Northern Ireland news

'Lack of clarity' from politicians over church Covid-19 restrictions, says Bishop McKeown

Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill, pictured right, has insisted she broke no Covid-19 regulations or guidelines when she attended Bobby Storey's funeral. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

BISHOP of Derry Donal McKeown has resisted a claim by Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill that clergy did not understand how coronavirus restrictions had been eased for churches.

"When politicians accuse others of not understanding government messages, that might suggest a lack of clarity in the messaging rather than merely culpable deafness on the part of the listeners," Dr McKeown said.

Ms O'Neill last week claimed a "lack of understanding on behalf of the clergy" had been to blame for some of the controversies around the funeral of Bobby Storey.

The Sinn Féin vice-president has insisted that, apart from posing for a selfie, she did not break any Covid-19 regulations or guidelines when she participated in the funeral last Tuesday.

This includes around numbers allowed to attend a funeral within a place of worship.

Ms O'Neill was one of around 120 mourners who attended Requiem Mass in St Agnes's Church in Andersonstown.

However, at the time of Mr Storey's funeral, faith leaders across Northern Ireland had not been told that a cap of 10 mourners had been lifted and were advising bereaved families accordingly.

The Executive Office had promised them that specific advice for weddings, baptisms and funerals would come after places of worship reopened on June 29.

A letter relating only to funerals eventually followed on July 3 - several days after Mr Storey's controversial funeral.

Speaking about the sacrament of baptism - which the Executive Office had bound together with funerals and weddings - Dr McKeown told Massgoers in St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry on Sunday that he had been "trying to work out whether the NI Executive has now given us permission to baptise".

"I know that it sounds ridiculous that Churches have to get political clearance to baptise a baby or an adult," he said.

"Of course, I can understand the thinking behind the earlier temporary baptism ban because, for some, sacramental events seem to refer to the large parties afterwards.

"Now we can have the baptism parties - but I am unclear whether we can actually have the baptism before the party.

"I am not sure whether the legal restrictions have changed or whether we are still waiting for further clarification."

Although speaking on Sunday, the text of Dr McKeown's homily was published yesterday.

The Executive said on Monday that baptisms, as well as indoor weddings, could resume from tomorrow with social distancing.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news