Northern Ireland news

Catholic leaders meet Taoiseach over reopening of churches

Archbishop Eamon Martin
Connla Young

CATHOLIC Church leaders have met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss the reopening of places of worship.

Since lockdown restrictions were introduced in March, churches across Ireland have been closed to the public.

But with the easing of some measures now underway on both sides of the border, attention has returned to when churches can open their doors to the public again.

Archbishops Eamon Martin, Diarmuid Martin and Kieran O'Reilly met with Mr Varadkar this week.

Under the Irish government's roadmap for a return to normality, restrictions on church worship will not be lifted until mid-July.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Catholic Church said it “shared information on the work that is being done at all levels to develop a national Church plan for the safe reopening and emphasised it will play its part in applying public health measures to ensure the health and safety of its congregation”.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in the north is preparing for the possibility that Stormont chiefs may lift more restrictions next week and allow private prayer in church buildings.

A spokesman for the Derry diocese, Fr Michael Canny, said if churches are allowed to reopen strict regimes will be in place.

He suggested authorities will look at issues around signage, provision of alcohol gel and the need for people to remain two metres apart.

Fr Canny said he suspects any reopening will be “on a phased basis.

There may also be limits placed on the numbers of people attending churches.

Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, said having two jurisdictions makes things difficult but the Church is keen on a “one Ireland” approach.

“They are trying a universal approach so people see there is uniformity and it's not made up as you go along so people feel safe,” he said.

Mr Kelly said authorities are looking at placing sanitiser dispensers in churches and the possibility of people entering one door an exiting another.

“One of the concerns obviously is daily Mass-goers because they are retired and they are older by definition because older people are more vulnerable to this virus."

With churches reopening for Mass in other parts of Europe such as Italy on Monday, Mr Kelly said the Catholic Church is fortunate to have examples overseas.

“In Switzerland they have reopened churches and are at three per cent capacity,” he said.

“They are talking about something similar here , allowing people to keep their distance.”

Mr Kelly added that it was likely when Mass does resume, priests will be wearing face masks and gloves while giving out Holy Communion.

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Northern Ireland news