Police in Ireland fine Catholic priest for offering public Masses
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, according to an Irish Catholic newspaper report on the 20th of March.
Under government health measures, public worship has been suspended in the country since the 7th of October, 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 21st, 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.”
“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; he continued to leave the church open.
Citing sources close to the priest, the newspaper added that he was unwilling 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 the 5th of April. The government has not revealed what COVID-19 restrictions would be in place after April 5, but local media have reported that the easing of measures next month will likely be minor.
David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, an advocacy group promoting the place of marriage and religion in society, told CNA on the 22nd of March: “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.”
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