Still mystified by how the State presumed to ban sacraments

Still mystified by how the State presumed to ban sacraments Fr Bryan Shortall

With return of blocked sacraments imminent, I’m still mystified by how the State presumed to ban sacraments. How come Baptisms, until last week’s easing, couldn’t happen at ceremonies where 50 people have been allowed for some time now?

On Today With Claire Byrne (RTE Radio 1, Thursday) Fr Joe McDonald of Celbridge and Straffan parish spoke of the backlog but was prioritising Baptism as a core Sacrament. He thought soul matters had been neglected in the Government response to the pandemic and thought that maybe the voices of religious leaders weren’t heard loudly enough. On The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Thursday) Fr Bryan Shortall argued for patience and favoured waiting until ceremonies could be safe.  These were memory making events and he thought it wasn’t right just to have them privately or quietly. He said they were ‘rites of passage’ which begs a few questions. Is it not the case that for some Confirmation for example has become a rite of passage out of the Church? Is there a danger we’ll go back to an unsatisfactory normal rather than using the Covid-provided opportunity to review how sacraments are done?

On the Nine O’ Clock News (RTE One) last Saturday Fr Michael Toomey of Ardfinnan parish, whose diocese of Waterford and Lismore is one of those allowing sacraments to go ahead, was strong in support of the move – it was time to ‘take back control’, while proceeding as safely as possible. On the other hand, on last Monday’s Morning Ireland (RTE Radio One) Fr Tim Hazlewood of the Association of Catholic Priests and of Killeagh parish in Cork wasn’t enthusiastic. He feared some priests would come under undue pressure and would appear to be the ‘baddies’ if they decided not to proceed yet. He emphasised the dangers identified by public health authorities, primarily in private gatherings and especially among the unvaccinated. Audrey Carville asked him some searching questions – e.g. can the bishops be held responsible for these gatherings that follow the ceremonies?

Also related to Sacrament issues, last Thursday Breda O’Brien, patron of the Iona Institute and columnist with the Irish Times and this paper, joined presenter Shane Coleman on Newstalk Breakfast to discuss the latest divorce figures,  which showed an increase of 29% on 2019. She wondered if this was blip or a trend, and agreed with Coleman that it might be because of a change in the law that reduced the 4 year waiting period to 2 (again showing the almost inevitability of liberal legislation becoming looser). As regards the pressures lockdown put on marriage relationships she said it would take another while for that to become evident in the figures. She stressed the need for the State to support marriages as they were beneficial to society – strategies included better marriage preparation, better housing, removal of tax discrimination where one spouse wanted to work in the home.  There were cultural problems – e.g. people drifting into marriage after living together and having children, emphasis on work more than family.

Away from such real-life challenges,  mystery drama Manifest is back on Sky One for a third season and I’ve been working my way through the 13 episodes …  I’m not superstitious at all! The drama is about survivors who return years after their plane crashes, with no evidence of aging. Its take on religion is rather scattershot, as if Uncle Thomas Cobbley was one of the scriptwriters. In the first episode of the new series a young girl is criminally oppressed by her overly religious parents. Of course this can happen but it’s a bit of a worn out cliché at this stage. A lead character Ben (Josh Dallas), having witnessed strange phenomena, wonders if he should now start believing. His sister Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) wonders if the visions the survivors get are messages or ‘callings’ from God. A government agent wonders if they’re experiencing ‘divine intervention’, others personify the Universe. There’s talk of resurrection and themes of redemption, doing miracles without God, some dabbling in Egyptian mythology. At one stage a mysterious box arrives from the Vatican and it felt like they were going full Dan Brown. While adult fare, it’s mostly free of the graphic excesses of other shows, there’s no bad language I can remember, but there are generous helpings of corn and soap.

It’s trying my patience but many of the characters are likeable, so it’s easy to care what happens to them.






EWTN Saturday August 7, 2.30am

Fr Robert Spitzer SJ, explains how new insights in contemporary physics suggest the existence of God.


Tabú: Céad Míle Fáilte

TG4 Wednesday August 11, 9.30pm

Focusing on the people who seek refuge here in order to escape conflict, trauma or domestic abuse in their home countries.


The Kennedy Who Changed the World

BBC Two Friday August 13, 11.05pm

Members of the Kennedy family reveal how JFK’s sister Eunice used sport to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.