News Roundup

Surrogacy should be permitted where no genetic link to child exists, says child Rapporteur

Children born through donor-assisted reproduction or surrogacy should be entitled from the age of 12 to access information about the identity of their genetic parents, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Prof Conor O’Mahony, has advised the Government. At the same time, he says, people should be allowed to use surrogacy who will have no genetic link to the child, providing neither the egg nor the sperm.

This is one of 27 recommendations in A Review of Children’s Rights and Best Interests in the Context of Donor-Assisted Human Reproduction and Surrogacy in Irish Law, which is due to be published by the Government shortly.

Also recommended is a system to encourage the parents to disclose the facts of donor conception to the child before the age of 12.

“If somebody goes and orders anonymous sperm on the internet and administers it at home, the law simply can’t stop that,” he acknowledged. “What the law can do is provide very strong incentives to go through the preferable route.

“The right to identity is legally binding on the State. We know from all the adoption debates going on lately how important it is, so the law should be set up to try to protect it as far as possible. At the same time there is a reality that some things are beyond the reach of the law.”


Public worship restrictions ‘most far-reaching and disproportionate in Europe’, says legal advocate

Ireland’s restrictions on religious worship are now the most far-reaching and disproportionate in Europe.

That’s according to an Irish Barrister and Legal Counsel for the human rights advocacy firm, ADF International.

In response to a challenge at the High Court, the government has confirmed that it is a criminal offense for a priest to conduct mass unless for the purpose of a funeral or a wedding. Similarly, worshippers could face a fine or up to 6 months jail time for leaving their homes to attend a place of worship.

Lorcan Price said freedom of religion is a fundamental right, secured by the Irish Constitution and international law.

“Where a government introduces restrictions on religious worship in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions must be proportionate and reasonable. The blanket ban on all worship in Ireland is clearly disproportionate as can be seen by looking to the approach taken by almost every other European country,” he said.


Give public worship proper consideration, says bishop

A large cohort of people are growing increasingly weary of the blanket ban on public worship as their spiritual and mental wellbeing is being eroded.

That’s according to the Catholic Bishop of Waterford & Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan.

In an appeal to the Government, he said the patience of churchgoers is wearing thin: “They are frustrated and feel unrepresented and discriminated against”.

He added that it is very difficult to explain to people why they are banned from public worship, especially as Ireland is one of only a few countries in Europe where it is not allowed.

Bishop Cullinan also denied that there is a choice of either health and safety or worship: “It is not that we must stop public worship to safeguard physical health. We can do both. We must safeguard people’s health AND support their spiritual wellbeing”.

“I feel that the spiritual well-being of our people has not been given any serious attention by the authorities. To say that ‘services go online’ is very hard to take and feels dismissive.”

He expressed some sympathy with the government, but appealed to them to “take into consideration the spiritual care of hundreds of thousands of Catholics and many people of other faiths who wish to exercise their rights as guaranteed by our constitution”.


Catholic priest and six others killed in attack on church in Nigeria

A Catholic priest and at least six others were killed by gunmen in an attack on St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Benue State, Nigeria, the Diocese of Katsina-Ala confirmed Wednesday.

Fr. Ferdinand Fanen Ngugban had just offered Mass in his parish church in eastern Nigeria and was preparing to leave for the Holy Week Chrism Mass when he was shot in the head by gunmen on March 30.

According to a statement by Fr. Fidelis Phelle Akjmbul, chancellor of the Diocese of Katsina-Ala, there was pandemonium among the people who took refuge in the parish premises.

“Fr Ferdinand went out to find out the cause of the confusion. He was shot in the head as he tried to take cover after sighting armed gunmen.”

Local authorities in Nigeria’s Benue State confirmed the attack occurred on St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Aye-Twar village.

The unidentified gunmen also raided the local village and set many houses on fire, according to multiple media reports.


U.S. Church membership falls below majority for first time

The number of American who say they belong to a religion continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend.

In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. Church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

The decline in Church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.


Government now says public Mass is an offence

The Government has confirmed that it is an offence punishable by the law for a priest to celebrate public Mass, despite months of assurances that there is no penalty attached. The same applies to all acts of public worship.

This stance is at odds with a statement to the Dáil by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly in October dismissing concerns around the criminalising of clergy who hold public worship and those who attend under the Covid-19 regulations.

The Irish Catholic reported that as part of a response to Declan Ganley’s High Court challenging the ban on public worship, the Government stated that the restrictions are, indeed, penal.

