“Sometimes the last bit can be the hardest of all. We understand the experience of disappointment and frustration that many people feel, at the news of an indefinite extension of lockdown,” they said.
COVID-19 cases in Ireland have declined steadily following a sharp spike in late December and early January. However, authorities are still urging caution.
The bishops analyzed the five-state reopening plan for the country, published by the government last week. Under Level 5 restrictions, which will be in place at least until April, traveling more than 5 km from one’s home is prohibited, as is mingling with people from other households. Retail stores, bars, gyms and other businesses deemed non-essential must remain closed.
The bishops acknowledged the need for caution, saying, “we accept absolutely that now is not the time for a major reopening of society.”
However, they argued, funerals are limited to only 10 people at Level 5 of the reopening plan, while a 25-person limit would still allow for safe services and would “bring much consolation to grieving families.”
The bishops also objected to the fact that public worship is banned even at Level 3 of the plan to reopen Ireland.
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“[This] ignores the important contribution of communal worship to the mental and spiritual well-being of people of faith. The fundamental importance of Holy Week and Easter for all Christians makes the prohibition of public worship particularly painful,” they said.
“While, as Christians, we are obliged to obey these regulations, we believe that it is our responsibility as Church leaders to make the case for change. We will continue to make fair and reasonable representation and we encourage you to do likewise.”
The bishops also asked the government to provide clarification on when the public may return to sacramental life - particularly to the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation, normally held at the end of the school year. Without this clarification, they said, dioceses have decided to postpone the 2021 Confirmation class until fall, and parishes are encouraged to adopt a similar schedule for First Communion.