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How Catholics can speak up for more ethical vaccines

Coronavirus vaccine, stock image. / M-Foto/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

A series of letter templates released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) allows Catholic to contact vaccine makers and ask them to stop relying on cell lines from aborted babies.


The letter templates, released in February by the USCCB, thank the companies for their work on vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases, while asking them to avoid using cell lines from aborted babies in the future.


Fr. Kyle Ratuiste, a bioethicist in the Diocese of Spokane, explained that “taking practical steps to oppose the use of abortion-derived cell lines helps reinforce our personal conscience, especially if we ourselves have benefited from the vaccine.”


“While numerous ecclesial and moral authorities have indicated that Catholics may morally justify receiving these vaccines, a concern is that accepting these vaccines may cause people to become complacent toward the evil of abortion,” he told CNA. “We can guard against any implicit complacency or even acceptance of this evil, by engaging in the practical advocacy of writing protest letters and supporting ethical research.” 


He added that ending abortion-derived cell lines would allow Catholic scientists to do their work with clear consciences and would extend beyond just vaccine development, as “the use of abortion-derived cell lines has truly become ubiquitous in biomedical research.”


Ratuiste also encouraged Catholic to donate to research organizations that are pursuing ethical alternatives. He pointed to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which has worked for years to research alternatives to embryonic stem cells and is currently working to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine. 

Concerns have been raised for months over the link between the new COVID-19 vaccines and cell lines derived from babies aborted in the 1970s.


The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVD-19 vaccines use a cell line derived from an aborted baby in their testing process, which is common in many contemporary pharmaceuticals, including a wide variety of over-the-counter medications.


The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine has a stronger link to abortion-derived cell lines, which are used in its testing, development, and production.


In a March 2 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but given equally safe and effective vaccine options, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion, if possible.


“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,’” the bishops wrote.


The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who head the USCCB committees on doctrine and pro-life activities, respectively.


The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has said that Catholics should advocate for ethically-produced vaccines which do not use cell lines of aborted babies.


The USCCB sample letters allow Catholics and other pro-life advocates to do that. In addition to companies that have produced COVID-19 vaccines, it includes templates for companies that make childhood vaccines involving cell lines from aborted babies.


Templates are available for AstraZeneca, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sanofi Pasteur.


Bonnie Toombs, director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice for the Diocese of Wichita, told CNA that the diocese has been taking part in the campaign for about three weeks.


“Response has been very good so far,” she said. “We used the sample letters provided by the USCCB Pro-Life office and let people know they can add to or change as they see fit. We are trying to make it easier for people to participate by printing the letters if requested for individuals or groups, and I know several of our parishes are doing so as well.”


Toombs said it “is important to advocate to pharmaceutical companies and the government for the ethical development, production, testing and distribution of all vaccines and medicines.”


“This has been an issue for many years, and now with so much highlight on vaccines, this is a great time to be strong voices for ethical options,” she added.


The Archdiocese of San Francisco is also taking part in the letter-writing campaign.


Valerie Schmalz, director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, told CNA that a letter about the campaign was sent out to all priests in the archdiocese for the Feast of the Annunciations. In addition, a video was sent out in the weekly Flocknote message, with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone encouraging people to participate.


“[I]t is important to continue to protest the use of cell lines derived from aborted babies, no matter how distant in the past,” Schmalz said.


Christian college sues over Biden administration rule opening dorms, showers to opposite sex

Suti Stock Photo/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Christian college in Missouri sued the Biden administration last week over an order requiring single-sex dorms or bathrooms to be available to members of the opposite biological sex.

The College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college, claimed that an executive order from President Joe Biden would require the college to violate its religious beliefs. 

Biden issued a Jan. 21 executive order interpreting federal prohibitions on sex discrimination to also ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Legal experts warned that the order, by redefining sex discrimination, could pose far-reaching consequences for women-only accommodations such as sports teams, locker rooms and bathrooms, and shelters.

In its implementation of the order in February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determined that - pursuant to the order - it would now interpret federal housing laws that prohibit sex discrimination to also include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in housing. 

