Decision to go ahead with First Communions ‘absurd’, scientist says

Prof Aoife McLysaght was critical of the decision by various clergy to allow religious ceremonies to go ahead
Decision to go ahead with First Communions ‘absurd’, scientist says

Vivienne Clarke

A scientist has described the decision by various clergy to defy public health advice and allow religious ceremonies to go ahead as “absurd”.

Choices have to be made and “we can’t do everything all at once,” Prof Aoife McLysaght told RTÉ radio’s Today. “Our reopening is quite delicate.”

Her comments come after five bishops gave the go-ahead to parish priests to resume First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies, despite being asked by the Government to delay such events until more people are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Farrell, has said that while he still believes the celebration of the sacraments should be deferred until the autumn, he will not stand in the way of parishes who press ahead with the ceremonies.

In a letter sent to parishes on Tuesday, the archbishop urged priests to proceed with the sacraments if they “consider it safe” and suggests “shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies”.

The archbishop criticised the Government for failing to engage with church representatives on the matter, describing it as “a matter of profound regret”.

Current guidelines advise the public that Baptisms, Communions and Confirmations should not take place. Baptisms can take place from August 5th.

Social solidarity

However, Prof McLysaght said there could not be a situation where some thought that the rules did not apply to them. Solidarity was required, she said.

She noted that First Communions and Confirmations were not time sensitive events like funerals – they could happen at any time, and it would be better to wait a few weeks when a family celebration could be held.

The bishops and archbishop were not setting a good example, she said. There was a way to have a conversation to encourage public debate, she added, while it was not appropriate to defy public health guidelines if one did not agree with them.

Progress would be better if decisions were made in “good faith” rather than saying they were not going to comply, said Prof McLysaght, a geneticist at Trinity College Dublin.

Events such as Communions and Confirmations involved unvaccinated children and could become superspreader events just a few weeks before the return to school. Choices needed to be made and it would be better to prioritise a safe return to school, she said.

Prof McLysaght said in a few weeks more people would be vaccinated. People who were vaccinated had better personal protection, but they had a responsibility to protect the unvaccinated – children did not have a choice about vaccination, they needed to be protected against transmission of the virus.

There was a “certain impatience” at present, which was understandable. A bit more patience and the spirit of solidarity was needed, she said.

Delay to sacraments

Earlier this week, the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, urged the Church and the public to hold off on the sacraments.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday: “I fully understand the frustration people feel.

“Like many people in the country, I have very strong memories myself of both communion and confirmation, and it’s a very important day in everyone’s lives.

“The public health advice is still very clear in relation to being cautious in relation to the advice around communions and confirmation.

“The important thing here, in relation to communions and confirmations, is, while it is frustrating to to see these delays, no-one’s going to get hurt by waiting a little bit longer to avail of it and to have that special day.”

He added: “There is a reality out here that people are still becoming infected by Covid. People are still going into hospital by Covid. And it’s important to stay and keep cautious and keep safe in that period.” – Additional reporting: PA

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