Archbishop Eamon Martin has raised deep concerns over a rule banning religious services during a meeting with the health minister.
Stephen Donnelly spoke with the archbishop this afternoon about a statutory instrument, which aims to prohibit 'specified events' as part of Covid measures, that came into force last week.
During the meeting, Archbishop Martin explained the deep concerns already expressed with regard to the criminalising of leading and gathering for public worship, despite the consistent support from the Churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic.
The archbishop said the vital pastoral work of priests should be respected and deemed essential, rather than subject to penal sanction.
He reiterated the church’s support for the protection of health, life and for the common good and he emphasised the importance of respecting and sustaining people’s spiritual wellbeing alongside their physical and mental health.
For people of faith, he said, this is deemed essential.
A spokesperson for Mr Donnelly said the minister had a good meeting with the archbishop and Monsignor Joseph McGuinness.
"Minister Donnelly outlined that the reason for the restrictions on gatherings was on public health grounds and also said he understood the importance of worship for people."
The minister stressed 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.
He said that religious worship and spiritual wellbeing were taken very seriously by the Government and consideration would be given to early reopening of public worship in accordance with public health advice in the coming weeks.
The spokesperson said there will now be ongoing dialogue with church leaders in the time ahead.
In a statement released after the meeting, Archbishop Martin said the clergy are often on the frontline 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 the pandemic, ought not to be confined to a small number of legally acceptable and regulated activities."
The archbishop said that he will meet with the other archbishops to brief them on this exchange. Meanwhile, the church is seeking clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the statutory instrument.