Archbishop of Cashel-Emly cautions parents over holding Communion and Confirmation parties, and expresses ‘disappointment’ at health chief’s recommendation to defer ceremonies in light of “high rate” of COVID-19

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THE Archbishop of Cashel-Emly, Most Reverend Kieran O’Reilly, has described as “disappointing” a letter sent to his diocese from a senior HSE official recommending the diocese defer First Holy Communion and Confirmations to September, to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Archbishop O’Reilly also cautioned parents in the diocese against holding Communion or Confirmation house parties for persons outside of their immediate family.

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A letter signed by Dr Rose Fitzgerald, Director of the Department of Public Health Mid West, was sent yesterday to the dioceses of Cashel-Emily, Limerick, and Killaloe, stating, “it is our view that these ceremonies should be deferred unit September 2021, due to the current high rate of COVID-19 infection in the mid west region, (and that), by September most of those eligible should be fully vaccinated against COVID”.

The letter informs each of the three Catholic dioceses that the Department received “a number of queries in relation to the holding of First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies over the summer period in the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary region”.

A letter released to this reporter from the Cashel-Emly diocese, addressed to local clergy, parents, guardians and school principals, explains the HSE’s position in which Archbishop O’Reilly states that that he recognises “ceremonies are already scheduled” and that the HSE’s recommendation “is disappointing at this time”.

The Archbishop states that he has been “informed that the recommendation of Dr Fitzgerald is in response to queries from teachers, councillors, and members of the public, and based on that the rate of infection remains high with special concern around the spread of the Delta variant; that many parents have not been vaccinated; and (due to) many enquires to the HSE asking for their recommendation”.

In his letter, Archbishop O’Reilly advises priests, parents, and schools in the diocese that when “evaluating the situation in your parish, serious consideration must be given” to the HSE’s recommendation.

The Archbishop added that “it is hard to come out with one overall directive” due to there being “a wide variety of church situations across the Archdiocese”.

He urges local clergy “to be cautious in your evaluation of the situation, discussing it with principals, teachers and parents/guardians, and parish personnel responsible for safety within the churches”.

Archbishop O’Reilly stops short of directing ceremonies be deferred, adding: “Whatever decision is arrived at the ceremonies should proceed with great care. Parents should be advised strongly against holding parties involving (persons) beyond their own immediate family.”

Over 500 cases have been identified in the mid west, mostly in Limerick, in the past two weeks, however this is a significant reduction on the previous two weeks when 830+ cases were identified.

Daily case number sin Limerick have also reduced significantly, following a surge in cases last month. Yesterday 16 cases were identified in Limerick, compared with 74 cases on June 6.

A spokesman for Public Health Mid West said: “While we are confident that churches and places of worship have been generally safe environments within the parameters of Public Health guidelines, indoor gatherings and celebrations traditionally associated with Communions and Confirmations are considered high-risk settings for those who are unvaccinated.”

The spokesman said the department “is continuing to work with experts nationwide in monitoring the situation surrounding variants of concern (VOC), particularly the emerging Delta variant (B.1.617.2)”.

“While the incidence of this variant remains low in the Mid-West region (<10), we are concerned about the increase in transmission of the Delta variant nationwide.”

They also urged people in the region “to register for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible to do so, in order to offer you best protections against variants, including the Delta variant”.

A number of communion ceremonies in the Limerick diocese had already been deferred to September.

Two free walk-in clinics are operating in Limerick, at St Joseph’s Health Canpus on Mulgrave Street and at the former tourist offices at Arthur’s Quay Park. A test centre by appointment is also running at the Eastpoint Business Park, Ballysimon Road, Eircode V94 KN73.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Killaloe said:  “The diocese received the advice from the HSE and has circulated its recommendations to all the parishes. Some parishes had scheduled Confirmations to take place after the 5th July. It is expected that parishes will consult with schools and parents before making final decisions.“
“Parishes will be happy to facilitate the wishes of the parents in these matters and provide alternatives where necessary. You will appreciate that every parish is different in terms of size, number of candidates and so on.”
“The final decision as to whether sacraments will be celebrated during the summer will be made in the context of the local parish in consultation with the families of the candidates, having been made aware of the HSE recommendations and having taken local circumstances into consideration.”