by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar late on Friday night, the archbishop sent a further update to parishes reminding them of the obligation to follow the policies laid out by the Government.
In a follow-up email on Saturday (March 28), Dr Martin writes: “The new norms require that all people over 70 or those who are particularly vulnerable be shielded or ‘cocooned’.”
This applies immediately to priests, deacons and all religious and lay staff of parishes.
“These categories must remain indoors at all times for the coming two weeks,” he writes.
He appealed to priests in neighbouring parishes to “coordinate back-up services for those who find themselves in this situation and ensure that they receive moral support and to see that their needs are met”.
On the question of whether churches should remain open, Dr Martin writes that “there is no problem with churches remaining open if they can guarantee social spacing and hygiene.
“In the current situation most churches are not in a position to ensure that surfaces would be cleaned regularly and in that situation it is best to close the church,” he writes.
He said that for now funerals will go ahead with small congregations. However, further guidance will come on Monday.
Dr Martin also called on priests to step up the online presence of parishes. “web-based simple pastoral services should be enhanced. They could be used for talks and messages to inspire encouragement, hope and prayerfulness and not just liturgical services”.
Dr Martin said that he has been assured by the Government that clergy and pastoral workers are considered as essential workers for the purposes of the new norms. “It is the intention of the authorities to make more specific reference to clergy and pastoral [workers] in the definitive list that may not be available until Monday,” he adds.