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of College of the Ozarks, attorneys for the group Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the directive would force the Christian college to violate its beliefs, as the college would be subject to the Fair Housing Act. 

The new agency rules would require biological males identifying as transgender females to not be denied access to female dorms or bathrooms - a violation of the school’s religious standards, ADF said.

“For decades, the College has prohibited male students from living in female dormitories, and vice versa, regardless of whether those students identify with their biological sex. The College likewise separates intimate spaces such as showers and bathrooms in its dormitories,” the April 15 lawsuit said.

In a statement, ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake said the government “cannot and should not force schools to open girls’ dorms to males based on its politically motivated and inappropriate redefinition of ‘sex.’” 

“Women shouldn’t be forced to share private spaces—including showers and dorm rooms—with males, and religious schools shouldn’t be punished simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex,” Blake said. 

“Government overreach by the Biden administration continues to victimize women, girls, and people of faith by gutting their legal protections, and it must be stopped,” he said.

Dr. Jerry C. Davis, president of College of the Ozarks, said in an April 15 statement, that “Religious freedom is under attack in America, and we won’t stand on the sidelines and watch.” 

“To threaten religious freedom is to threaten America itself,” Davis said. “College of the Ozarks will not allow politicians to erode this essential American right or the ideals that shaped America’s founding.”

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906 by a Presbyterian minister. The school says it provides jobs for students to help defray the costs of their tuition, with donor-funded scholarships covering the rest of the cost.

St. John Paul II bust vandalized outside Polish Catholic church in Paris

The entrance of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Church in Paris, France. / Aloveswiki via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A bust of St. John Paul II was vandalized Monday outside a Polish Catholic church in Paris.

An unidentified perpetrator poured red paint over the sculpture outside Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Church in the heart of the French capital between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on April 19.

The bust is located at the entrance of the church, which is the oldest and largest Polish Catholic parish in the city and is situated on rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement, near the Place de la Concorde.

Fr. Paweł Witkowski, pastor of the church which belongs to the Polish Catholic Mission, told the PolskiFR web portal that he and his parishioners were deeply saddened by the incident.

He said that John Paul II, who served as pope from 1978 to 2005 and helped to liberate Poland from communism, “certainly did not deserve such treatment.”

The priest thanked French police for their swift response and professionalism.

While the vandal’s motives are not known, similar acts of vandalism occurred in Poland during protests following a constitutional court ruling on abortion in October.

A statue of St. John Paul II in Poznań, western Poland, was covered in pro-abortion slogans. The hands of a statue of the Polish pope in Konstancin-Jeziorna, south of Warsaw, were daubed with red paint.

Other episodes of vandalism affecting Polish Catholics have taken place elsewhere in Europe.

In June 2020, vandals defaced an image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Dutch city of Breda.

The image of the Virgin Mary, which is revered by Poles and also known as the Black Madonna, was erected in a park in 1954 in thanksgiving for the city’s liberation from the Nazis.

Reflecting on how Polish Catholics in Paris should respond to the latest incident, Fr. Witkowski recalled that John Paul II publicly forgave his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca during a meeting in 1983.

“The Holy Father forgave the one who shot him; this is the attitude we can take towards the one who committed this profanation,” the priest said.

Catholic charity: Migrant arrivals by sea tripled in Italy in 2020

Survivors and family members of African migrants who perished in a 2013 shipwreck near Lampedusa in the Mediterranean sea leave an audience with the Pope, Oct. 1, 2014. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Refugees and migrants who worked in the restaurant and hotel industries were hit hard by job losses in 2020 due to the lockdown restrictions in Italy, according to a Catholic charity that works to provide social services to migrants.

Centro Astalli, the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, reported April 20 that many refugees who have lived in Italy for years in total autonomy returned to the charity with worries about unemployment, paying bills, monthly rent, and schooling for their children.

At the same time, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea tripled last year, with more than 34,000 migrants arriving by sea in 2020, up from 11,000 arrivals the previous year, while the number of legal asylum applications in Italy decreased to 28,000 applicants.

Fr. Camillo Ripamonti, the president of the organization, said that while the migrants it serves have faced hardships in Italy, these are often not the worst that they have endured.

