Police in Ireland fine Catholic priest for offering public Masses

Irish flag. / L F File/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Mar 22, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Police have fined a Catholic priest for celebrating public Masses amid a nationwide lockdown.

Gardaí imposed a 500 euro ($595) fine on Fr. P.J. Hughes, pastor of Mullahoran and Loughduff parish in County Cavan, after he offered Masses with a small number of parishioners present, reported the Irish Catholic newspaper March 20.

Under government health measures, public worship has been suspended in the country since Oct. 7, 2020. Public Masses were also suspended in Ireland from March to June 2020 during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a parish newsletter dated March 21, Hughes wrote: “Next Sunday marks the journey of Holy Week. It is hard to believe that for a second year people cannot come to take part in the ceremonies of Holy Week.”

“Despite the size of the church and the holy place that it is because of the presence of Jesus in the Holy Tabernacle, the church has been deemed a hot spot for the spread of the virus by the gardaí.”

“The majority of people are healthy and able to go shopping, bring their children to school and many are working in enclosed environments. We are committing a grave mistake by rejecting our Lord and God Jesus Christ by staying away because government officials say we must.”

The priest, who serves in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, continued: “I do not accept this demand by people who do not realize the wrong they are doing. It is our constitutional right to protest so long as it is peaceful; it is our constitutional right to practice our faith and assemble to pray together.”

“For those who are afraid of catching the virus in the church then they have the free choice to stay at home and live their lives as they think it best to do.”

“I have been reported again and the gardaí have issued a fine because I celebrated Mass with people present. I will exercise my constitutional right even though people are complaining, even though I am not obeying my bishop when I go against his advice. We can’t just reject Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.”

The Irish Catholic said that police asked Hughes in November 2020 to lock the church’s doors when he celebrated Mass to prevent parishioners from attending. But he continued to leave the church open.

Citing sources close to the priest, the newspaper added that he was not willing to pay the fine and was ready to be jailed rather than cease public worship.

Ireland is under strict “Level 5” COVID-19 restrictions until at least April 5. The government has not revealed what COVID-19 restrictions will be in place after April 5, but local media have reported that the easing of measures next month will likely be minor.

Bishops in Northern Ireland announced March 17 that public worship could resume from Friday, March 26, right before Holy Week.

Ireland, a country with a population of almost five million people, has recorded a total of 230,599 cases of COVID-19 and 4,587 deaths as of March 22, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Authorities reported 769 new cases on Sunday — the highest figure since Feb. 26.

In a homily on St. Patrick’s Day, Dublin’s new archbishop called on authorities to prioritize the right to worship as COVID-19 measures are eased.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell said March 17: “As a matter of human dignity and fairness — but even more so as a matter of wellbeing and the restoration of normality, I call on the public authorities to give assurance that the legitimate desire of people to gather responsibly and within reasonable guidelines to exercise their constitutional right to worship will be prioritized in the easing of restrictions.”

David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, an advocacy group promoting the place of marriage and religion in society, told CNA March 22: “Fr. Hughes potentially faces prison if he does not pay the fine. If this happens, it will be the first time in centuries that a priest in Ireland has been jailed, or even fined, for saying Mass in public.”

“It highlights the totally unjust and disproportionate nature of the current situation in Ireland. Public worship has been banned for about eight of the last 12 months, longer than anywhere else in Europe.”

“Currently only a handful of European countries are prohibiting public worship. The rest are permitting it because, once health measures are being followed, gathering for worship is safe. Health authorities and governments everywhere else can see this, but not Ireland, where the right to worship in public has been reduced to an afterthought.”

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  1. I say bravo to this Priest for doing what a Priest is SUPPOSED to do. Offer the sacraments, come what may. Our own priests here in the US, not to mention our BISHOPS, could learn something from this man. Governments across the globe have gone into hysteria mode over this flu, fed by a non-stop 24/7 diet of breathless statistics and warnings from media types and power hungry govt officials who have seized power in order to look like they are efficiently handling a “crisis”. The untold story of this pandemic is the number of people who have contracted this disease and LIVED. Most of us, in fact, have RECOVERED, given the thing has a better than 99% recovery rate. But of course boring and ordinary stories like that dont sell papers, as they used to say. No, the DRAMA and the HORROR and the FEAR is all that matters. Even if the story is then distorted in the telling. The more the media feeds the beast, the smaller the chance, in my opinion, that ANYTHING will ever go back to “normal”. And if children are committing suicide from the isolation, and people’s lives are economically ruined, and Constitutional rights are NEVER restored, I guess it doesnt matter to SOME. Those are the ones who believe they can impose their will on others to buy safety at any price. “Those who would sacrifice Liberty for a little temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor safety.”–Benjamin Franklin. He spoke that in another context but the truth remains the same. The cure indeed has become more damaging than the disease.

  2. I have had the opportunity to actually see the Book of Kells, some years ago at Trinity College while on a trip visiting Ireland. It is indeed an amazing and beautiful book. Irish monks have been credited with saving both Christianity and Western Civilization with their labors during the “Dark Ages”. I am not Irish myself although I count many among my friends. But I hope what they saved then is not lost in the present day rush to accommodate secular sensibilities. Recent legalization of abortion and divorce in the Catholic nation was especially disappointing. Ditto closed churches etc during covid. Religious sensibilities seem to have weakened there as they have elsewhere, but it is especially sad to see it happen in Ireland.

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