Church leaders in the Republic of Ireland have slammed its Government for temporarily making public worship a criminal offence.
The country’s four Roman Catholic Archbishops are seeking legal advice after they said the Health Minister “clandestinely” introduced the ban last week.
The measures outlaw services with congregations, except for weddings and funerals, and a breach of the law could result in up to six months imprisonment. The restrictions are due to be reviewed on 4 May.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin called the move “a breach of trust” after he said the Government assured them earlier this month that they “understood the importance of faith and worship to the people of Ireland”.
John Ahern, an All Nations Church pastor in Dublin, said it was a “very cynical” act after church leaders have “done everything over this last year to ensure we have complied and to engage respectfully and responsibly with the government”.
He acknowledged that it has been a difficult time for the authorities, but said that it is “wrong” to criminalise meeting for worship “in what is meant to be a free, democratic country”.
Last month, the Court of Session ruled that the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship during the pandemic was unlawful.
The regulations, which required churches to close across mainland Scotland, had been challenged by 27 church leaders, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, who said the restrictions were a breach of their freedom of religion.
Court of Session judge Lord Braid agreed, ruling that the regulations “constitute a disproportionate interference” into people’s freedom to manifest their religious beliefs, and that they “went further than they were lawfully able to do”.