Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.13 17 Jun 2020


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Many priests are 'anxious and worried' about being left to sign off on the reopening plans for their churches, a representative group is warning.

There's a concern among some parish priests that they could be held responsible if there's a coronavirus outbreak or cluster in a church setting.

Churches and other places of worship are expected to be allowed reopen on June 29th, as part of the third phase of restrictions being eased.

Bishops have sent checklists to parishes, setting out guidelines on practices such as social distancing and hand cleaning.

However, Fr John Collins - a spokesperson the Association of Catholic Priests and priest in the parish of Swords & Drynam - told Moncrieff there is some nervousness among priests ahead of reopening.

He explained: “There’s a checklist being sent around to all the parishes… we need to ensure we have everything crossed and ticked to make sure we can open as safely as possible.

“One of the issues that we had with the checklist was that it was kind of being left to parish priests to sign off on these checklists. A lot [of priests] were anxious about that and a bit worried that they would be held responsible, if for instance there was an outbreak or cluster in church service setting.

“A lot of people in smaller parishes or smaller dioceses may be left on their own, and there’s an anxiety around that.

“We’re making the point that perhaps that should be really a shared responsibility with the parish councils involved, as most parish councils [already] are.

Fr Collins said a number of specific issues have arisen - including around the availability of PPE and the training of parishioners who will be involved in the reopening plans.

He explained: "We have a duty of care to our parishioners. If we’re asking them to come in and [help] then we need to make sure everything’s in place to make sure they’re safe.

“We are making headway, but there are few a little issues to be worked out."

Fr Collins said the advice to priests who are nervous about reopening is to stay closed for now, a message that has been echoed by some bishops.

He explained: "Certainly the Archbishop of Dublin is asking people not to open unless they’re prepared.

"To be fair to the bishops, they are making it clear if you’re not prepared or not able don’t put everything at risk."

There will be some changes to the usual practices and sacraments when churches do reopen, including parishes having to make changes when giving communion.

Fr Collins told Sean: “The priest or minister of the Eucharist would sanitise their hands just before commencing giving out communion, and they would wear a mask. The mask is not so much to protest the priest or minister of the Eucharist, but to protect the person they’re giving communion to.

"Then people would stretch out their hands as far as possible, and the host is gently dropped into the hand.

“If at that stage I maybe perhaps touched somebody’s hand, I would need to stop and re-sanitise. You need to keep your awareness levels quite high to make sure you’re being as safe as possible."

Main image: File photo. Picture by: USA TODAY Network/SIPA USA/PA Images

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