“The pandemic for many people is not the worst of the evils, but just one of the many that have plagued their lives, such as being held by traffickers, surviving detention centers like the ones in Libya, or being taken back to an unsafe port,” Ripamonti said at a virtual event for the launch of the organization’s annual report.

Ripamonti pointed out that in addition to the increased number of arrivals by sea -- mostly on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa -- another 11,000 people were intercepted in the Mediterranean and brought back to Libya, and 1,400 people died trying to make the crossing in 2020.

During the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, 168 countries officially closed their borders and 90 of them denied access to refugees.

“Although it was necessary to reshape our services, we never stopped accompanying the refugees most in difficulty,” Ripamonti said.

“Social distancing is not synonymous with indifference and it is not the opposite of closeness,” the Jesuit priest added.

Centro Astalli supported more than 17,000 people across Italy in 2020, providing meals at its soup kitchens, as well as food deliveries, medicine, and shelter. In Rome, the charity provided 54,417 meals.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle commended the charitable efforts of Centro Astalli and called its annual report “a testimony of humanity, of active love, of compassion.”

“We can see and touch their pains when they decided to leave their homeland due to violence, poverty, and ecological disasters. They can almost hear the cries of the families who separated themselves as they tried to escape from the dangers,” the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said.

“The pandemic has worsened their situation, but thanks to the warmth, respect, and support provided by Centro Astalli, their dark journey has been bathed with light.”

Judge halts Ohio restrictions on chemical abortions


Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 11:10 am (CNA).

An Ohio judge on Monday halted the state’s requirement that the abortion pill regimen be administered in-person.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) had signed Senate Bill 260 into law on Jan. 9, requiring physicians to be present in administering the initial dose of the abortion pill regimen; the abortion pill was barred from being administered remotely through telemedicine.

Planned Parenthood and its Ohio affiliate sued over the law, and on April 6, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Alison Hatheway issued a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the law until April 19. On Monday, Judge Hatheway granted a preliminary injunction in the case, halting the law from going into effect while the court determines the case.

“Today’s ruling protects telemedicine abortion access for our patients, at least temporarily,” stated Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated, “At a moment when access to telemedicice is gravely needed, states should be expanding all telehealth services, including abortion.”

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would allow for remote prescribing and dispensing of the abortion pill regimen during the pandemic. Since 2000, the FDA has placed the regimen on its list of higher-risk drugs and procedures which are subject to greater regulation. The administration historically required the abortion pill to be prescribed in-person by a certified prescriber in a health clinic setting.

Pro-abortion groups sought to loosen the regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that women seeking chemical abortions were at greater risk of contracting the virus by traveling to a health clinic. The Trump administration fought in court against attempts to suspend the regulations during the pandemic.

However, the Biden administration has since allowed for the regimen to be prescribed remotely and delivered through the mail or by mail-order pharmacies, during the pandemic.

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated at his confirmation hearing that he wished for an expansion of telemedicine, in response to a question about the remote prescribing and dispensing of the abortion pill.

The abortion pill regimen involves the use of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. The first, mifepristone, cuts off the supply of nutrients to the unborn child; the second, misoprostol, contracts the uterus to expel the deceased child.

The group Ohio Right to Life claimed that Planned Parenthood had been using telemedicine for years to perform chemical abortions remotely.

“Planned Parenthood’s use of telemedicine to dispense abortion-inducing drugs cuts their own costs at the expense of basic health and safety standards. Patient safety shouldn’t have a price tag. Women deserve better,” the group stated in January when the law was signed.

Spanish bishop calls government sex ed guides ‘aggressive and crude’

Bishop Luis Argüello, Secretary General and spokesman for the EEC. / Screenshot Youtube CEE

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 10:32 am (CNA).

Warning: This article contains graphic sexual content that may not be appropriate for all readers.


A Spanish bishop has decried as “aggressive and crude” the six sex education guides being promoted by the socialist government in Getafe, Spain.

