The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has hit out at anti-mask protestors, calling them “very strange people”.

– “Ideological” COVID-19 scepticism “very often linked with other agendas”

“Public health is about responsibility, and that’s what we’re all being called to carry out at this stage”, Martin told the Newstalk radio program October 16.

Martin – who has a certain expertise in public health due to the contact he had with the world’s leading epidemiologists through his work as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva from 2001-2003 – lamented the fact that there are people who engage in anti-mask and anti-lockdown demonstrations “simply out of lack of responsibility”, adding that “we’ve had examples” of that same COVID irresponsibility “even in public figures”.

“But then we’ve got people who do this as an ideological thing, and that’s the group that worries me”, Martin denounced. “They do it in a violent way, and it’s very often linked with other agendas”, he added.

– Similarities with neo-Nazis

Though he acknowledged that “we’re fortunate in Ireland that we’ve never had a political party which was anti-immigrant in its viewpoint”, Martin linked anti-mask demonstrators to people who protested his presence at a celebration for the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival that was celebrated in Dublin’s Croke Park in July this year

“Some of those who take part in these anti-mask protests are the ones who attacked my car when I attended an Islamic gathering at Croke Park and were extremely aggressive and negative, calling me ‘Satan'” for his interreligious rapprochement, Martin denounced.

The archbishop lamented that “it is very clear” that anti-mask and anti-irreligious protestors “are people who do not want to understand what religious tolerance means in the Ireland of today”. “It’s part of an agenda”, he warned.

“They’re small groups, they’re well-organised – what worries me is that they may attract and draw into their strange ideology young people who are frustrated and aggressive. And that’s what happened in other parts of Europe – for example, some of the neo-Nazi parties. Unfortunately there are groups of young people who are being instrumentalised by them.

“I’m not saying [anti-mask protestors] are neo-Nazis, but the danger is there: if you get a group of people who are like this – who deny that the pandemic is there…

“When I was being attacked in Croke Park, the background music was a hymn to Our Lady, to the rosary. These are very strange people”, Martin decried.

– “Conspiracy theories are very, very dangerous”

Despite the apparent credibility that comes from the fact that “there are some political leaders worldwide” who believe COVID-19 is a hoax, Martin underlined that “conspiracy theories are very, very dangerous, because they’re irrational and they draw into their network other people who begin to think this is a reasonable thing, and when they become violent is the problem”.

“We’ve seen some of these right-wing, negative groups then provoke clashes on the street” with police and counter-protestors, Martin decried, adding: “We just don’t need that at this stage. This is a new negative phenomenon that we all should be concerned about it. Religious people should be concerned about it, because they’re using religious ideology as part of it”.

Martin’s comments on the Newstalk program were the second time in 24 hours that the archbishop had blasted anti-mask and anti-lockdown sceptics.

In a statement to the Annual Forum Day of the Dublin Council of Churches October 15, Martin deplored as part of “some negative trends in Irish society” today the fact that, in the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests, “behind outward talk of respecting individual liberties there was also a strain of negation of the virus”.

“Human behaviour is as important as clinical medicine in fighting infectious diseases”, Martin underlined, adding that religious leaders especially must take their places as “powerful agents of fostering responsible behaviour” in pandemic times.

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