Many children and their families are partaking in first communion and confirmation ceremonies for the accompanying social events and money, a priest has said.
Fr Tony Flannery, the co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, was reacting to the decision of a number of Catholic bishops to allow the ceremonies to go ahead amid the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today show, Fr Flannery said he could not understand the decision by the bishops given that the matter would no longer be an issue within five or six weeks.
He warned that the ceremonies and accompanying celebrations would “inevitably” contribute to the spread of the Delta variant.
The bishops had missed an opportunity to “relocate” the preparation for sacraments from schools to parishes so it would be for only those who “really want it”, he added.
For many children and their families it was not the sacrament that was important, it was the social events after “and the money they will get.” There was a commercial side to such events that had “cheapened” the ceremonies.
On the same programme, Fr Brendan Kilcoyne said that it was very hard for the church not to feel left out and for their position not to be taken into account. Organisations like the church do contribute to society, he said.
The State had been founded on rebellion, democracy had a rebellious quality at heart added Fr Kilcoyne. The current situation was like “trying to manage a team of thoroughbreds.” The church’s position was not a push back, otherwise society would be reduced to “a battery hen quality.”
Fr Flannery said he was in no position to criticise people for rebelling, but pointed out that there was nothing to stop parents from taking their children to church this weekend to receive their first communion. There were no regulations against such action and there was no need for a big celebration.
The preparation could be done at home beforehand, and in many cases had already been done in school, he said. Parents could talk to their child about the sacrament and involve the rest of the family in the event. That would do away with the issue of large gatherings.
Fr Kilcoyne said that the reason first communions were separate from usual services was to make the event special. A crisis could often be a way for a country or an organisation or the church to rediscover their “core purposes.”
The bishops were behaving as they should and he was very proud of them, added Fr Kilcoyne. They were expressing “a real concern” for prioritisation of faith. They were engaged “in a vigorous exchange” with the Government “and that’s good.”
While some parents would break public health guidelines about gatherings, Fr Kilcoyne said he had great confidence in “the majority of parents.” That was not sufficient reason to keep restricting church life. Society did things that the church abhorred, that was not an excuse “to get up on a high horse.”
The guidelines were not a matter of actual law, he said.
This article was amended at 1.39pm on 3/8/21.