The Getafe City Council, governed by a coalition of the Spanish Socialist Workers (PSOE) and Podemos political parties, recently published the guides, entitled “Gender Rebels,” which encourage young girls and adolescents to “turn off the TV and turn on your clitoris,” and which ridicule the Virgin Mary as a model of someone who is “without a life of her own and asexual.”

The guides were financed with public funds from the Ministry of Equality and claim to be  “a collection to blow up the sexist stereotypes that limit our way of being in the world” and which rebel against a “genitalistic, androcentric, phallocentric, penetrocentric and heteronormative society.”

Bishop Luis Argüello, spokesman and general secretary of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, questioned whether the Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Minors, which was passed April 15 by the Congress of Deputies, “can protect girls and adolescents” from the proposals contained in the sex ed guides, which he described as radical.

Rather than “Gender Rebels,” he encouraged people to instead be “rebels of common sense.”

The Diocese of Getafe also criticized the guides, deploring that they were paid for “with public resources, which ought serve the common good” but instead “disseminate partisan proposals with a strong ideological bias which do not respect everyone’s conscience or interests.”

The diocese said these guides are “an expression of the most radical gender perspective,” which “denies the biological truth about human beings,” blames the Church for “the patriarchy’s violence against women” and also “offends religious sentiments.”


Pope Francis mourns ‘tireless’ first cardinal of Lesotho

Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai. / Courtesy of IMBISA.

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis paid tribute Tuesday to the first cardinal from the African nation of Lesotho, who died at the age of 91 after a lifetime of service in the African nation.

The pope said in a telegram released April 20 that Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai would be remembered for promoting priestly vocations and Catholic education in the country situated inside South Africa.

He said: “With gratitude for Cardinal Khoarai’s witness of consecrated life as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, his longstanding commitment to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and his dedication to the Church’s educational apostolate in Lesotho, I willingly join you in praying that our Heavenly Father may grant him the reward of his tireless labors and welcome his noble soul into the joy of his eternal kingdom.”

The pope’s condolence message was addressed to Bishop John Joale Tlhomola of Mohale’s Hoek.

Lesotho, which has a population of two million people, is one of only three independent states in the world entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state, along with Vatican City and San Marino.

Lesotho, which gained full independence from Britain in 1966, is by far the largest of the three states, although it is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Approximately half of the mountainous nation’s population is Catholic.

Khoarai died April 17 following a diagnosis of throat cancer.

He was born on Sept. 11, 1929, in Koaling, in what was then the British colony of Basutoland. Baptized at the age of 11, he later entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.), a religious congregation founded by St. Eugène de Mazenod.

He made his religious profession in 1951 and was ordained a priest in 1956.

In 1971, he was appointed vicar general of the Archdiocese of Maseru and parish priest of the cathedral in Lesotho’s capital city of Maseru.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI named him as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Mohale’s Hoek in southwestern Lesotho.

According to an official biography provided by the Vatican, the number of baptized Catholics in the diocese increased by 20% under his leadership. Priestly vocations also rose so rapidly that the major seminary could not accommodate them all.

Khoarai served from 1982 to 1987 as president of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference, helping to make the Catholic Church the premier supporter of education in the country.

He officially resigned as bishop of Mohale’s Hoek in 2006, having passed the customary age limit of 75. But he remained as apostolic administrator of the diocese until Pope Francis accepted his resignation from pastoral governance in 2014, when Khoarai was 84 years old.

The pope named him a cardinal on Nov. 19, 2016, but he was unable to receive the red hat in person in Rome for health reasons.

Following his death, there are 224 members of the College of Cardinals, including 126 eligible to vote in a conclave.

ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, reported that Khoarai had initiated the construction of a vast church in the Diocese of Mohale’s Hoek before his death.

Fr. Hosea Chale, secretary general of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told ACI Africa that the building would be the “mother of all the churches in the country.”

“Once completed, this is going to be the biggest church in the country,” he said.

Ex-film director, soccer player to be ordained Catholic priests by Pope Francis on Sunday

Pope Francis ordains a priest in St. Peter's Basilica, April 26, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will ordain nine men to the priesthood on Sunday, including a former film director and a 28-year-old soccer player who turned down a chance to play for the team A.S. Roma.

