Longford Mass card action fails

The High Court has dismissed a challenge to the constitutionality of a provision of the Charities Acts which outlaws the sale of Mass cards except through an arrangement with the Catholic Church.

The High Court has dismissed a challenge to the constitutionality of a provision of the Charities Acts which outlaws the sale of Mass cards except through an arrangement with the Catholic Church.

Thomas McNally, head of Mass card producers MCC, New Street, Co Longford, and his sister, Marie Reilly, a card retailer of Ard Na Rí, Ardnacassa, Co Longford have taken the action against the State over the measures, which became law in early September.

Today, in what was a lengthy judgment Mr Justice John MacMenamin said that "on the facts and law I find the plaintiff's challenge must fail".

The plaintiffs had claimed the Act is unconstitutional in that it unlawfully confers a monopoly on the sale of Mass cards to clerics of the Catholic Church or to persons approved by them.

Under the Act, Mass cards can only be sold by agreement with a bishop or provincial of an order of priests of the Catholic Church. A breach of this could lead to a 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to €300,000.

The court was told, over the years, Mr McNally had arrangements with several priests who agreed to permit him to affix their signature to Mass cards in return for a fee.

Between 2003 and 2007, Mr McNally had entered an arrangement with a Malawi-based priest Fr Oscar Mkondana, who it transpired had been suspended from all facilities of the priesthood by his Bishop. Mr McNaly had claimed that Fr Mkondana was able to say mass in private.

More recently Mr McNally, whose business sells more than 120,000 mass cards per year at €1.75 per unit to retailers, had an agreement with a Polish priest based in the West Indies, Fr Bernard Latus, who received €100 to say three masses per month for those for whom the masses are intended. However that arrangement was terminated after the proceedings were brought.

In opposing the challenge, the State has argued the law was enacted to ensure members of the public do not purchase bogus mass cards.

In his judgment, Mr Justice McMenamin held that there was ample material to show that certain of MCC's and other businesses activities could mislead ordinary Catholics or purchasers as to the authenticity of their mass cards and their compliance with canon law.

However the Judge refrained from making any finding if MCC was in compliance with the terms of 2009 Charities Act.

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