An Irish archbishop has said it is “utter irresponsibility” not to maintain social distancing in times of coronavirus, while an Irish priest has blasted Catholics who are continuing to insist on receiving Communion on the tongue.

– “Let no-one think that they know better… distancing is a civic duty”

“Let no-one think that they know better”, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said this Tuesday of the public health authorities’ recommendation that people limit physical contact and keep their distance during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are in a difficult situation and one that will not see its end for some time. We are being asked to take very restrictive measures. We are obliged to respond with a sense of personal responsibility and civic duty”.

Archbishop Martin was speaking during traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral, which this year took on a sober tone due to the disease pandemic.

“Today, St Patrick’s Day 2020, is different. We celebrate with a small number of people present, linked by webcam with others. All of us are fearful about the future and many are fearful as they feel increasingly vulnerable”, Martin acknowledged.

“Many are suffering. I think of the elderly and the vulnerable and especially of those who live alone.

“I think of parents, in particular lone parents, who have to combine work and the care of children now that schools are closed.

“I think of families with challenging special needs and of people who were already struggling with illness before the additional fear of this virus emerged”.

But Martin did have positive words yesterday, by reason of the “great commitment” demonstrated by Ireland’s healthcare professionals, and priests.

“We owe them all a debt of gratitude. I thank our priests as they continue to minister to the sick, the troubled and the bereaved.

“Generosity and creativity are being combined by so many to respond to what is above all a call to solidarity, a call to care for one another”.

Martin is soon to offer to Pope Francis his resignation at the helm of the Dublin archdiocese, when he turns the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75 in April.

As such, the archbishop is paving the way for a potential successor in the person of Monsignor Ciarán O’Carroll, the heretofore rector of the Irish College in Rome whom Martin appointed last week the new Episcopal Vicar for Priests.

– “Selfishness and obsession”: Insisting on receiving on tongue endangering lives

In the meantime, an Irish priest has blasted those Catholics who, at the limited Eucharists still being celebrated in Ireland and in other places, continue to insist on receiving the Host on the tongue, and not in the hand.

“The medical evidence is overwhelming that distributing Communion on the tongue is, in present circumstances, irresponsible and endangers the life of the person who receives and of all the other people in the queue”, Fr Brendan Hoban wrote in an article in Western People reproduced on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests.

“Yet, a small minority of people whose preference is for receiving Communion on the tongue, are refusing to receive on the hand, with a few creating a stand-off in an effort to bully the priest or lay minister into getting their own way”, Hoban denounced.

“There are many words that might describe that attitude, some of them unmentionable in this context, but ‘selfishess’ and ‘obsession’ are the mildest of mild versions.

“As the Churches have discovered, sometimes the pious – who will inherit the earth – are not a sure guide to what is reasonable and sensible in a crisis”, Hoban wrote.

The priest urged Catholics to avail themselves of the special permission granted by the Irish Bishops not to have to be physically present at Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation, and warned: “we have to take stringent action to ensure that contact between those who have the virus and those in danger of getting it has to be limited in every way possible. Or things will get out of hand”.

More on Novena on the coronavirus emergency:

On sombre St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Primate calls for “outpouring of works of mercy”, church bells ring out in hope, solidarity

Vatican official issues call to Catholics to fight coronavirus with “antibodies of solidarity”; Lourdes shrine in France shutters for first time in history

Coronavirus in Ireland: Bishops begin to cancel public Masses, urge Catholics to “care for one another” during outbreak

Dublin archdiocese looks for new lay ministries to connect beyond Catholics and the Church, ensure it “thrives into the future”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.