In 2010, Samuel Piermarini was playing for the under-17 team of Italy’s Serie D soccer association, Ostia Mare.

After tryouts, Piermarini was offered a chance to sign as second goalkeeper for the youth team of A.S. Roma, part of Italy’s Serie A soccer league, in the national youth championships, according to the newspaper La Repubblica.

Piermarini said he decided not to accept the proposal, however, because he knew on that team he would have been warming the bench. “I refused because I wanted to play,” he told the newspaper.

He said he was also starting to realize there might be something else he wanted to do with his life.

The next year, Piermarini told his family that he felt called to the priesthood: “The call of the Lord did not come at a precise moment,” he said. “It was 2011 and I remember that day after day, inside of me, I felt that was the way I would be fulfilled.”

He entered the Redemptoris Mater seminary, and on April 25, Good Shepherd Sunday, he will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rome by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“I can’t wait!” Piermarini said in a press release from the Vicariate of Rome.

The soon-to-be priest said that he still loves to play soccer. While in seminary, he created a soccer tournament with friends and classmates. He also played in the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament for priests and seminarians studying in Rome.

The Rome native is the youngest of four children, and he said that his family was supportive of his decision to become a Catholic priest.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will also ordain eight other priests for the Diocese of Rome, three of whom were born outside Italy. The non-Italians come from Romania, Colombia, and Brazil.

The nine deacons range from 26 to 43 years of age.

Among them is the 40-year-old Riccardo Cendamo, a former film director, who in 2013 was invited to show his co-directed short film “Regreso a casa” at the 11th edition of the Ischia Film Festival.

Cendamo has also taught directing at the Accademia Togliani. In a 2013 interview with the Italian web magazine The Freak, Cendamo said: “For those who love to tell stories, there is nothing more beautiful than sharing their own with others. Cinema is a very powerful medium and seeing your story come to life, roll on a screen as you imagined it, is priceless. It has the taste of a miracle.”

In advance of his ordination as a priest, Cendamo said: “If I look back now, I realize that the call to the priestly vocation has always existed, that love had to mature.”

After his ordination as a transitional deacon last year, Cendamo was assigned to serve at a youth theater in Rome. The theater was founded by a priest in 1993 to provide a place for adolescents to grow culturally and spiritually.

Report: Vatican considering sale of London property at heart of financial scandal

A view of St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican flag - / Bohumil Petrik

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican is thinking about selling the London property at the center of a financial scandal at the Secretariat of State, which lost an estimated $100 million in the building’s purchase.

Bloomberg reported this week that the Vatican is considering selling the former car showroom of the Harrods department store, located at 60 Sloane Avenue in the ritzy Chelsea neighborhood of London.

The Secretariat of State began to purchase the building seven years ago as an investment property intended for development into luxury apartments.

According to Bloomberg, sources in the Vatican said that the London property is valued at about $369.1 million. The Vatican confirmed to Bloomberg that, while there is no rush to decide, selling is one of the options being considered.

The circumstances surrounding the property’s purchase have come under investigation, as the Vatican alleges that businessman Gianluigi Torzi, brought in by the Vatican to broker the final part of the building’s sale, was part of a conspiracy to defraud the secretariat of millions of euros. Torzi denies the claim.

The secretariat bought the property at 60 Sloane Avenue in London in stages between 2014 and 2018 from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione. Torzi earned millions of euros for his role in the final stage of the deal.

Torzi sold the secretariat the 30,000 majority shares in Gutt SA, the holding company through which the London property was purchased, while he retained the 1,000 shares with voting rights.

The Secretariat of State has since claimed that Torzi acted with dishonesty and secrecy about the shares, while Torzi says his actions were known and agreed to with the knowledge of Secretariat of State superiors.

In March, a British judge sided with Torzi in a ruling which reversed a seizure of Torzi’s accounts requested by Vatican prosecutors.

This month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Torzi based on an investigation by police in Rome into suspected fraudulent billing, money laundering, and other financial crimes in collaboration with three of his associates.

Torzi is currently located in the United Kingdom and has not been served with the warrant.

In November, Pope Francis ordered the removal of responsibility for financial funds and real estate assets, including the London building, from the Secretariat of State.