In the Seanad Monday, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen asked Minister for Health about the issue but failed to get an answer.

Senator Mullen has since followed up with a letter to the Minister asking whether “there is legal prohibition presently in force which prohibits the organising or the celebration of public mass by Catholic clergy or religious ministers, and/or the attendance at same by members of the public, which could lead in either case to the imposition of penalties?”
The Minister has promised a written answer.

Indonesian Catholics attacked on Palm Sunday

A terrorist attack was carried out on a church in Indonesia on Palm Sunday.

Two suicide bombers targeted Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Cathedral in Makassar, the capital of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi Province shortly after Mass was over.

Both attackers were killed and around twenty congregation members were injured by the explosion. Security guards were providing protection to the cathedral and they prevented the bombers from entering the building.

A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need said many people would have certainly lost their lives if the bombers had of been able to detonate inside the cathedral building.

He added that it is part a disturbing trend in recent years of Christians being attacked during holy week.

The Indonesian national police chief said that the two bombers were connected with an Islamist terrorist group affiliated with ISIS and previously carried out terrorist attacks in the Philippines. They have also carried out attacks in Indonesia in the past, including other attacks on churches.

 The Indonesian President condemned the attack, stating “Terrorism is a crime against humanity.”


Judge strikes down Washington DC’s limits on houses of worship

A US Court has struck down Washington DC’s COVID-19 pandemic limits on attendance at houses of worship which had been set at the lesser of 25% capacity or 250 worshippers.

One church alone in the District can seat 6,000.

The ruling by Judge Trevor N. McFadden was effective immediately.

The Archdiocese of Washington welcomed the ruling saying it enables the diocese “to make the sacraments more fully available to our faithful in time for Holy Week, Easter and beyond”.

“In our Catholic churches, we will continue to abide by our own safety protocols of social distancing, masking, cleaning and other safety precautions to ensure safe access to worship while we also continue to broadcast our worship services online.”

In his ruling, McFadden wrote that the District’s capacity restrictions “discriminate against houses of worship” and that “the District’s restrictions substantially burden the archdiocese’s religious exercise.”

He said the court “finds the 250-person cap particularly troubling” a limit that does not apply to big box stores, supermarkets, and other essential businesses.

“It does not appear that this restriction was narrowly tailored to stem the tide of the virus. As the District’s order shows, it was designed simply to ensure ‘parity’ between houses of worship and restaurants,” McFadden said.

The District also admitted during oral arguments that “there have been no reported outbreaks from attendance at the archdiocese’s Masses,” the judge said.


Gardaí set checkpoints to prevent attendance at Mass

Garda checkpoints were erected close to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mullahoran, Co Cavan, on Sunday as parish priest Fr PJ Hughes said Mass in defiance of the Covid-19 regulations. Ireland is the only country in Western Europe with a ban on public worship.

The 10am mass was delayed for about 20 minutes with many locals detained at the three Garda checkpoints erected on the roads into the church, which is in a rural part of the parish.

Twenty people turned up for the Palm Sunday liturgy and they were well spaced out in the church where every second pew was roped off.

Fr Hughes wore a mask while distributing Communion. Some of the congregation wore masks too.

The priest has already been fined €500 for allegedly hosting an illegal gathering, but he said he will not pay it. He faces the prospect of prison.

Later, he accused gardaí of harassing him and churchgoers.

Speaking to The Irish Times he said: “they intimidated me going in to Mass. They intimidated me, and they intimidated the people.

He explained: “I went down to a house of have a cup of tea with a family before Mass and on my way back up, they blocked the three roads leading into the church. They stopped at the top of each road.

“They had four cars; three squad cars and a big white van. There were eight gardaí in all and one car in the car park at the church”.


Archbishop welcomes transfer of school from Catholic Church patronage

Archbishop Dermot Farrell has welcomed the conclusion of negotiations regarding the transfer of a primary school from the Archdiocese of Dublin to An Foras Pátrúnachta while continuing to offer sacramental preparation to Catholic pupils.

The Archbishop said the transfer marks a new chapter in Ireland’s education system: “Scoil Chaitlín Maude will provide education through the medium of Irish to Catholic children and to children of other faiths and none.”

“During the school day provision will be made for the faith formation, religious education and sacramental preparation of Catholic children in accordance with the Grow in Love primary Catholic education programme. Other children will follow a moral and ethics programme.  This is truly a multi-denominational school to cater for the needs of the Irish speaking community in Tallaght. This is a good model for the future to accommodate parents’ requests.”