LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An Irish bishop claims there is an “unwillingness or inability in Ireland to appreciate the value of religion or spirituality” in Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns told Ireland’s Sunday Independent that he feels “pain” that public worship is not permitted in the Republic of Ireland due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ireland is the only country in Western Europe to still not allow people to attend church, except for weddings and funerals.

“I’m very conscious of the need for everybody to do their utmost to arrest the spread of the virus and welcome the efforts of all who are pursuing same,” he told the newspaper.

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“There does seem to be some unwillingness or inability in Ireland to appreciate the value of religion or spirituality at present. I think this reality is worthy of attention and reflection at this time,” Brennan added. “I look forward to when we can return to worship as soon as possible.”

The Republic of Ireland has been in lockdown since late December, and Masses with a congregation are currently banned. Priests allowing people to attend worship services face fines of over $500.

The Republic of Ireland won’t lift its Level 5 restrictions – a full lockdown with people urged to stay at home – until April 12; however, public worship won’t be allowed until the country reaches Level 2, when many businesses will have already been allowed to reopen. This is expected to happen in May at the earliest.

Northern Ireland’s religious communities voluntarily suspended public worship in January, but resumed public worship on March 26.

The Republic of Ireland has been lagging behind the North in vaccinations against the COVID-19 coronavirus. As of March 28, 580,857 people had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the Republic, which has a population of 4.9 million. Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.8 million, has vaccinated 740,000.

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