In an August 2020 letter, made public by the Vatican two and a half months later, the pope asked for “particular attention” to be paid to two specific financial matters: “investments made in London” and the Centurion Global investment fund.

Pope Francis requested that the Vatican “exit as soon as possible” from the investments, or “at least dispose of them in such a way as to eliminate all reputational risks.”

Control of the secretariat’s real estate assets and investment funds was given to APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

Last year, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of APSA, told the Italian newspaper Avvenire that the Vatican lost between $92 million and $110 million from its purchase of the London building.

All-Ireland Primate to health minister: priests’ pastoral work should be deemed essential, not criminalized

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Credit: Northern Ireland Office (CC BY 2.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A senior Catholic archbishop told Ireland’s health minister on Monday that priests’ pastoral work should be “deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Eamon Martin made the comment during an April 19 meeting with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly after the Irish government published stringent new regulations on public worship.

In an April 19 statement, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said that Martin presented his objections to the new regulations, contained in a document known as statutory instrument 171 of 2021 and approved by Donnelly on April 12.

A statutory instrument is a form of secondary legislation allowing government ministers to legislate on day-to-day matters.

While public worship was suspended in the Republic of Ireland at the end of 2020 as a safety measure to the prevent the spread of the virus, the new regulations effectively criminalize Mass with a congregation.

The statement said: “Archbishop Eamon Martin explained the deep concerns already expressed with regard to the criminalizing of leading, and gathering for, public worship at this time in Ireland despite the consistent support from the Churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic.”

“He reiterated the Church’s support for the protection of health, life, and for the common good, and he emphasized the importance of respecting and sustaining people’s spiritual well-being alongside their physical and mental health. For people of faith, he added, this is deemed essential.”

The statement continued: “The Archbishop emphasized that the vital pastoral work of priests and other ministers on the ground should also be respected and deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction. Ministers of religion are often on the front line supporting the sick, the bereaved, the isolated, and those who are struggling to cope.”

“Pastoral ministry and spiritual support, which are so important for people during the time of pandemic, ought not to be confined to a small number of legally acceptable and ‘regulated activities.’”

The new regulations, which came into force on April 13, forbid most large gatherings, with a narrow list of exceptions, including for priests celebrating Mass via live stream, as well as wedding receptions and funerals.

Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, had requested an urgent meeting with Donnelly on behalf of of Ireland’s four Catholic archbishops.

In a statement on behalf of the archbishops on April 18, Martin said that the Church leaders only became aware of the statutory instrument when it was published in the Irish government’s official gazette, days after it came into effect.

He accused ministers of introducing the “draconian” new regulations on public worship “in a clandestine manner” and said that the Catholic Church was taking legal advice.

The bishops’ conference said that during his meeting with Donnelly, Martin emphasized the importance of “regular and meaningful conversation and consultation between Church, state, and public health advisers.”

It added that the minister explained that the statutory instrument was “not intended to single out worship but was designed to regulate indoor and outdoor gatherings that might pose a risk.”

The government has signaled that, as its vaccination program advances, it will begin to relax restrictions cautiously in May. Catholic bishops have urged the authorities to prioritize the resumption of public worship.

Public Masses have remained suspended in Ireland despite restrictions being lifted in neighboring countries. Public worship resumed over the border in Northern Ireland on Good Friday, April 2. A landmark legal ruling led to the resumption of public Masses in Scotland in March. Public Masses have continued in England throughout a stringent lockdown that began on Jan. 4.

The Irish bishops’ conference reported that the health minister told Martin that the government recognized the importance of religious worship and that “consideration would be given to early re-opening of public worship in accordance with public health advice in the coming weeks.”

Ireland, a country with a population of almost five million people, has recorded a total of 243,911 cases of COVID-19 and 4,836 deaths as of April 20, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Health authorities said on Monday that they had identified three cases of the new Indian strain of COVID-19 in Ireland.

The bishops’ conference said that Martin would brief Ireland’s other archbishops on the meeting.

Meanwhile, it said, the Church would continue to seek “clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the statutory instrument.”