Social issues aren’t enough: In ‘post-Catholic’ societies, writes Charles Collins, governments want the Church to know her place.
When is an attack on religious liberty not an attack on religious liberty? According to many governments, the answer is: when religion is treated just like everything else.
Sometimes, however, governments treat religion a little more the same as everything else. At least, treating religion the same as everything else is done with a certain particular emphasis, as events in Ireland and Canada have shown.
Last Sunday, video emerged of Garda officers stopping a Mass in in Athlone, Ireland, telling them they were in violation of Covid-19 regulations.
In defense of the police, public liturgies have been banned in Ireland for months. Before April 16, however, this had been a government regulation — one with which the Irish bishops have cooperated. On that date, the Republic of Ireland made public liturgies a criminal offense.
Government officials say they weren’t targeting religious observances, since the legislation banned all such gatherings. That didn’t stop Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh from calling the move “provocative” and “draconian,” and warned it was a “potential infringement of religious freedom.”
Archbishop Martin’s archdiocese straddles the border with Northern Ireland, and Mass is allowed to take place in his cathedral in Armagh, which is in the North.
During the post-Christmas Covid wave, Northern Ireland didn’t formally stop public liturgies, although the leaders of the major denominations “voluntarily” suspended them to prevent transmissions.
As vaccinations increased — over half of Northern Ireland’s adults have received at least one dose — Northern Ireland returned to the public celebration of the sacraments. That happened over a month ago.
The Republic of Ireland hasn’t had such a successful vaccine rollout, but even in the government’s plan to scale back their lockdown slowly, churches will be among the last allowed to open their doors to the people. This, despite Church leaders’ successful efforts in the first part of 2020 to establish the best protocols of any public-facing interest for the prevention of Covid-19 transmission.
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